Just two years ago it seemed like a given that we would enshrine Manny Ramirez in the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever play the game.
Now? Not so much.
The controversial slugger decided to retire last week rather than serve a 100-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He would have become the first player in MLB history to ever be suspended twice for violating the league's drug prevention program.
Instead, he joins a list of the game's most infamous stars who, like Manny, tainted their chances at baseball immortality by allegedly cheating.
Here's a list of 10 great players still eligible for the Hall of Fame who may never get in.
The Controversy: As great pitchers like Pedro Martinez flamed out relatively early in their career, we watched in awe as Clemens kept dominating well into his 30's and even into his 40's. It never occurred to anyone that what Clemens was accomplishing might not be natural, that is until the Mitchell Report came out.
Thanks to statements from former pitchers Jason Grimsley and Andy Pettitte, Clemens was outed as a probably user of performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens has since gone to incredible lengths to try to clear his name, including suing his former trainer, Brian McNamee. However, nobody's falling for the act and it's only a matter of time before justice is served at Clemens' upcoming perjury trial.
The Numbers: The two 20-strikeout games are cool and he'll probably be one of the last pitchers to ever get to 300 wins (354) or 4,000 strikeouts (4,672). The seven career Cy Young's are impressive too and he only had two losing seasons in his entire 24-season career. But these aren't the numbers we're interested in.
In his final season with the Red Sox in 1996 Clemens went 10-13 with a 3.63 ERA and 257 strikeouts in 242.2 innings. It was a phenomenal season for a 33-year-old, but still one of the worst of his career. Then in 1997, around the same time he reportedly started working with McNamee, he joined the Toronto Blue Jays and suddenly won 21 games with a 2.05 ERA and 292 strikeouts in 264 innings. In fact, he won four Cy Young awards after leaving the Red Sox.
Pitchers with nearly 3,000 innings on their arms don't just get better in their mid-30's without a little help. In 2004 at the age of 41 Clemens went 18-8 for the Houston Astros and had a 2.98 ERA that was his lowest in six years. That's not just fishy, that's downright impossible.
Clemens could have retired after leaving Boston and still would have been a borderline Hall-of-Famer. Now he may spend his entire life on the outside looking in.
The Hall: First-time eligibility in 2013.
The Controversy: We all know the story by now. Bonds was the most exciting player in baseball throughout the early part of the 21st century until some of his 762 career moonshots started raising eyebrows. How did this skinny kid from Pittsburgh (where he spent the first seven years of his career) become the home run king?
Enter Greg Anderson, a personal strength trainer who had worked with Bonds since 2000. His employer was none other than BALCO, a Bay Area facility that was notorious for supplying athletes with anabolic steroids.
Though Bonds to this day has never admitting to cheating, countless players, coaches and trainers have provided evidence that suggests otherwise. Maybe he didn't know what he was being injected with. Maybe he didn't want to know. But the reality is that the Bonds we know today is not just a product of good old-fashioned hard work.
The Numbers: Even if there's an asterisk to his name, Bonds' name is still plastered all over the baseball record books. You know about the home runs, but did you also that he's the all-time leader in walks with 2,558 over the course of his career? He's sixth all-time in both on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.607), and fell just short of 3,000 hits (2,935) and 2,000 RBI's (1,996).
The most impressive part? He's 33rd all-time in stolen bases with 514, a testament to just how great of a player he was early in his career. In fact, he's the only player in baseball history with 500 home runs and steals, and one of only four players ever to achieve a 40-40 in a single season (Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano are the others).
Although Bonds never did win a championship, he still has more than his share of awards on his mantelpiece. He was named the NL MVP an MLB-record seven times (the next closest is guys like Joe DiMaggio with three). His impact on baseball will never be forgotten whether or not he ever makes it into the Hall of Fame. The only sad part is he would've been one of the 10 best players ever without steroids, rather than the best player ever with them.
The Hall: First-time eligibility in 2013.
The Controversy: McGwire finally admitted what everyone had been thinking when in 2010 he admitted to using steroids during his playing career. According to McGwire, his use stretched throughout the 1990's and included his historic 1998 season when he hit a then-record 70 home runs. As a pure power hitter McGwire stands to benefit the most from performance-enhancing drugs, although he's always maintained that he took steroids to recover from injuries rather than to get stronger. We know he used, but does the fact that most of the substances he took were legal during his time admonish him from guilt?
The Numbers: It's a fair question to ask if anything McGwire did in his career was legitimate. He hit a rookie record 49 home runs in 1987 and led his league four times. He's a .263 lifetime hitter because he struck out too much, but the long balls more than made up for that. His .588 career slugging percentage is eighth all-time and his .982 OPS is 10th.
He finished his career with 583 home runs, yet the scary thing is that he only played 16 seasons with 12 of them spent in the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum. He retired at the age of 38 in 2001 just in time to avoid drug testing, but even in his final season he smacked 29 home runs in 299 at-bats. Naturally, he owns the MLB record with 10.61 at-bats/home run.
The Hall: Received 19.8 percent of the vote in 2011. Needs 75 percent to get elected and five percent to remain on the ballot.
The Controversy: We know relatively little about what Sosa did or did not do. We know he sat alongside alleged juicers Canseco, McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro at a Congressional hearing on steroid use. We know he went from 36 home runs to 66 seemingly overnight. We know he looks like he could flip over a car at the slightest prodding. What we do not know is if, or when, he cheated. He's supposedly on the list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs back in 2003, but that list is probably in shreds by this point.
The Numbers: You could argue McGwire vs. Sosa till you're blue in the face, but regardless of which you think is better there's still no denying that Sosa was a special player. He's the only player in baseball history to hit 60 or more home runs in a season three separate times. He hit 292 home runs in a five-year span, a run that will probably never be duplicated.
Sosa's strikeout totals (2,306 over his career) are frightening, but with a .878 OPS and power to all fields few people really care. He was even quite the speedster earlier in his career, swiping a career-high 36 bases in 1993 as he became one of the only 30-30 players in baseball history. His 609 career home runs place him seventh all time, and Sosa thinks those will be enough to get him elected.
Think again, Sammy.
The Hall: First-time eligibility in 2013.
The Controversy: Gonzalez managed to avoid being sandwiched with sluggers like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, but that did not stop him from being implicated by some of his former teammates. Gonzalez was named in both Jose Canseco's book and the Mitchell Report, and was even allegedly caught red-handed with some questionable products in his luggage in 2001. The fact that Gonzalez's prime was during an era when the league didn't even test for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs is especially troubling. His demise also mysteriously coincided with the implementation of a league-wide drug testing program. That's too many "if's" to just be a coincidence.
The Numbers: Between 1992 and 2001 there may not have been a better hitter in all of baseball. There was that time in 1998 when Gonzalez reached 100 RBI's before the All-Star break, becoming only the second player in baseball history ever to do so. There was that division series in 1996 when he hit a record five home runs in just four games. He won an MVP in both those seasons, though his Texas Rangers never won a playoff series.
Gonzalez's cumulative numbers are a bit underwhelming because he only played 17 seasons and was largely irrelevant for six of them. However, his ratios are staggering. The .295/.343/.561 career line is jaw-dropping, as is the 16.49 HR/plate appearance which ranks fifth all time. He finished with 434 in his career even though he never even made it to 2,000 hits (1,936). That's positively Ruthian, and an incredible accomplishment for someone who ended his career at just the age of 34.
The Hall: Received 5.2 percent of the votes in 2011.
The Controversy: Even one of the best all-around players in baseball history was bitten by the steroid bug. A-Rod kept a straight face throughout McGwire/Sosa slugfest and the BALCO scandal, but it came out eventually that he took performance-enhancing drugs while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003. His excuse was "an enormous amount of pressure to perform" after he signed the biggest contract in MLB history, a mark he has since broken. But superstars don't get paid to cheat, and Rodriguez violated one of the first rules in the baseball bible.
The Numbers: Where to begin? Rodriguez is the youngest player to ever hit 500 home runs, the youngest to ever hit 600 home runs, and if he keeps it up he'll soon be the youngest to reach 700 and maybe even 800. He's a virtual lock to finish his career with over 3,000 hits (currently 2,683), over 700 home runs (currently 617) and close to 400 steals (currently at 301). Those kinds of players come around maybe once a century, and that's not even the craziest part.
A-Rod has spent the better part of his career playing shortstop, historically one of the worst-hitting positions on the diamond. But not only does Rodriguez hold basically every offensive record in the books, he actually has a couple of Gold Gloves to his name too. He gets ripped apart in the press for his failures when it comes to the preseason, but the three-time MVP is as good as they get.
Rodriguez is an interesting case because, like Bonds, he's a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer whether or not he ever picks up that syringe. The question voters will have to answer is can they keep him out on just moral grounds?
The Hall: Still active.
The Controversy: Sheffield has somehow managed to avoid public scorn while his high-profile peers take the majority of the heckling. However, he's still in the same boat when it comes to the Hall of Fame. In 2007 he was named in the Mitchell Report as an alleged buyer and user of steroids. It's unknown if he used throughout his career or just made a stupid mistake, but Sheffield's legacy has nonetheless been forever tainted.
The Numbers: You may not have noticed Sheffield pounding the ball if you didn't follow the National League, but the quirky right fielder put up some pretty crazy numbers. He was regularly among the league leaders in home runs and retired in 2009 after belting 509 dingers, good for 24th all time. Unlike most sluggers, however, Sheffield was actually a threat on the base paths and finished with 253 career steals.
His .292/.393/.514 career line is impressive, but just imagine what Sheffield could have accomplished if he didn't miss so much time with injuries. He played more than 160 games in a season just once in his career, and more than 150 games just four times. Five times he didn't even make it to 100 games. He had the talent to hit 700 home runs, but how many of those would have been artificially enhanced?
The Hall: First-time eligible in 2015.
The Controversy: Is it just a coincidence that there are so many current or former Yankees on this list? Or maybe GM Brian Cashman just has a thing for juiced players. Whatever the reason, Giambi may be the most obvious beneficiary of some artificial help. He admitted to taking various steroids and injecting himself with human growth hormone (HGH) from 2001-2003. He did apologize for it, which is not something you could say for most players on here, but that doesn't make him any less guilty.
The Numbers: Most people will call the last two decades the "Steroid Era", but it might be more appropriate to call it the "Age of the First Basemen" and make Giambi the spokesperson. The burly left-hander is sitting on 416 career home runs and a .929 OPS that is shocking for someone who regularly strikes out over 100 times a season. He's topped 30 home runs eight times and 40 home runs three times, including in his 2000 MVP season when he launched a career-high 43.
But Giambi is more than just a power hitter. He has led the league in walks four times (finished second an additional three times) and has a .405 career on-base percentage. He's now 40 years old and a liability in the field, but even if he never reaches the magical 500 number he's still one of the best power hitters ever.
The Hall: Still active.
The Controversy: Although Tejada has never failed a drug test, at least to the public's knowledge, he's been connected to a whole lot of questionable characters. Rafael Palmeiro said Tejada was the one who gave him the steroids that exposed him as a user. Jose Canseco named Tejada in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. Tejada was also mentioned in the Mitchell report and was alleged to have received $1,500 worth of steroids. When there's smoke there's usually fire.
The Numbers: Tejada still has another season or two in him, but even if the 36-year-old pulls a "Manny" and retires tomorrow he'll still go down as one of the best hitting middle infielders ever. It's easy to forget how great of a hitter Tejada really is because he spent so much of his career playing for forgettable teams (Oakland, Baltimore, Houston, Baltimore again, San Diego and now San Francisco), but in his prime he was as good as anybody in baseball.
From 2000-2006 Tejada missed just two total games and was a top MVP candidate each season, winning it in 2002. In that time span he averaged 30 home runs and 116 RBI's while consistently hitting around .300 from the plate. Shortstops just don't do that.
He's sitting at 301 career home runs with 2,296 lifetime hits and a .287/.338/.462 line that would make most first basemen blush. For perspective, Hall-of-Fame shortstop Robin Yount finished with 251 career home runs and 3,142 hits with a .285/.342/.430 line. Except it took Yount five more seasons and nearly 800 more games. But if a clean Tejada is a borderline Hall-of-Famer, what about a dirty Tejada?
The Hall: Still active.
The Controversy: Nobody ever understood how a headcase like Manny was such a dominant hitter and, though his work ethic has been questioned each season of his major league career, it was just assumed he was naturally talented (which he really is). But then in early 2009 he tested positive for a women's fertility drug known as human chronic gonadotropin (hCG) and earned a 50-game suspension for violating the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Ramirez was on the decline anyway so most people figured it was just a great hitter's last-ditch effort at staying relevant. But a second positive test raises the question of if he was ever a clean player, especially since he did most of his damage before the league even had a drug testing program.
The Numbers: Simply put, Manny has some ridiculous numbers—500 career home runs, .312/.411/.585 career line, and a 154 adjusted OPS that would place him second among all active players and 25th in baseball history. He posted an OPS over 1.000, a feat usually reserved for the likes of Albert Pujols, in six consecutive seasons from 1999-2004 and in eight of 10 seasons total. He was useless defensively and a poor baserunner, but judging by the fact that he finished in the top 10 in MVP voting nine separate times I'm guessing nobody really cared.
His most similar players include the likes of Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Frank Robinson and Ken Griffey. That's not just good company. Those are four of the greatest players to ever pick up a bat, and each has a spot reserved for them in the Hall of Fame (including Griffey, who will be eligible for the first time in 2016). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Manny will be joining them.
The Hall: First-time eligibility in 2017.