Hall of Fame voters: you now have a choice to make

Associated Press
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I’m still having a hard time getting my brain around Rob Manfred’s comments about David Ortiz yesterday. To sum up again: he basically pardoned Ortiz for the 2003 survey drug test results, saying that the survey testing might’ve had trouble distinguishing between a banned substance and some benign and legal substance. He went on to say that it would be unfair for Hall of Fame voters to consider “leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results” when considering David Ortiz‘s Hall of Fame case.

As I noted in that article, other players names were leaked from the 2003 testing, like Sammy Sosa, and they deserve the same sort of public pardon that Ortiz just got. But thinking about it more in the last few minutes, it goes way beyond that, does it not? Just some questions and observations:

  • If Manfred admits that the 2003 testing was flawed, what magic wand did he wave in 2004 to make the testing as infallible as he and MLB’s surrogates in the media would have us believe? And make no mistake, people believe that. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t call for lifetime bans of first time positive testers, as they so often do. Maybe MLB might’ve done its players a nice solid, David Ortiz-style, and reminded people that testing isn’t perfect and maybe let’s not be so judgmental about someone who tests positive, even if the JDA says they need to be suspended on zero-tolerance grounds;
  • Manfred made it clear that his point of demarkation for drug information that should be considered for the Hall of Fame is the official 2004-on drug testing program. Indeed, he refers to “confirmed test results” on one side and casts everything else in the same pile as rumors and innuendo which should be ignored for Hall of Fame purposes. Logically, that includes BALCO, right? While well-documented, the information from BALCO was not part of MLB’s “confirmed test results” nor did MLB use any of the information from BALCO to discipline any baseball player. This means that, per Manfred’s comments yesterday, Hall of Fame voters should not hold BALCO against Barry Bonds. Take that away and he’s a Hall of Famer, right? If, however, Manfred says that BALCO does matter, why didn’t the BALCO guys ever get in trouble with the league?
  • For that matter, isn’t every player associated with PEDs for reasons other than post-2004 testing deserving of reconsideration? All of the Mitchell Report guys, including Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Might Manfred give a similar stump speech for Jeff Bagwell who doesn’t even have 2003 survey testing on his permanent record but who, obviously, is suffering in the Hall of Fame voting because of the very rumor and innuendo that Manfred just said voters should not consider? If David Ortiz gets the Commissioner’s Official Seal of Hall of Fame Approval, why not Bagwell and the others? Or is David Ortiz a special case? And if so, why?

Ultimately, I do not suspect Rob Manfred will answer these questions. The baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame will have to, however. For years they have publicly wrestled with what to do with PED users from the pre-testing era. Many have pleaded with Major League Baseball or the Hall of Fame for some sort of direction about what to do with these guys and how to consider their transgressions. For some this has been disingenuous pleading, as they were going to vote against PED-associated players no matter what. Many, however, have truly and genuinely asked the Commissioner what they should do.

Well, the Commissioner has spoken. He has affirmatively said that “confirmed testing” matters, nothing else. There are only two ways to read his comments yesterday: (1) all PED associations which come from pre-2004 should be ignored for Hall of Fame voting, for all players; or (2) only David Ortiz’s pre-2004 PED association should be ignored.

Hall of Fame voters who have asked for direction on this matter have a choice to make. When they make that choice, they must acknowledge that one of those interpretations of Manfred’s comments makes sense. One of them doesn’t.