With the Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2023 announcement approaching, it’s time to run down this year’s candidates. Today, we look at the ballot’s most controversial returnees. These players may have stellar numbers, but their cases continue to stall – and, for one player, spiral out of control – largely due to off-field issues.
Teams: Yankees, Astros
JAWS: 47.2 (92nd at SP)
WAR: 60.2 (65th)
Year on ballot: 5th (10.7% in 2022)
Pettitte has the Yankee charm on his side, and it’s probably why he keeps hanging around. He never won a major award, but he was a constant and consistent presence on the mound for most of his career, and he tops the Yankees’ record books in many pitching categories. Pettitte crafted a stellar postseason resume, pitching in eight World Series – seven with New York and one in Houston – while winning four rings and earning 2001 ALCS MVP honors.
One likely reason he continues to flail away in no man’s land is that his name was found in the Mitchell Report alongside other PED users. Pettitte admitted to using human growth hormone shortly after the report was released but said he only did it to try and speed up his recovery from an elbow injury in 2002 and never used any steroids. Pettitte’s specific case is an outlier, because HGH, while a banned substance, is technically not a steroid; he also never tested positive for any banned substance after 2004.
Statistically, Pettitte’s also far from a lock, which in some ways makes it easier to brush him aside in this vote. Even if that one incident never happened, his Cooperstown credentials – including his postseason resume – are borderline at best. Though he’s gained a few votes from last year, Pettitte’s continuing to spin his wheels.
Teams: Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox, Rays
JAWS: 54.6 (10th at LF)
WAR: 69.3 (8th)
Year on ballot: 7th (28.9% in 2022)
When Manny wasn’t busy being Manny, he was a destroyer of baseballs. One of the most dangerous hitters of his generation, Ramirez was an integral piece of pennant winners in Cleveland and champions in Boston. He also won nine Silver Sluggers and ranks 12th all time in slugging, 15th in homers, and 20th in RBIs and OPS+. It’s hardly an exaggeration to call Ramirez one of the greatest right-handed hitters since World War II, and on paper he’s a no-brainer who should have been in years ago. Unfortunately, his two positive performance-enhancing drug tests – the second of which led to him suddenly retiring in 2011 rather than serve a 100-game suspension – is a massive stain on his resume and continue to keep him on the outside.
Because of those positive results under MLB’s testing program that began in 2004, Ramirez’s case differs from the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and others who’ve merely been linked to PED use. Merely being suspected of doping during the sport’s pre-testing era is a very different category; as a known PED user who was caught breaking rules, it’s understandable why voters continue to shy away.
The only sliver of solace for Ramirez is that he’s currently polling at 39.6% on the public ballots thus far, up from his final public total last year. But that percentage means nothing because his actual net gain from returning voters is currently zero. His final number will no doubt drop again once private ballots are included. Manny’s going nowhere fast.
Teams: Mariners, Rangers, Yankees
JAWS: 90.9 (2nd at SS)
WAR: 117.6 (2nd)
Year on ballot: 2nd (34.3% in 2022)
One of the most decorated and iconic players of all time, Rodriguez redefined the shortstop position before a pretty impressive second act at third base. The raw numbers speak for themselves: three MVPs, four Hank Aaron Awards, 10 Silver Sluggers, top five all time in home runs, RBIs, and extra-base hits, top 10 in total bases and runs scored, top 15 in both versions of WAR and second among shortstops, and one of four players with 3,000 hits and 600 homers. If that’s not a Hall of Famer, what is?
Alas, nothing is that simple with A-Rod, whose on-field brilliance was usually overshadowed by controversy, scandal, and – most importantly from a Hall of Fame perspective – PEDs.
Rodriguez was first connected to steroids in 2009 when Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts and David Epstein reported he was among the 104 players who tested positive during the league’s supposedly anonymous round of testing six years earlier. He eventually admitted to using PEDs while with the Rangers from 2001-03, before MLB began its drug testing program, in an attempt to live up to the pressures of his record contract.
If juicing during the pre-testing era was his lone drug-related transgression, it’d be easy to wave off. But in 2013, he found himself at the center of baseball’s Biogenesis scandal when the Miami New Times linked several stars – of which Rodriguez was the most notable – to the anti-aging clinic that supplied them with PEDs. Fourteen players were eventually suspended by MLB, and Rodriguez was treated most harshly: a 211-game suspension that was reduced to the entire 2014 season after a lengthy and messy appeal.
A-Rod is obviously in a category unto himself within the PED crowd, both before and after drug testing began, and there’s no easy way to get around it. For the second year in a row, voters seem to have no idea what to do with him. While he’s polling at a decent clip (for his situation, at least) on known ballots, Rodriguez only has a net gain of two votes thus far, a bad sign considering that private voters are far more likely to shy away from even the most tangible PED connections. There’s no sign that a momentum shift is imminent.
Teams: Mariners, Indians, Giants, Rangers, White Sox, Blue Jays
JAWS: 36.2 (43rd at SS)
WAR: 45.6 (30th)
Year on ballot: 6th (23.9% in 2022)
Vizquel’s entire candidacy is now in danger as voters move away from him due to a slew of off-field allegations. His shaky on-field resume also seems to be being re-evaluated.
During his career, Vizquel was regarded as the AL’s version of Ozzie Smith. There’s no denying he was a great defensive shortstop – 11 Gold Gloves count for something – but the metrics show he wasn’t at the truly elite level. Vizquel ranks 18th among shortstops in fielding runs and posted negative total zone runs numbers in two of his Gold Glove-winning seasons. Additionally, Vizquel’s bat doesn’t compare to Smith’s, even when accounting for both of their offensive shortcomings. He retired as the all-time hits leader among Venezuelans, but only got there by compiling in part-time roles until age 45.
Fielding, longevity, and his status as a respected leader of Cleveland’s iconic 1990s teams made Vizquel a darling of the voting bloc early on; he even crossed the 50% mark in 2020, usually a sure sign of eventual induction. That climb was halted in its tracks last December when an investigation by The Athletic’s Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal into domestic violence allegations from Vizquel’s second wife, Blanca, contained horrific details of several alleged incidents. Vizquel denied all the allegations, and no charges were filed.
Four months earlier, a former bat boy with autism for the Double-A Birmingham Barons sued both Vizquel and the team, alleging that Vizquel, then the Barons’ manager, sexually harassed and exposed himself to the bat boy in the shower in 2019. The White Sox (Birmingham’s parent team) had suspended Vizquel with pay while investigating his conduct before firing him in September 2019. MLB also opened its own internal investigation, the results of which are unclear.
With that, Vizquel’s support began cratering in unprecedented fashion. After dropping to 23.9% in 2022, he’s been named on just 15 public ballots to date. Instead of waltzing into Cooperstown, there’s a very real chance he doesn’t get to 5% on Tuesday, a result that would complete his historic fall off the ballot.