As I pondered my Hall of Fame ballot, my initial reaction was to make an exception to my policy regarding players from the Steroid Era. While I have decided not to exclude players who were found to have use performance-enhancing drugs from my ballot since we really have no way of knowing who used and who didn't, I paused for a long time when I came to Rafael Palmeiro's name. Palmeiro is different than the other sluggers from the Steroid Era. Who can forget when he went before a congressional subcommittee in 2005 and pointed as he adamantly insisted he had never used PEDs. Five months later, of course, Palmeiro was suspended by Major League Baseball when he tested positive for steroids, though he still insists it was tainted B-12.
My initial reaction was to not vote for Palmeiro. Then I did some soul searching.
I covered baseball throughout the Steroid Era and I fell for the lines that came out of various players' mouths during spring training. Invariably someone would report to camp 25 pounds heavier than the season before, but look at Mr. Universe. I'd ask him about his new physique and he would talk about a new workout regiment, better nutrition, and so on and so forth. Not once did I ever have the foresight to ask, "Did steroids make you this big?"
Reporters are supposed to know the right questions to ask and not be afraid to ask the tough questions. I failed on both counts. Thus, it would be hypocritical to punish someone for using PEDs now when I never questioned him about it at the time it was happening and, in retrospect, was so obvious.
Oh, and one other thing, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association didn't think steroid use was a very big deal in 2005. All Palmeiro got was a 10-game suspension, the same he would have received if he used a corked bat or was found to use a foreign substance on a baseball if he were a pitcher.
So, I voted to induct Palmeiro. I know it won't be popular and that I'll be in the vast minority of the voters, but the guy had 569 home runs, 3,020 hits, a .371 on-base percentage, and a .515 slugging percentage. Those are Hall of Fame numbers. As far as how he might have achieved them, well, I'm not the morality police.
In all, I voted for eight players, but let's first look at those that didn't get my checkmark. I quickly passed on Carlos Baerga, John Franco, Juan Gonzalez, Marquis Grissom, Lenny Harris, Bobby Higginson, Charles Johnson, Al Leiter, Tino Martinez, Raul Mondesi, Jack Morris, John Olerud, Kirk Rueter, and B.J. Surhoff. Good players all, to be sure, but not good enough to affix HOF at the end of their autograph.
After more debate, these players didn't make the cut: Harold Baines, Bret Boone, Kevin Brown, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Benito Santiago, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammell.
And the other seven, in alphabetical order, who got my vote:
Roberto Alomar—It was a crime he didn't get in last year in his first year of eligibility, and that should be rectified when this year's results are announced Wednesday. It's hard to say no to someone who was selected to play in 12 All-Star Games and won 10 Gold Gloves.
Jeff Bagwell—His numbers and his character have come under scrutiny for no other reason than playing in the Steroid Era, but there is no doubt in my mind he belongs. He hit 449 home runs despite playing much of his career in the Astrodome, a rat-infested pitchers' park. Throw in his .297/.408/.540 slash line and it says Cooperstown.
Bert Blyleven—It has become the cool thing to vote for him in recent years and that makes me chuckle inside. I was voting for Blyleven back in 1998 when hardly anyone was in his corner. Two numbers always seal the deal for me: 3,701 strikeouts and 60 shutouts. A 3.31 lifetime ERA makes a strong case that he deserved a far better record than his 287-250 career mark.
Barry Larkin—Put it this way: If Derek Jeter had range, he'd be Barry Larkin. That's not a knock on Jeter, just how little Larkin was appreciated because he played away from the spotlight with the Reds during his entire 19-year career. He won nine Silver Sluggers, three Gold Gloves, and had a .371 OBP.
Edgar Martinez—The only reason he doesn't get more support is because some voters stubbornly believe that designated hitter isn't an actual position, though the rule has been in effect for nearly four decades. Martinez wasn't flashy and didn't hit a lot of home runs, but he did go deep 309 times while posting an outstanding .312/.418/.515 slash line in 18 seasons with the Mariners.
Tim Raines—Our own Jay Jaffe has swayed my opinion on Raines, who was truly an unappreciated great player as he had the misfortune of being just the second-best leadoff hitter of his generation behind the great Rickey Henderson. Raines had 300 more walks than strikeouts, a .385 OBP, and stole 635 bases at an outstanding .847 success rate.
Larry Walker—He is interesting in the fact that he is the first Hall of Fame test case of a player who built a sizeable portion of his numbers while calling Coors Field home. My initial reaction was to not vote for Walker but the more I studied his numbers and thought back on his career the more I realized he belongs. The .313/.400/.565 slash line complements seven Gold Gloves quite nicely.
There may not be a more entertaining baseball-connected Twitter account than that of White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen's middle son. Oney Guillen lost his job with the White Sox in spring training for blasting general manager Ken Williams, and he went after former closer Bobby Jenks last week.
Jenks signed a two-year contract with the Red Sox last month after becoming a free agent in November when the White Sox non-tendered him. Jenks took a shot at Ozzie Guillen in an MLB.com story, saying, "I'm looking forward to playing for a manager (Terry Francona) who knows how to run a bullpen."
Oney Guillen fired back at Jenks with a series of tweets. Guillen accused Jenks of having drinking and marital problems as well as punching a clubhouse attendant in the face during spring training. The most cutting tweet read: "u cried in the managers office bc u have problems now u go and talk bad about the sox after they protected u for 7 years ungrateful."
That tweet brings up the issue of manager-player confidentiality. However, Oney Guillen said he does not feel his attack on Jenks will affect his or his father's relationships with the players.
"I grew up around clubhouses my entire life," Guillen told the Chicago Sun-Times. "My relationship with players will not change one bit. They know what I'm about. They know why I said what I said."
Oney Guillen also wouldn't apologize for his attack on Jenks, claiming he was defending his father.
"Maybe in hindsight I shouldn't have said a couple of things, but I did," Guillen said. "The reason I got so mad about what Bobby said was he is basically saying my dad is a (terrible) manager. Sorry, but no one knows what will happen with the Sox this year, and who knows how a statement like that could affect my dad's future? That's my dad. If anyone heard someone talking (stuff) about their dad, and it was stuff that wasn't true or stuff from a guy that their dad did a lot for the past six or seven years, how would they react?"
The Rays have lost seven players to free agency this winter, and seven more are still on the open market. Conversely, they've added just three major-league players, all relievers, by signing free agent Joel Peralta and acquiring left-hander Cesar Ramos and Adam Russell from the Padres in a trade for shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Not surprisingly, the Rays have a long shopping list. They would like two experienced late-inning relievers along with a pair of hitters who could fill holes at first base, left field, or designated hitter.
The challenge is fitting those players into a payroll that will be significantly lower than last year's $73 million figure. Thus, the Rays are looking for players who, in executive vice president Andrew Friedman's words, are "under-the-radar type guys that we feel fit us well and have a lot of upside."
"Right now, we're upside players," Friedman said. "That's what our mindset is and what we're going to aggressively try to accomplish."
The Rays, as always, are trying to compete on a tight budget in the American League East against the game's two biggest spenders in the Yankees and Red Sox. Yet after winning two division titles in the last three years, the Rays believe they will be competitive again this year.
"You can just interchange the names; we go through this conversation every offseason," Friedman said. "It just accentuates what we're up against."
While it's at the expense of plenty of offense, the Marlins' infield defense figures to get better with Omar Infante replacing Dan Uggla at second base. However, the outfield defense is a different matter, as the Marlins will have converted infielders at two of the three positions.
Logan Morrison will again play left field; he moved from first base last season for fellow rookie Gaby Sanchez. Chris Coghlan, who was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2008 as a third baseman, will be the center fielder. That leaves Mike Stanton as the only natural right fielder.
The makeshift outfield is seemingly a concern considering the Marlins were 11th in the NL and 22nd in the major leagues last season with a .683 defensive efficiency. However, the Marlins are quick to point out that Coghlan did make the transition to left field last year before injuring his knee in July, which prompted the call up of Morrison from Triple-A.
"There is not great concern on the club's part with those three guys in the outfield," baseball operations president Larry Beinfest said. "With Chris, we have to take what we know: he made himself a left fielder in a short period of time, so we believe he'll be able to take that over to center field."
Coghlan is looking forward to the move despite not having played center field during his five professional seasons.
"Center field is going to be fun," Coghlan said. "I've got confidence in my ability to be able to play that position at a high level."