Nightengale’s Notebook: Why my Hall of Fame ballot includes some PED guys – but not Alex Rodriguez

It is the most often-asked question among baseball writers these days with just two weeks remaining before the deadline.

“Hey, how you planning to handle the steroid guys this year on your ballot?”

It’s the most controversial, provocative and perhaps even scandalous ballot in Hall of Fame voting history.

There are 30 players on the ballot, with nearly a third of them publicly linked to steroid use.

You know the names: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte plus newcomers Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.

Do you vote for all of them?

Do you vote for none of them?

How do you separate them?

To me, it’s rather easy because of my definitive line of demarcation.

If you were punished or suspended when Major League Baseball implemented its drug policy after the 2004 season, you’re automatically out. You not only embarrassed yourself, but you hurt your team with your absence.

If you were never punished or suspended, you are judged on your own merits like everyone else.

I won’t reveal my entire ballot until close to the Jan. 25 election, but here’s how I’ll be voting on the performance-enhancing drug class.

YES: Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Sheffield and Ortiz.

NO: Rodriguez, Ramirez and Pettitte.

Rodriguez, one of the greatest players in history, also received the largest drug suspension in baseball, missing the entire 2014 season. Ramirez, one of the finest right-handed hitters of his era, was suspended three times. Pettitte is a different case. He admitted to using human-growth hormone, but was never punished. He falls short simply for his Hall of Fame credentials regardless of being outed in George Mitchell’s investigation on PED use.

Simply, there were rules in place that Rodriguez and Ramirez intentionally violated. They were caught, and, in turn, their teams suffered the consequences. The Yankees, for the first time in 20 years, missed the playoffs in back-to-back years without Rodriguez. Ramirez, who had signed a two-year, $45 million contract with the Dodgers, was never the same after being popped in 2009.

Bonds and Clemens, along with Sosa, Sheffield and Ortiz, in contrast, greatly enhanced their teams. Bonds, a record seven-time MVP and all-time home run leader, is one of the greatest five players who ever lived. He resuscitated the Giants, kept them in San Francisco with a new ballpark and helped them become one of baseball’s marquee franchises. Clemens, who won 354 games and seven Cy Young awards, helped lead his teams to 12 postseason berths and six World Series.

Sosa, the 1998 NL MVP with six other top-10 finishes, hit 609 home runs and kept the Wrigley Field stands filled. Sheffield was perhaps the most feared hitter outside of Bonds in all of baseball, hitting 509 homers with a .907 OPS without striking out more than 83 times in a season. Ortiz hit 541 home runs, led the Boston Red Sox to three World Series championships while becoming perhaps the greatest DH in history.

Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez at the 2007 Home Run Derby in San Francisco.
Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez at the 2007 Home Run Derby in San Francisco.

Did any executive, manager, coach or teammate approach any of these players to ask if they used steroids, and if they did, to please stop?

Please.

While covering baseball throughout the steroid era, the only time a GM or manager became angry that one of their players used steroids is if they were caught. If anything, they were offended if they didn’t have enough players using PEDs. And GMs were absolutely infuriated if they signed or traded for a player and he suddenly stopped using PEDs.

It was the worst-kept secret in baseball. Virtually everyone knew what was going on. And nobody in the world cared.

Now, after encouraging these players to use performance-enhancing drugs, rewarding these players, and lionizing them, we’re suddenly supposed to act incensed and keep them from attaining baseball’s greatest honor?

Please, stop.

The argument is just as silly for those who justify voting for Bonds and Clemens saying they were Hall of Famers before they were suspected of PED use. What does that matter? If you spent your adult life without getting a speeding ticket, and suddenly get caught going 125-mph, do you get a free pass?

NEVER MISS A MOMENT: Follow our sports newsletter for daily updates

If you don’t want to vote for any player with any links or suspicions at all of steroid use, that’s fine. But don’t try to determine when they started or stopped using.

We have elected at least a half-dozen steroid users into the Hall of Fame since 2015 pretending they were clean, but the two greatest players of the steroid era, are being kept out.

We don’t know for sure who was clean and who wasn’t, but you could walk into any clubhouse or simply watch performances to get a pretty good idea. Come on, you think it’s natural to suddenly lose 40 pounds coincidentally at the time baseball began steroid testing? Or every single baseball scout in America missed on your ability? Or that you magically found prodigious power? Or mysteriously throw harder at the end of your career?

If Bonds doesn’t break Hank Aaron’s home run record, or Clemens isn’t winning Cy Young awards at the age of 42, are they already in the Hall of Fame? Are they being punished because they were too damn good?

This is the 10th and final year of Bonds’ and Clemens’ eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. If they don’t get in, it would be the ultimate in hypocrisy to ever vote for A-Rod, no matter how much the ESPN and FOX-TV analyst has changed his image.

If Bonds and Clemens don’t get in, don’t you have to at least pause before voting for Ortiz?

If they don’t get in, it all but ends the candidacies of Sheffield and Sosa. And down the road, don’t even think about Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz or any other player who is ever caught using performance-enhancing drugs.

This is the final chance to make sure that Bonds and Clemens are remembered in baseball history. You don’t have to celebrate their arrival. You can request that an asterisk or a notation be put on their plaque telling Hall of Fame visitors why they nearly were kept out.

But if Bonds and Clemens don’t make it, let’s see how many Hall of Famers with steroid ties would submit to a lie detector test in court?

Simply, Bonds and Clemens were the greatest players of their era, which just happens to be the steroid era.

And if we’re going to elect other players who blatantly used steroids into the Hall of Fame, what sense does it make keeping these two legends out?

Let’s end the hypocrisy.

The Buck stops in Queens?

Buck Showalter is likely to be the next manager of the New York Mets.

The Mets interviewed him once, have begun the vetting process and owner Steve Cohen will talk to him in person this week.

Really, there is no other choice than Showalter.

You don’t sign three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million contract, sign center Starling Marte to a four-year, $78 million contract, and hire someone with zero big-league managerial experience.

They tried that with their last three hires in Mickey Callaway, Carlos Beltran and Luis Rojas, and you saw how that worked out. So you can forget about Joe Espada, Matt Quatraro and Clayton McCullough.

Showalter, a three-time Manager of the Year, is the perfect choice.

Hall of Fame heartbreak

They were huddled together in a suite at the Hilton Bonnet Creek Hotel in Orlando, Fla., site of the winter meetings.

The MLB portion of the winter meetings was cancelled because of the lockout, and the announcement would be on TV in New York and not in person. Still, with their plane tickets purchased, Mark “Frog’’ Carfagno, the family of Dick Allen and a TV production crew traveled to Orlando to all be together, anticipating the magnificent moment.

They gathered in front of the TV, and with the cameras rolling from the Philadelphia production crew, they were poised to pop the champagne and wildly celebrate. Their optimism overflowed when Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch announced that the Golden Days Era Committee had elected four new Hall of Famers. The last time the committee met in 2014, no one was elected.

He began with Gil Hodges, and then Jim Kaat. Suddenly, the room went silent. It dawned on Carfagno that Rawitch was reading the names in alphabetical order. He leaned over to producer Mike Tollin and whispered, “I don’t think he’s getting in.”

Then came the news of Minnie Miñoso, and finally Tony Oliva.

Richard Allen, Dick’s son, started weeping. So did Dick’s wife, Willa. His grandson. Nephew. Relatives. Friends.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“People were so sad,’’ Carfagno said, “and then they were pissed off. It was unreal.’’

Allen, who passed away Dec. 7 of last year at the age of 78, missed being elected by one vote.

Once again. Just like 2014.

“I don’t understand it, I don’t see the justice,’’ Carfagno told USA TODAY Sports. “Four of the top five all got an increase in votes but Dick. It’s not fair. He was the best player on the ballot.

“I feel so bad for the family. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m starting to think it’s a conspiracy.’’

Richard Allen, Dick’s son, and Mark Carfagno.
Richard Allen, Dick’s son, and Mark Carfagno.

Carfagno, 68, who has led Allen’s Hall of Fame campaign since 2014, grew silent. He has spent at least 20 hours a week for the past seven years spreading the word on Allen’s greatness, trying to make sure why everyone understands that Allen should be in the Hall of Fame.

“We used to be so worried whether Dick would be alive when he got into the Hall of Fame,’’ Carfagno says. “Now, I’m worried whether I’ll be alive when it happens.’’

Carfagno plans to take a break for his own health.

“This has beaten me up so much,’’ says Carfagno, who worked on the Phillies’ grounds crew for 33 years when he became close friends with Allen, the seven-time All-Star, MVP and Rookie of the Year winner. “It’s just disappointment after disappointment.

“Even if he’s elected, I don’t think I could even have the strength now to go into that building.

“I don’t even think I can even go to a baseball game again. That’s how much this has taken out of me.’’

Allen won’t be up for another vote until 2026.

The waiting game

There hasn’t been a single phone call. An email. A text. Or even a wave by Major League Baseball and the union since the lockout at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 2.

Their last negotiating session went all of seven minutes.

No negotiating session has been scheduled since they last met.

And pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 16.

So, how’s your winter?

“I don’t foresee anything happening before late January and early February,’’ says corporate lawyer Michael Burwick of Greenspoon Marder. “There will be a day in March where things really get serious and get really interesting. But right now, the gulf of issues between the two sides is enormous.

“The asks on behalf of the players is significant in quantity and quality, but they need to do something because if nothing changes in the next agreement, they’re basically signing their own death warrant.’’

“And the owners, most who made their money in private equity and hedge funds, want their profits to be bigger this year than last year.’’

When the two sides finally agree to meet again, says Burwick, a registered NBA agent, he suggests they agree to make a 21st century mission statement.

“What are we going to do to make the game and the sport better, more meaningful, so it touches more people from more age ranges,’’ he said. “It’s time to reset the game and make baseball bigger and better than ever. Take a bad situation and cycle it up.’’

There is no damage done yet to the sport, Burwick says, but if spring training is abbreviated, or opening day is delayed, watch out.

“The wild card that makes this year’s impasse more different than any in the past,’’ Burwick says, “is that people are at their wit’s end because of COVID. People are scared. We saw a virus stop the world in its tracks. Everyone is skittish on what’s next. We’ve never been more polarized.

“People are fed up with everything. There’s so much fear and uncertainty driving a lot of anger. So if baseball can’t work this out before the season, taking away that escapism when America needs it most, people will be turned off by the sport, and will never come back. It’s going to affect the future of the game and the money.

“This is not the year to fall on your sword.’’

Jim Fregosi Jr., gone too soon

The news that Jim Fregosi Jr. passed away at the age of 57 from a heart attack this past week, left the scouting fraternity in mourning.

Fregosi Jr., the son of former manager and All-Star Jim Fregosi, was a brilliant talent evaluator for the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals, where he was a special assistant to GM Dayton Moore.

I’ll never forget laughing for three consecutive days with Jimmy and his dad on Hall of Fame writer Tracy Ringolsby’s annual Wyomania trip with baseball scouts and writers in Laramie. The two regaled us with stories throughout the trip, with Jimmy saying throughout his childhood he thought his real name was “Little [bleep]’’ since his dad never called him by his name until he grew up.

During one solemn moment, Jim Fregosi Sr., leaned over and told Jimmy on the bus ride, “Hey, if anything ever happens to me, make sure you get my Marriott points. We got the same name. You know my password. I don’t want that million points to go to waste.’’

Jim Jr., looked at him, blinked, and said: “Dad, hate to tell you this, but I’ve been stealing points from your Marriott account for years.’’

The two laughed and laughed until tears came out of their eyes.

They were each other’s best friend, and now, seven years after Jim Fregosi Sr. passed away, the two are together again

Longing for a bygone era

Kevin Gallagher, a former minor leaguer and baseball star at Pace University, is sick of watching the lack of action on the baseball field.

He worries about the future of baseball. He has written books teaching kids to hit to help them become a lifelong fan of the game. But the more he sees, the more he’s determined to make a difference.

He has joined forces with former major-league infielder Jeff Frye, and has received support from 125 former major league players, executives, coaches and scouts, to try creating a national movement to change the course of baseball.

“In 1985 after almost 100 years, Coca-Cola changed the recipe for its product and consumers were outraged,’’ Gallagher said. “The American people raised their voice in unison and demanded the American classic they loved be returned to its original formula. Coke admitted they underestimated the emotional attachment of their customers and returned to the style.

“MLB has changed another American classic. They have changed the formula for baseball and have underestimated the emotional attachment of their fans to the style that has worked for over 100 years.

“It’s time to raise the American voice to MLB and demand they return the game to its winning recipe.’’

There are no proposals on the bargaining table for new rules, but baseball is experimenting in the minor leagues with everyone from a pitch clock to automated strike zone to the banning of shifts.

“Baseball could be niche sport in 15 years,’ Gallagher said.

So, Gallagher is launching his “Save the Game’’ campaign, hoping to garner one million signatures, assemble a huge group of former players and executives, and meet in person with MLB.

“We’re not here to fight with baseball,’’ Gallagher says, “we’re here to save the game of baseball, re-engage with the kids, and reintroduce the philosophies of baseball.”

Fishing for charity

The coolest charity event of the winter has been veteran scout Matt Kinzer’s brainchild of a fishing tournament that united Boyd Duckett’s professional anglers with Major League Baseball Players to benefit youth.

The MLF Foundation Pro Pro for Kids in Guntersville, Ala., was a huge hit. Folks traveled for hours by car to collect autographs featuring current and former Cy Young winners like Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers and 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, Jace Peterson of the Brewers, along with Wade Miley of the Chicago Cubs, Lane Thomas of the Washington Nationals and Ryan Helsley of the St Louis Cardinals were on hand. Kansas City Royals World Series champion manager Ned Yost along with Washington Nationals executive Dan Jennings were also part of the tourney.

LaTroy Hawkins, the former 21-year veteran and his fishing partner caught the biggest bass. Peavy’s 20-year-old son, Jacob, caught the most fish. And the biggest winner was everyone who gathered around the lodge bar listening to Peavy tell stories.

“The whole weekend was awesome,’’ said Burnes, who fishes a handful of times each month during the season, “spending time with guys you’re around during the year, being around some of the best fishermen in the world, and raising money for a good cause. This is going to just get bigger and better. If they invite me back, I’ll be back for sure.’’

Said Peavy: “I think throughout baseball you have your guys who have passion for the outdoors, and to be here with some of the best fishermen in the world, and have my son with me, it was a dream come true. The comradery was just great.’’

Futures market unchanged

While Major League Baseball is openly embracing gambling, no damage has been done so far with the lockout, according to Matt McEwan of Sports Betting Dime.

It’s a slow time of year for baseball gambling, with little action on future World Series and postseason picks, which usually doesn’t pick up until close to opening day.

“The sports books just survived the worst-case scenario with the pandemic shutting down all of the sports,’’ McEwan says, “so it can handle this. Now, if MLB continues their lockout and the season is pushed back, people will just use that money for other sports.

“It’s rare to see significant money spent on baseball now, anyways.’’

A Hall of Fame dad

Gil Hodges Jr. had everyone rolling in laughter last week when he recalled one of his favorite stories with his father, Gil Hodges Sr., who was elected into the Hall of Fame last week.

He was a lifeguard as a teenager and all of his fellow lifeguards had their hair bleached blonde. So Hodges followed suit, got his sister, Irene, to die his hair, and everything worked out perfectly …

Well, right up until his dad returned home from a road trip.

“We’re all eating and as he’s cutting his steak, Hodges Jr. says, “he says, ‘what happened to your hair?’

“I said, ‘Oh, this is just something all of the lifeguards do. They bleach their hair.’

“He kept eating his steak, looked at me, and said, “Stay in your room until it grows out.’

“I said, ‘Dad, this could take weeks and weeks.’

“Dad’s response: ‘Get used to your room.'”

A view of Minute Maid Park in Houston during the World Series.
A view of Minute Maid Park in Houston during the World Series.

Around the basepaths…

– There is considerable consternation in Houston after losing free-agent reliever Kendall Graveman to the Chicago White Sox and falling short of signing free-agent center fielder Starling Marte.

The Astros still have a five-year, $160 million offer on the table for shortstop Carlos Correa, which he won’t consider accepting, but are lukewarm on signing free agent shortstop Trevor Story. They instead are focusing on finding a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. Perhaps they’ll turn to Japanese center fielder Seiya Suzuki, a five-time Gold Glove winner who hit 38 homers with 88 RBI last season with the Hiroshima Carp.

And while former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander agreed to a one-year, $25 million contract with a $25 million player option, he was out of the country at the time, and the deal still isn’t official.

They need help if they’re going to repeat as AL West champions.

– Mark Kotsay is the favorite to become the Oakland Athletics’ next manager. If the A’s weren’t interested in hiring him, they would have permitted him to join Bob Melvin’s staff in San Diego.

– The New York Yankees have insisted for months that they weren’t going to delve into the marquee shortstop market, and nothing has indicated that they’ve changed their minds.

Simply, they are convinced that 20-year-old shortstop Anthony Volpe will be ready for the big leagues in two years and will be a perennial All-Star.

So they’re not going to drop $350 million on Carlos Correa or $200 million on Trevor Story, and instead plan to grab a short-term replacement like Andrelton Simmons.

– Terry Ryan, 68, the beloved former GM of the Minnesota Twins and now a special assistant with the Phillies, has told friends that he will retire at the end of the December.

Ryan, who has been in the game for 49 years since being drafted by the Twins in 1972, is one of the most respected and admired executives in the game. He was fiercely loyal, refusing to leave the Twins when owner Carl Pohlad offered to contract the franchise, and had absolutely no ego.

The game will greatly miss him.

– Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt’s next job is expected to be in the Commissioner’s Office working alongside Mike Hill, senior vice president of on-field operations.

– The Arizona Diamondbacks will officially announce the hiring this week of Jason McLeod as a special assistant to GM Mike Hazen. McLeod, 50, was an integral front office executive of two Red Sox World Series championships and the Chicago Cubs’ championship in 2016. He and the D-backs actually came to an informal agreement three weeks ago.

– Andrew Miller, 36, one of the Major League Baseball Players Association’s strongest voices, is considering retiring after a 16-year playing career, but says that no decision has been finalized.

– The D-backs made a shrewd move signing free-agent closer Mark Melancon to a two-year, $14 million contract. They know they are years away from contending and there will be precious few games for Melancon to even save, but he could be an awfully valuable trade chip at the trade deadline either this summer or after the season.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baseball Hall of Fame 2022: Why Alex Rodriguez isn’t on my ballot