As rumors swirled this past week about the Dodgers and their enigmatic outfielder Manny Ramirez, something very strange began to happen around the interwebs. Main-Stream Media members began taking the roles traditionally reserved for bloggers and writing outrageous stuff about Ramirez and his prospective value to a new team.
Everyone was told even before he was placed on waivers by Los Angeles that the Chicago White Sox planned to claim the outfielder. When the waiver process actually took place, the White Sox were one of three teams to put a claim in on him. Being the one with the worst record, Chicago was awarded the claim and eventually the Dodgers laid Ramirez at Chicago’s feet, receiving nothing but salary relief in return.
So Ramirez will finish the season in Chicago, presumably as their DH. He’ll be an upgrade over the likes of Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones and he’ll provide fodder for many a Chicago sportswriter. Does he have another thrilling end-of-season run in him like he did in 2008 when the Dodgers got him from Boston? Probably not. Ramirez isn’t the same hitter he was two years ago, he isn’t as young as he was then, either.
There are two things that bother me a great deal about the Ramirez fiasco thus far: First that far too many people are treating this as if Ramirez isn’t still a very good hitter, and secondly that there is a growing sentiment that thanks to his antics, Ramirez doesn’t have a strong case for Cooperstown. I’ll get to the second part in a minute, let’s tackle the first now.
He’s still a productive player, at least when he plays. Aaron Gleeman at HardballTalk was apparently as upset by all the Manny-bashing as I am and he provides us some good numbers. Among players with at least 200 plate appearances, Ramirez ranked fourth in the National League in OPS. Fourth. In addition to that, Gleeman points out that the Dodgers averaged almost a run-and-a-half more when Ramirez started a game than when he didn’t (5.1/gm with, 3.7/gm without) and that the Dodgers were 10 games over .500 when Ramirez was in the lineup while playing seven games below .500 without him.
More from Gleeman:
So, the guy ranks fourth in the league with a .915 OPS, his team has scored 38 percent more runs per game with him in the lineup, and they have a .593 winning percentage with him compared to a .455 winning percentage without him. I realize he has plenty of faults, has missed time with injuries, and can be a pain in the ass, but can we at least stop this charade about him no longer being a really, really, really good hitter?
I couldn’t agree more, Aaron. To put Ramirez’s numbers in perspective, consider the impact he should have with Chicago. White Sox designated hitters this season have combined for a .241 averages, .315 OBP, and .405 Slugging Percentage, good for a .720 OPS. Tell me again how Ramirez won’t be an asset to this team?
Sure, you could worry that Ramirez won’t be interested in playing the rest of the way. He’s pulled that trick before. But also consider that Manny is in the final month of his contract and he will be looking for another big paycheck next year. He’ll have plenty of reasons to be motivated to play, and if he’s motivated, the White Sox will reap the benefits of having had the guts to take this risk. They guy had a .915 OPS for the Dodgers, and apparently he didn’t really want to be there, how good would he have been if he had been interested? Chicago is about to find out.
Now on to the second part of my angst, and this isn’t necessarily limited to Ramirez.
Ken Rosenthal wrote a piece that called into question Manny’s Hall of Fame candidacy. He also questioned how much of an upgrade Manny would be for Chicago, but I think we have already cleared that up. Among Rosenthal’s comments was this gem:
Manny’s Hall of Fame chances took a dramatic hit when he received a 50-game suspension last season for using performance-enhancing drugs. But even if you remove PEDs from of the equation, he flunks the “character, integrity and sportsmanship” criteria — badly.
He quit on the Red Sox. He quit on the Dodgers. The Hall includes its share of miscreants, but Manny has routinely engaged in conduct detrimental to his team.
True, these were relatively isolated incidents. Some statistical analysts might look at his career numbers and say, “What more can you want?” My answer: Basic professionalism.
Rosenthal then goes on to compare Manny’s antics to those of famed psychopath Albert Belle. Seriously, that what he said. Fortunately for the sanity of all of us, Craig Calcaterra responded.
But (were Manny’s antics) bad enough to nullify his Hall of Fame case even without taking PEDs into account? Bad enough to warrant a comparison to Albert Belle, as Rosenthal does? The same Albert Belle who was given a jail sentence for stalking a woman? Who chased trick-or-treaters with his car? Who threw a baseball into the stands and struck a fan? Who unleashed profanity-filled tirades at the media? Who destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of team property a year due to his violent outbursts? Who, when asked by the Indians to issue apologies for his transgressions famously said “I apologize for nothing?” That’s the moral equivalence Rosenthal is making here?
Look, I’m not going to play the straight “look at the stats and nothing else” line when it comes to Ramirez, because that’s being a bit too cute. Manny is complicated. He’s been difficult. He’s never conformed to anyone’s idea of a model ballplayer when it comes to deportment and attitude and all of that. I get it. But at the same time, those traits have been wildly overblown by the media in both severity and significance.
Even ESPN’s Jayson Stark, a writer I respect much more than Rosenthal, wrote a column addressing Manny’s case for Cooperstown. While Stark didn’t interject his own opinion, he cited a few people including one NL executive that didn’t seem to think that Manny was Hall-worthy. And if you think it’s just the media-types that have gone off the deep-end, read some of the reader comments on Calcaterra’s piece.
There are really two separate issues with Manny’s legacy as it pertains to the Hall of Fame. There is the issue of his being suspended for PEDs and the issue of his behavior. Rosenthal suggests that even without considering the PED use, Manny should be kept out of th Hall based on the “character, integrity, and sportsmanship” criteria. That’s just preposterous.
I could cite probably a dozen instances where a player is already in the Hall of Fame that committed far more egregious offenses than Ramirez. I won’t get into all the names, but there are several enshrined players that were KKK members, womanizers, drug-users, and worse. Heck Ty Cobb once went into the stands to beat up a crippled fan who was heckling him. It is rumored that Cobb even killed a man. Ramirez is no saint, but his antics have been much more tame. He’s like the Terrell Owens of MLB. Sure, he causes a headache or two, he may even divide your clubhouse, but he isn’t really a “bad guy.”
Now if you want to exclude him based on his positive PED test, that’s a different can of worms.
The Hall of Fame includes the best players in the history of baseball. It includes players from the dead-ball era and the live-ball era. Players from the segregated era are enshrined along side players from the Negro Leagues and players from the non-segregated era. There are players that used spitballs when they were legal and those who used spitballs when they weren’t. Players that used corked bats are there along with ones that didn’t. There are players who used cocaine and other drugs, and roughly 40-years worth of players who routinely used amphetamines to keep themselves going. Simply put, the Hall of Fame includes the elite players from each era in history.
To exclude an entire generation of elite players based on the rampant use of “performance-enhancing” drugs is ludicrous. I realize that many of you, perhaps all of you, are under the impression that steroids do, in fact, cause huge increases in the ability to hit a baseball, and to hit that ball very far.
I also realize that nothing I say here will do a lot to alter that opinion. I’ll leave that duty instead to Joe Posnanski and Eric Walker. If you are a baseball fan, and I assume you are if you’re reading this article, do yourself a favor and read Walker’s detailed analysis of the effects of steroids on baseball players, then read Posnanski’s response. Keep an open mind as you read these pieces and I think you’ll come away with a different perspective.
Let’s also not forget that the hitters weren’t the only ones juicing. There’s a fairly comprehensive list right here of all the players who have been at least implicated in the use of steroids and other PEDs. If you want to argue an unfair playing field, consider how many pitchers you find on that list. If the batter is on steroids, and the pitcher is also on them, how is the playing field not level?
You want to keep Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez out of the Hall of Fame because of their steroid use, implicated or otherwise? What do you do about the players from the “steroid era” that haven’t been implicated? What about the players that have been implicated but haven’t failed a test? Are we same to assume that someone like Craig Biggio was clean? Sure, we’d like to think he was. We would also like to think that Ken Griffey Jr. was. We have no reason to suspect they used any PEDs, but we also don’t know that they didn’t.
What would be the backlash if a player were assumed clean, elected to the Hall of Fame, and later was found to have used PEDs? You cannot undo what has already been done.
Roger Clemens is set to go to trial facing perjury charges stemming from congressional testimony he gave that he did not use PEDs. Clemens hasn’t failed a test, he hasn’t admitted to anything illegal. Do we keep him out of the Hall based upon the assumed guilt?
The bottom line is that it should not be left to the sportswriters to determine the morality of a player. It shouldn’t be left to people like Rosenthal or Stark to decide which players were clean and which were tainted. We cannot place that responsibility at the feet of men who were covering the game during the most rampant usage of PEDs, but who chose not to report what they heard and what they saw.
In reality, baseball and its writers have a choice to make, either decide to keep every player who played in the last 20 years out of the Hall, or decide to judge each player in that era without bias, without assuming guilt, and without assuming we know how the use of PEDs affected their careers. Because simply, we don’t know.
The Hall of Fame should recognize the greatest players in baseball history, based upon comparisons to others in the era in which they played. Barry Bonds is the greatest player I have ever seen. Clemens was every bit the equal of Greg Maddux or Pedro Martinez in terms of greatness, and Manny Ramirez was the best right handed hitter in either league for more than a decade.
When the time comes for each player to be considered for the Hall, it is my sincere hope that each of those men get inducted. Let’s not keep someone out based upon the use of a drug (in many cases assumed use) that may or may not have helped them, and let’s not put someone else in based upon an assumption that they were clean.
I don’t know how the use of a female fertility drug helped the performance of Ramirez throughout his career. I don’t know what other drugs he may or may not have taken, or how those drugs may have affected him. The studies I have read don’t give me the feeling that they helped much, if at all.
What I do know is that from the time Ramirez came to prominence in Cleveland through the end of last year, he was one of the best pure hitters in baseball. He has the numbers needed for Hall of Fame election and he passes the “eye-test”. The guy is a Hall-of-Famer. I hope the writers have the wisdom to elect him.