The 2018 National Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced on Jan. 24. In the days leading up to that announcement, we here at CBS Sports will profile one Hall of Fame candidate per day, provided that player is expected to receive the five percent of the vote necessary to remain on the ballot another year. Today’s candidate is Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez appeared in more than 2,000 games while donning the uniforms of the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays over parts of 19 seasons. The biggest takeaway from his candidacy, now in its second year? There’s a tangible cost to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
If voters were looking at statistics and statistics alone, Ramirez would have already been voted into Cooperstown. He homered 555 times during his career, batting .312/.411/.585 — marks good for a 154 OPS+, the 26th-highest mark all-time. He appeared in 12 All-Star Games, he won nine Silver Slugger Awards, he won a batting title, and he won two World Series and one World Series MVP. He never did win a regular-season MVP, though he placed 11 times and finished in the top-three on two different occasions.
Ramirez was never known for his defense — not in a beneficial sense, anyway — but he still finished with more career Wins Above Replacement than the average Hall of Fame left fielder: 69.2 versus 65.2. His peak was right in line with theirs too, suggesting he wasn’t just a compiler. Keep in mind, that’s while docking Ramirez some 13 wins for his defense. If you’re more generous — even slightly — then his statistical case places him in “no-doubter” territory.
But no conversation about Ramirez’s candidacy is complete without a reminder that he retired (temporarily) in April 2011, after being hit with a 100-game banishment. That was seemingly his third positive test, following one in 2009 that earned him a 50-game suspension, and reportedly one in 2003 — before baseball started punishing those with funky chemistry.
So, then, what other conclusion is there to make about Ramirez earning votes on little more than a quarter of the ballots than this is the cost of testing positive?
Consider how Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — each having never failed a test despite marinating in allegations — both earned more than a third of the votes in each of their years of eligibility. Bonds and Clemens are seemingly a year away from induction to the Hall. Were they better players? Sure. But consider too Vladimir Guerrero, a Ramirez contemporary heading for enshrinement. Guerrero finished with 449 home runs and a 140 OPS+, as well as 59 WAR. Guerrero was, by most any meaningful measure, a worse player than Ramirez. Yet Guerrero never failed a test (or raised suspicion), and so he’ll enter the Hall’s walls on his second try.
Bonds’ and Clemens’ increasing inclusion rates, as well as Guerrero’s imminent election and Ramirez’s stagnant numbers affirm that voters will vote for a suspected user but, perhaps, not a confirmed one. On achievements alone, Ramirez merits enshrinement. Unfortunately, for him, it’s unclear if he’ll ever get his day in the Cooperstown sun. He has no one but himself to blame.