When the official ballot for baseball's 2022 Hall of Fame class was released on Monday, one of the sport's all-time home run hitters and one of its greatest postseason legends headlined the list of newcomers.
And yet, whether either of them belongs in Cooperstown is up for debate.
We're alluding, of course, to Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. Though their respective numbers and accolades offer compelling cases for enshrinement, they also have something else in common, the likes of which has kept players' voting shares short of the requisite 75 percent: ties to performance-enhancing drugs.
All the same, it's only fair to give "A-Rod" and "Big Papi" a fair shake by discussing exactly what they have working for and against them in their first year on the ballot. Only by carefully weighing these things can we determine whether they should be in Cooperstown.
Though no other first-timers loom quite as large as Rodriguez and Ortiz, we'll highlight a few who have a chance to at least earn the five percent of the vote that they'll need to remain on the ballot for 2023.
The Case For and Against Alex Rodriguez
If you look strictly at what's on Rodriguez's Baseball Reference page, what you see is a Hall of Fame case that's intimidatingly strong.
Heck, impossibly strong.
In 22 seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, A-Rod hit 696 home runs to rank fourth on the all-time list. He's likewise one of only four hitters to ever accumulate at least 600 home runs and 3,000 hits, the other three of whom you might have heard of: Willie Mays, Henry Aaron and Albert Pujols.
For good measure, let's throw in a couple more wow-worthy statistical tidbits in Rodriguez's favor. He's seventh all-time with 1,275 extra-base hits, and his 5,813 total bases also rank seventh ahead of two guys named Babe Ruth and Pete Rose.
From here, we can get into how Rodriguez was also a No. 1 pick who bolstered his fame with 14 All-Star selections, 10 Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves and three MVPs. He also set contract records first with his $252 million deal with the Rangers in 2000 and again with his $275 million pact with the Yankees in 2007.
Yet if you're a time traveler from circa November 2009, all of this is certainly secondary to what you just witnessed A-Rod do. That is, win his first World Series ring with the Yankees after a stellar postseason run marked by a 1.308 OPS and six home runs.
If there was nothing else to say about Rodriguez's career, literally the only conclusion to be drawn right now is that he's no ordinary Hall of Famer but truly one of the inner-circle variety. Go ahead and write up his plaque and place it next to those of Ruth, Aaron and Mays.
But then there's all the PED stuff.
The operative word here is indeed "all," as Rodriguez's history with PEDs isn't as simple as a one-off accusation or even one positive test. The story actually begins with a denial, specifically the one that he issued on 60 Minutes in 2007:
That denial held up for all of two years. Because after Rodriguez was reported in February 2009 to have tested positive for PEDs as part of Major League Baseball's survey testing in 2003—i.e., the year he won his first MVP with the Rangers—he immediately fessed up.
"Back then, [baseball] was a different culture," he said. "It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time."
In fairness, Rodriguez was right that baseball had a "different culture" in 2003. Though MLB was starting to get serious about PEDs in response to the entertaining-yet-too-good-to-be-true home run deluge of the late 1990s and early 2000s, actual protocols for testing and penalties wouldn't come until 2005.
Despite his big admission in 2009, this system never did ensnare A-Rod of its own accord. He nonetheless found himself mired in another PED scandal in 2013, when reporting from the Miami New Times placed him in a ring of players who were receiving banned substances from a wellness clinic in Florida.
That reporting begat an ugly back-and-forth between A-Rod and MLB that ultimately ended in victory for the latter. Though shorter than his original 211-game ban, Rodriguez was still forced to miss the entire 2014 season after his suspension was reduced to 162 games.
Upon his return in 2015, Rodriguez beat the odds by slamming 33 home runs to help lead the Yankees to the playoffs in what was his age-39 season. However, he couldn't keep it up long enough to cross the hallowed 700-home run threshold in 2016, homering just nine times in 65 games before hanging up his spikes in August.
Though he was contrite at times in 2015 and 2016, Rodriguez saved his strongest expression of regret over his PED use for an interview with Joe Buck that aired in October 2017:
"Yeah, I mean there's so many frustrating things when you look back at that. Number one, you have a guaranteed contract for hundreds of millions of dollars. Literally, you can sit on the couch and get fat. Right, how stupid can you be? … This thing cost me over $40 million. And it cost me my reputation, and it may have cost me the Hall of Fame and a number of other things.
And I remember sitting there at night at maybe 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning—I probably did this a hundred nights—and I would look up with tears and say, 'How the eff did I get myself in this position?' I'm the only jackass that has pocket aces and figures out a way to lose the hand."
If nothing else, refreshing candor from a guy whose career came to be so greatly marred by dishonesty. And when combined with how he acted in 2015 and 2016, it's hard to say that Rodriguez's attempts at damage control were insufficient.
Nevertheless, we now have years' and years' worth of data that suggests players with ties to PEDs can expect a certain degree of shunning from voters. One need not look any further than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose respective PED scandals have left them still on the ballot after nine years, even though they're arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher in baseball history.
This does not bode well for Rodriguez. Nor should it, frankly.
Though neither Bonds nor Clemens was ever officially reprimanded for PEDs by Major League Baseball, Rodriguez was. And while it might be possible to excuse his first PED scandal as being the product of the "different culture," there is no such excuse for the one that followed in 2013 and 2014.
More than anything else, it's because of this that Rodriguez falls short in integrity, sportsmanship and character. Or, three things that matter as much to the Hall of Fame as players' numbers and records.
The Case Against and For David Ortiz
Speaking of all-time sluggers whose Hall of Fame resumes are darkened by PED-shaped clouds, you could argue that David Ortiz is in the same boat as Rodriguez.
After all, Ortiz was another player who was reported in 2009 to have tested positive in MLB's survey testing from 2003. That immediately planted a red flag in all that he had done with the Minnesota Twins and especially with the Boston Red Sox to that point.
Ortiz's initial response to the 2009 report, however, was one of befuddlement. He said he was "blindsided" by the news and vowed to "find out what I tested positive for."
If Ortiz ever did find out what triggered his test, he has yet to share it publicly. Yet that may be because there isn't actually a satisfactory answer to that question. As MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said of the 2003 testing in 2016: "Even if your name was on that list, it's entirely possible that you were not a positive."
This suggests that Ortiz's deniability is actually of the plausible variety, and the general trendline of his career only further underscores that possibility. Rather than a demarcation line between his prime and his twilight, 2003 was merely the start of his 14-year apex as one of baseball's greatest sluggers.
In the end, Ortiz slammed 541 home runs to place 17th on the all-time list. It's perhaps even more impressive that he's eighth all-time in extra-base hits, as legging out doubles and triples with his speed was never really his thing.
Ortiz was elite all the way to the end, finishing his career with a league-best 1.021 OPS and 48 doubles to go along with 38 home runs in his age-40 season in 2016. This, notably, was after he claimed to have been tested for PEDs more than 80 times between 2004 and 2015.
Rather than to illicit substances, Big Papi's longevity might simply be chalked up to the position he played. The 8,861 plate appearances that he took as a designated hitter are by far the most of any player in history and more than 2,600 above the only DH in the Hall of Fame, Edgar Martinez.
There's no argument to make that Ortiz was as good a pure hitter as Martinez, who was a .312/.418/.515 hitter in 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners.
As clutch hitters go, though, Ortiz might just be the greatest of them all.
To this end, the most telling statistic is that Ortiz is the career leader in win probability added during the postseason. That ought to track with any notions that his .289/.404/.543 batting line in the playoffs undersells his October prowess, as he indeed had a knack for coming up with big hits when the Red Sox needed them.
It was with a great amount of help from Ortiz that the Red Sox broke the 86-year "Curse of the Bambino" in 2004 and then won the Fall Classic again in 2007. Yet Ortiz saved his best act for 2013, winning the World Series MVP on the strength of a 1.948 OPS at the St. Louis Cardinals' expense.
Unless Manfred comes out and turns his downplaying of Ortiz's 2003 test into a full-on exoneration, Big Papi is likely to be subjected to the same skepticism that's thus far kept Bonds and Clemens out of Cooperstown.
But upon close inspection, the idea that PEDs made him such a historically great hitter doesn't hold even a thimble-full of water. Therefore, he should at least come close to a first-ballot induction and eventually get to 75 percent of the vote in the future.
The Best of the Rest
After Rodriguez and Ortiz, there's a serious shortage of strong Hall of Fame cases among the other first-timers on the 2022 ballot. To be blunt, it's doubtful whether any of them will get in either this year or in subsequent voting cycles.
And yet, there's plenty of credit to dish out where it's due.
For example, Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon enjoyed long careers as elite closers that saw them rack up 377 and 368 saves, respectively. That places them within the top 10 all time, and Papelbon's record is further bolstered by the ring he won with Boston in 2007.
Elsewhere on the pitching front, Tim Lincecum is one of only 11 pitchers to win Cy Young Awards in back-to-back seasons. He also won rings with the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 2012 and 2014, the first of which was kickstarted by his all-time great start in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
As for the newcomer batsmen, there you'll find Jimmy Rollins. He was an MVP, a three-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glover and a World Series champion with the Philadelphia Phillies, and he's on a short list of players with 200 home runs and 400 stolen bases.
Rollins was a longtime teammate of Ryan Howard, who won his own MVP in 2006. Between then and 2011, he and fellow first baseman Prince Fielder were two of baseball's most prominent home run threats.
Another first baseman on the 2022 ballot is Mark Teixeira, who perhaps never got the credit he truly deserved during his playing days. He was a five-time Gold Glover and one-time World Series champ who's one of only 11 first baggers with 50 WAR and 400 home runs.
It's harder to stump for Jake Peavy, Carl Crawford and Justin Morneau to stay on the ballot past 2022, but not impossible. Morneau was an MVP and a batting champion. Peavy was a Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series winner. Crawford burned out fast, yet he was also fast enough in his heyday that he still ranks fourth in stolen bases in the 21st century.
When the votes are counted in January, there's a decent chance that this will be the second year in a row without any new inductees into Cooperstown. But in the meantime, the discussions worth having are, well, worth having.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.