Manny Ramirez is on Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, which means several hundred members of the BBWAA will get to decide if he’s worthy of enshrinement, a process sure to cause neither argument nor controversy.
Before the Hall’s gatekeepers get to make that decision, I’m going to.
Yes, Manny Ramirez deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
The question really comes down to two separate parts, because baseball and its record books are no longer simple. Before tackling the more difficult, second part of the equation, let’s take a quick look at what is objectively the far easier first part.
- Independent of all else, was Manny Ramirez one of the best players of all-time, worthy of a plaque amongst the game’s greats?
In a word, yes.
A look at his numbers and accomplishments surprised even this writer to a degree, despite watching much of it happen in real time, night in and night out.
Ramirez played 19 seasons, and was named an All-Star in 12 of them, including 11 in a row from 1998-2008, a decade that includes three teams and two World Series titles. And his raw numbers over those 19 seasons are, quite simply, stupid.
Manny retired with a .312/.411/.585 slash line, putting his career OPS just a shade under 1.000 over nearly two decades and 2,300 games. He hit 547 doubles and 555 home runs. He drove in 1,831 runs. He was a monster, one of the best and most-feared right-handed hitters of his time or any other.
If the raw numbers don’t have enough context, try this: He’s 15th all-time in home runs. That’s more than all but seven current Hall of Famers. His OPS ranks eighth all-time, better than all but six Hall of Famers (the lone man ahead of him not in the Hall is, not so surprisingly, Barry Bonds). Runs batted in have lost a lot of their luster, but he ranks 18th all-time there, 32nd all-time in on-base percentage, and eighth in slugging. And in terms of value, his 69.2 career bWAR ranks 72nd all-time, ahead of names like Tony Gwynn, Al Simmons, Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, and Roberto Alomar — all Hall of Famers.
After raw numbers, people like to look at peaks, and more specifically, whether a player stood out as amongst the best of his day. Ramirez checks those boxes as well.
He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1994, then made his first All-Star appearance the following season. He made the trip back in 1998, beginning his run of 11 straight. While he never won an MVP over those 11 seasons, he finished sixth, third, sixth, ninth, ninth, sixth, third, fourth, 18th, DNQ, and fourth in the voting. Despite never winning the award, his 3.06 career MVP win-share ranks 34th all-time, according to baseball-reference. That’s better than Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, and Johnny Bench, despite the fact that the last three combined to actually win the award five times.
For good measure, he also threw in a Silver Slugger each season from 1999-2005, plus his two World Series rings and 2004 World Series MVP.
Is that enough of a résumé?
So here are the facts: In 2009, Ramirez was suspended 50 games for a positive drug test. He didn’t test positive for PEDs, but rather a fertility drug often used in association with PEDs and, therefore, banned by Major League Baseball. In 2011, he tested positive again, “retired,” came back, served a reduced 50-game suspension, toiled in the minors for a few teams, never made it back to the majors, and retired for good.
So, obviously, that’s not so great.
And if you believe anyone associated with the letters “PED” should be banned from the Hall of Fame, it’s going to be really tough to convince you otherwise. If you’re not voting in Bonds and Clemens, there’s a good chance you’re not voting in Manny, and if you are, your voting methods are bad.
But remember that peak? Those 11 straight All-Star Games? The eight straight top-nine MVP finishes? Those all came before the suspension. Whether they came before any PED usage is impossible to know, but there’s really only two possibilities: Either Ramirez was clean until his age-37 season, started to slow down, and tried and failed to cheat both Father Time and the system, or he was using all along.
Either way, in an era when we know dozens of players were also using PEDs and suspect that hundreds more were (both hitters and pitchers alike), Manny Ramirez was a top-10 player in baseball. His timing, his preparation, his swing — none of those were artificially enhanced. Either his accomplishments are exactly as impressive relative to his competition as they sound, or they’re even more impressive if he was really clean before, well, he wasn’t (and, for the record, I lean toward not being naive enough to believe that).
So is Manny Ramirez a Hall of Famer? If you believe that every era had it’s issues — from “only white people can play” to “here’s a handful of amphetamines” to “which cheek should I inject?” — and that to eliminate an entire era from the Hall of Fame because of it is unjust, then the answer is yes. Because Manny’s insane play on the field, from raw numbers to how they compare to his contemporaries, show he was one of the greatest players in MLB history.
So let’s just make it official.