HALL OF FAME BECOMES PARADE OF IGNOMINY

By Murray Chass

May 10, 2009

Baseball’s revolving door is in full swing. In comes Alex Rodriguez, out goes Manny Ramirez.

Rodriguez didn’t miss the Yankees’ first 28 games because he had been suspended for using steroids, but earlier this year he admitted testing positive for steroids in 2003 when Major League Baseball tested players for survey purposes, that is, to determine if there was a reason for them to be tested every year for disciplinary purposes.

His failed test and the public disclosure of it earned him entry into the mushrooming membership of the Hall of Ignominy. Ramirez became the latest member last Thursday when he was suspended for 50 games for using a women’s fertility drug that is banned by Major League Baseball.

The Hall of Shame will be an invisible wing of the Hall of Fame. Despite their career achievements in the major leagues, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro are not expected to make it into the structure at 25 Main Street in Cooperstown, N.Y.

It’s possible that voters’ minds will change in the next 20 years or so, but with McGwire as the trial horse and receiving less than a third of the necessary number of votes in each of his three times on the writers ballot, it’s highly unlikely that the star-crossed seven will gain entry. 

In other words, as a victim of the fallout from the evils of the steroids era, the Hall of Fame will lose some of its luster.

“You can’t help but think about it,” Jeff Idelson, the Hall’s president, said in a telephone interview. “I think it’s good that you have a 5-year waiting period before players become eligible and a 15-year window to remain eligible, which gives voters a good amount of time to decide what they want to do.”

But in his next sentence, Idelson articulated the reality the Hall faces. “In the same breath,” he said, “you can argue convincingly that the writers haven’t elected anyone over 73 years that they shouldn’t have. We rely on the writers to make sound value judgments.”

Asked his opinion of the predicament the writers will face in coming elections, Idelson said, “I have an opinion but it’s irrelevant. I don’t have a vote. It’s up to the writers to make value judgment.”

If I was reading between Idelson’s lines correctly, I would say he does not favor election of any player who used steroids or was strongly suspected of using them. Idelson, however, noted that there is a difference between the Hall of Fame and the museum.

“In terms of the museum versus the Hall of Fame,” he said, “those who are history makers are documented so if guys wind up not earning election, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be in the museum.”

In fact, artifacts belonging to all seven of those steroids suspects are already in the museum. The Cooperstown crew doesn’t wait for a player’s career to end to get him to donate some piece of equipment that figured prominently in his career.

For example, said Idelson, who for years attended All-Star and post-season games to collect artifacts, the museum has two Manny mementoes – his bat from the 2004 World Series, in which he was named most valuable player, and the batting helmet he wore when he hit his 500th home run last year.

But, Idelson said, the museum doesn’t duck the issue of steroids. “We have verbiage in the museum addressing performance-enhancing drugs,” he said, then tried to quote from memory what visitors read: “You’ll find artifacts in here of players who have tested positive or are under a cloud of suspicion, but we’re presenting history and we leave it you to form your own judgments.”

Idelson didn’t want to talk about the potential economic fallout from the effects of steroids, but it’s certain to have an effect. The players, in some cases benefiting from steroids, have earned their millions, but the Hall of Fame will not have them as attractions to draw visitors to induction ceremonies and to all the other days of the year.

Meanwhile, the most difficult task in the new era will fall to the approximately 500 writers who vote on candidates for the Hall. They will have to decide how to judge not only the players who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs either through negative tests or widespread suspicion but also those who haven’t.

Just because a player hasn’t been nailed by a test or some other means, as Clemens has been, does it mean he was clean and should be treated accordingly? What happens if such a player is elected and a year or two later is found to have used steroids? Can anybody be assume to have been clean?

 

How are we to judge the players we know nothing about (I say we because I am a voter)? A fellow voter just the other day suggested that the Hall of Fame decide how the voters should proceed, perhaps make new rules, outlining new criteria.

 

I don’t agree with that idea. When Pete Rose became eligible for the Hall in 1992, the Hall’s board of directors changed the rules to make sure the career hits leader couldn’t be elected. The board said that a permanently ineligible player was not eligible for the Hall.

 

The directors could have left Rose to the writers, but they had no guarantee how the writers would vote. I objected to their position. It wasn’t that I wanted to see Rose elected; I didn’t. I felt the writers should make the decision. I feel the same way now about the effect of steroids on the elections.

 

I have no magic solution, no surefire way to figure out how to view players in the next 20 to 30 years, and I don’t know that anyone will come up with a way. But I think the writers will do their job, and the Hall won’t have to tell us how to do it.

 

MANNY TAKES PLACE IN LINE OF DUMMIES

Baseball players are rich and dumb. We know how rich they are, but how dumb are they?

Exhibit A: Even knowing they would be tested in 2003 for performance-enhancing drugs, with the outcome to determine future disciplinary testing, enough of them used steroids and tested positive that they reached the stipulated 5 percent threshold that triggered the testing. Alex Rodriguez was one of the dumb ones.

Exhibit B: Manny Ramirez.

Whereas Ramirez performed solo, Rodriguez was joined by perhaps 103 others, but their identity has remained undisclosed because the union and the commissioner’s office had agreed that the 2003 test results would be confidential and anonymous.

However, Federal agents seized the data in raids on two laboratories, and the seizure, challenged by the union, is a matter before an appellate court. Presumably it was an agent or other government official who leaked Rodriguez’s name.

Rodriguez, who returned to the Yankees’ lineup last Friday night following recovery from hip surgery, faces the possibility of disciplinary action if Commissioner Bud Selig concludes that he was not truthful with his investigators when they met with him during spring training.

Selig is not expected to act on the basis of the unsubstantiated, anonymous accusations in the Selena Roberts book on Rodriguez, but MLB investigators can certainly check out parts of the book they feel could be worth pursuing.

Investigators have no need to check out Ramirez. He is the latest dumb guy. He was found to have used a women’s fertility drug that is on baseball’s banned list.

Contrary to many news reports, Ramirez’s use of HCG did not necessarily mean he had used steroids and had taken the drug to trigger production of natural testosterone when he came off a steroids cycle. That was the instant conclusion of the steroids zealots.

However, as he himself pointed out, Ramirez has never tested positive for steroids. And if he used steroids prior to his use of HCG, why didn’t he test positive for steroids? Was he shrewd in his use of steroids, was he lucky that he wasn’t caught or did he simply not use them? The feeling in baseball is he didn’t use steroids.

Doctors acknowledge that there are additional uses for HCG. They say a person can have a condition without steroid use that would make it appropriate to use HCG.

But none of that is relevant to Ramirez’s case. He used an illegal drug for some personal physical enhancement, and it’s not likely that he was trying to have a baby.

If he had a legitimate medical reason for using HCG, he could have applied for a therapeutic use exemption. He apparently did not. If he had a legitimate health reason for using the drug and had not requested an exemption, he would most likely have continued his appeal instead of conceding he was wrong for using it and accepting the suspension.

So he’s gone for 50 games and out about $7.8 million of his $25 million salary. Was it worth it, Manny?

That Ramirez should lose so much money is ironic because it was his desire for a huge contract – $25 million a year for four years – that delayed his signing as a free agent last winter. He played himself out of Boston last season so he could get rid of two option years in his Red Sox contract and be a free agent.

But no huge offer was forthcoming. The Dodgers were the only team to pursue him, and they limited their offer to one year plus an option year and now will wait until July 3 for Ramirez to return.

Because Ramirez became immensely popular last year by propelling them to the post-season, the Dodgers built their 2009 marketing campaign around him, including designating a section of the left field stands Mannywood. Now the Dodgers would like to take Manny to the woodshed.

The Dodgers’ first game without Ramirez was full of symbolism. Playing the lowly Washington Nationals, the Dodgers exploded for six runs in the first inning. Manny? Who needs Manny?

But the Dodgers lost the game, suffering their first loss at Dodger Stadium after a record 13 victories. Manny? Oh yes, the Dodgers need Manny.

Two other related issues:

The major league testing program calls for confidentiality except for the announcement of a suspension. Neither the commissioner’s office nor the union is permitted to discuss cases even when a player is suspended. Yet some news reports quoted MLB officials – anonymously, of course – as disclosing details about the Ramirez case.

USA Today, for example, quoted “an MLB official with direct knowledge of the testing process” as saying that Ramirez used HCG. The official, the newspaper said, provided additional details, and they, too, should have remained confidential.

Then there is the bizarre view of some critics of baseball’s testing program that the Ramirez case demonstrates the system’s failure to police the sport. That view makes no sense. Quite the contrary. What more can the critics expect than to have the program catch one of the game’s great superstars?

BIG BAT, BIG CONTRACT, BIG TROUBLE

Whatever the explanation might be for slow start with the Yankees – he was hitting .192 before the weekend – he is demonstrating the classic big-contract syndrome. It is a condition that has affected many top-flight players, sometimes for an entire season.

Usually, the high-priced player feels he has to justify his big contract, tries to do too much and winds up doing less. What he loses sight of is that all he has to do is hit or pitch like he did to earn the contract.

Sometimes a slow start can be attributed to a player’s penchant for starting seasons slowly. In Teixeira’s case, last season he was been a better second-half hitter than first-half. He did not have a .300 batting average in any of the first three months, and he had a better than .300 average in each of the final three months.

From a power standpoint, Teixeira, who has hit 5 home runs this season, came into the season with 81 home runs in the first three months and 122 in the last three.

JONES RETURNS TO THE LIVING

For a guy who seemed headed for early retirement, Andruw Jones is having a terrific season. Jones had a horrible season last year (.158 batting average, total of .505 slugging and on-base percentages), had an equally poor winter league season and was struggling in spring training when he reached the date by which the Texas Rangers had to put him on their roster or release him.

When that time came and the Rangers had no intention of giving the 32-year-old outfielder a roster spot, Jones opted to remain with the team. Working with Rudy Jaramillo, the team’s celebrated hitting coach, Jones has rediscovered his ability to hit the ball.

Entering the weekend, he was hitting .340 in 15 games (16-for-47) and had a .660 slugging percentage and a .500 on-base percentage.

COSTLY HOME RUN MACHINE

It’s not known how much of the $1.5 billion cost of the new Yankee Stadium the Yankees spent for the home run machine they installed, but it continues to work unabated. When the Yankees went on the road last Friday, they had played 13 games at their new park, and they and their opponents had hit 47 home runs.

According to Elias Sports Bureau research, in the first 13 games at the old stadium last year, the Yankees and their visitors hit 24 home runs and, going backward,  36, 30, 32 and 31.

“Unbelievable,” Commissioner Bud Selig said when asked for his reaction to the orgy of home runs. “Just stunning.”

Asked if he would have any suggestions for the Yankees to curtail the home run output, he said, “I want to watch it through a whole year. I don’t know if you can do anything about it.”

THE SANTANA SCOREBOARD

In six games that Johan Santana has started, the Mets have scored 12 runs and their opponents have scored 10. In the team’s other 23 games (through Saturday), the Mets have scored 131 runs and allowed 113. The averages of those run totals:

Santana starts: Mets 2.00     Opponents 1.67    (Mets record 4-2)

Other games:   Mets 5.70     Opponents 4.91    (Mets record 12-11)

 

 

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