Next year Mark McGwire is off the ballot, and Manny Ramirez takes his place, for the first of potentially 10 shots at the Hall of Fame through voting of the baseball writers.
Ramirez, baseball’s twice-caught drug cheat turned repentant Cubs’ hitting consultant, hit almost as many home runs as McGwire, won more championships, and has as many All-Star selections, a higher OPS, a higher WAR and nearly 1,000 more hits.
Ramirez also has a higher on-base percentage than Rickey Henderson, Joe DiMaggio, Pete Rose or Rod Carew, never mind McGwire.
But when it comes to his Hall of Fame chances, Ramirez has no better chance than McGwire did – and probably less, given the way his career ended with suspensions in consecutive years for performance-enhancing drug use.
“I don’t even know, to be honest with you, how that works,” Ramirez said with a laugh when asked during an interview with the Sun-Times what he thinks of the way voters view steroid suspensions, and suspicions, in their balloting.
Ramirez took time for a conversation on the subject before a Cubs game last season – a few months before another round of balloting that, on Wednesday, revealed little suggestion that tainted superstars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa will ever be elected.
Is it right that PEDs would keep out otherwise deserving candidates?
“It’s not up to me to decide, but…,” Ramirez said, trailing off. “I don’t know.”
Other former players are not so shy with their opinions.
Two-time Cy Young winner Roy Halladay tweeted Wednesday: “When you use PEDs you admit your not good enough to compete fairly! Our nations past time should have higher standards! No Clemens no Bonds!”
Ramirez, who has consistently expressed remorse since being hired by the Cubs in 2014, said he doesn’t know how many players used PEDs during his career.
A lot? “I don’t know,” he said.
He said the game is cleaner now and “better.”
He seemed to have the most trouble grappling with the biggest question he was asked about the subject: Why?
Why would players already talented enough to play at high levels in the majors, already capable of making millions in the game, capable of lasting a decade or longer in the majors, take performance enhancers? Take the chance?
After all, those are the players in question when it comes to the Hall of Fame debate – exemplified most by Bonds and Clemens if you believe the timelines of their alleged uses.
“Life is like that. You make mistakes,” Ramirez said. “Everybody makes mistakes. We’re humans. You’ve made mistakes; I’ve made mistakes. Everybody.
“Like I say with some of my friends, I could tell you, `Look at that guy: He’s a cheater, he uses steroids.’ Maybe you smoke weed. Maybe you do cocaine. Maybe you cheat on your wife. Maybe you’re a drunkard. It’s the same.
Of course, the drunkard probably shouldn’t expect to get elected to the Sobriety Hall of Fame; the adulterer isn’t getting into the Spouse Hall of Fame.
“Everybody makes mistakes, bro,” Ramirez said. “And that’s part of life. Nobody’s perfect.”
But, again, why take the risk when the rewards already are great? Why does an already good – or great – player take PEDs?
Alex Rodriguez once said he turned to PEDs because of pressure to perform to the record contract he signed with Texas in 2001.
“Everybody’s different. Every mind is different,” Ramirez said. “You get caught up in so much stuff. “The Bible says, `He will set you free.’ Sometimes you’re not seeing right. Sometimes you think you’re doing right, but you’re not. But when you come to Jesus Christ, he teaches you how to do things right. That’s it.
“One you admit it, you’ve got to move on.”
Unless you’re moving on to the Hall of Fame ballot.
Some suggested Wednesday that Mike Piazza’s election after years of suspicion and “whispers” could soften the positions of those in the bloc refusing to vote for suspected PED users.
But Piazza never tested positive, nor was he linked to the Mitchell Report or scandals such as those involving Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski or BALCO’s Victor Conte.
Ramirez, the top player suspended multiple times for PEDs, faces the possibility of being the quickest of the steroid group with slam-dunk Hall numbers to fall off the ballot for failing to reach the 5 percent threshold needed to carry to the following year’s ballot.
It took four years for that to happen to Rafael Palmeiro, who infamously shook his finger at Congress proclaiming PED innocence – just ahead of a positive test and suspension.
Sosa, the only man with three 60-homer seasons, barely cleared the 5 percent this time around (at 7 percent) to share next year’s ballot with Ramirez, Bonds and Clemens.
“I just try to enjoy life every day and move on,” said Ramirez, who sidestepped the question about whether he knows any former users currently in the Hall. “I don’t even watch stuff like that. Because life is so short for you to worry about little things. These guys – nobody’s perfect. And everybody’s made mistakes.”