Nightengale's Notebook: Will Hall of Fame stage be empty next year? A-Rod, Big Papi make things complicated

·16 min read

NEW YORK — If it wasn’t for the pandemic that wiped out last year’s Hall of Fame ceremony, we would have had an empty stage this past week with no one being inducted into Cooperstown.

Remember, there wasn’t a soul elected this past January, with Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller actually elected a year ago.

So the question everyone in Cooperstown wants to know is whether the Baseball Writers' Association of America will be pitching consecutive shutouts for the first time in Hall of Fame history.

You don’t think it can happen?

Go ahead, and take a hard look at the incoming ballot of newcomers:

Starters Tim Lincecum and Jake Peavy; closers Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon; first basemen Prince Fielder; Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira; catcher A.J. Pierzynski; outfielder Carl Crawford; infielders Jimmy Rollins and Alex Rodriguez and designated hitter David Ortiz.

Yep, there’s not a single player on the ballot guaranteed to be elected in December.

Sure, Rodriguez is easily the biggest star on the ballot with his 696 home runs, 3,115 hits, 2,086 RBI, three American League MVPs and 14 All-Star appearances.

Yet, the stat that dooms his fate is the number 162.

That was the number of games he was suspended in 2014 for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy, the largest suspension in baseball history.

Sure, the man was a phenomenal ballplayer, but if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren’t getting into the Hall of Fame — with only one year left on the ballot — it's unlikely Rodriguez gets elected on his first try.

Bonds is one of the greatest players who ever put on a uniform, and Clemens is one of the greatest right-handed pitchers in baseball history. Sure, there’s plenty of evidence and testimony in courts they used performance-enhancing drugs, but they were never suspended a single day, docked a penny in pay, or ever admitted to performance-enhancing drug use.

But for A-Rod? He checks all three boxes.

David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez in 2013.
David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez in 2013.

My line of demarcation on voting for players linked to steroids is whether you were suspended or not for performance-enhancing drugs.

Bonds and Clemens get my votes every single year, just as I voted for Mike Piazza, Pudge Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell, who also were widely accused of steroid use, even by their own peers.

It’s different for A-Rod and Manny Ramirez. They were caught. They were suspended. They badly hurt their teams’ playoff chances with their lengthy absences. That’s a No vote.

This leads us to the tricky dilemma of Big Papi.

No disrespect to Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez, who was elected to the Hall of Fame on the 10th and final ballot, but Ortiz may be the greatest DH of all-time.

But Ortiz tested positive among the anonymous tests conducted in 2003, according to the New York Times. Ortiz denied using any illegal substances, Commissioner Rob Manfred questioned whether it could have been a false positive. And, of course, Ortiz, never tested positive once when MLB's testing program was implemented in 2005.

So does Ortiz get a free pass, or is he punished for awhile, just like it took years on the ballot for Piazza and Bagwell to be inducted?

Perhaps the only other close call among the newcomers on this year’s ballot will be shortstop Jimmy Rollins. He presents an interesting case, but it may take years before a judgment is made on his candidacy. Rollins certainly was a premier shortstop during his era with an MVP award, four Gold Glove awards and three All-Star appearances. Yet, he never achieved those magical milestones. He finished with 2,455 hits, 231 homers, 936 RBI and 470 stolen bases.

If you’re looking for any of the 17 holdovers to cross the threshold, only starting pitcher Curt Schilling, with 71.7%, received more than 62% of the votes. His candidacy has stalled and his request was denied when he asked the Hall of Fame board to remove him from the ballot.

It’s quite possible that writers will honor Schilling’s request and simply not vote for him.

So, we better savor what we witnessed this past week with this Hall of Fame class.

The parties, parades, festivities and a whole lot more fans should return for next year’s induction ceremony.

The unknown is whether we’ll be celebrating anyone.

Trade deadline misfires

The trade deadline moves can look wonderful on paper, and the analytics can show it’s the perfect acquisition, but what it can’t measure is how a player can cope going from a team hopelessly out of a playoff race to the pressure of performing for a contender.

Take a look at a few of those recently traded players who suddenly are struggling on the big stage for contenders.

– Ian Kennedy, Phillies: Kennedy was a stud with the Texas Rangers with 16 saves and a 2.51 ERA. Yet, since joining the Phillies, has given up six homers in just 13 ⅔ innings with a 6.59 ERA after giving up only five homers in 32 ⅓ innings with the Rangers. He has already blown two of his eight save opportunities.

– Andrew Heaney, Yankees: The Yankees believed he’d be the perfect guy to fill in the back of the rotation. Oops. He has given up 31 hits, 26 earned runs and 11 homers for a 7.71 ERA, and lost his starting job.

– Joey Gallo, Yankees: The Yankees didn’t think they were getting Tony Gwynn when they made the trade with the Rangers, but Gallo is hitting a paltry .136 with 66 strikeouts in just 132 at-bats. Incredibly, he has already struck out 26 times more than Gwynn did in any season of his 20-year Hall of Fame career.

– Brad Hand, Blue Jays: The Blue Jays thought they solving their bullpen woes by acquiring a three-time All-Star closer who had 21 saves for the Washington Nationals. Instead, it was a disaster. He gave up a 13 hits, 10 earned runs and three homers in just 8 ⅔ innings for the Jays. He was released after 11 games and is now with the Mets.

– Adam Frazier, Padres: He was an All-Star second baseman who was hitting .324 with an .836 OPS with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now that he’s in a playoff race with the Padres, he’s hitting .240 with a .589 OPS.

Just cruising

Everywhere the Dodgers travel, bench coach Bob Geren brings along his portable bicycle, biking through every city on the road.

"I actually stole the idea from [Angels manager] Joe Maddon," Geren says. "I always liked biking. I just didn’t know they made such a thing that fit in a suitcase."

Geren, 59, has spent 42 years in the game as a player, coach and manager, and figures it’s time for him to see the world instead of simply staying put in his hotel room.

"As you get older," Geren says, "you start thinking about seeing different things. We have such a beautiful country. And in baseball it’s always hotel to the ballpark, the ballpark to the hotel. So I make a conscious effort to go out and see some sights, combined with wanting to get some exercise. I think it’s the perfect combination."

Every day on the road when the Dodgers have a night game, he’ll hit the road for at least 12 to 20 miles at a time.

The only scary moment during all of his biking ventures, he said, was when he crashed in Denver.

"It was a bike path that was 99% straight, and there was one little S-turn over the river with no guard rails. As I was turning, the front tire must have blew out. I crashed, and I almost went into the river.

"I got banged up pretty good. I had to call an Uber to get back because I didn’t have a spare tire with me.

"Since then, I always have a spare. Pretty good learning experience."

Geren, whose final trip of the regular season is to Cincinnati, Colorado and Arizona, provided USA TODAY Sports some details on his favorite biking cities:

Denver: "Denver has a great bike path that’s very safe. They have a great suburban community that’s 30 or 40 minutes away where I’ll stop and get some coffee, maybe read, and ride back."

San Francisco: "San Francisco is so fun because it has so many different routes. You can go out to the ocean. You can go over to the Golden Gate Bridge. You can ride to the Embarcadero. The weather is always perfect. It’s never too hot or too cold."

San Diego "San Diego is wonderful. You can ride downtown along the water, or all of the way out to Point Loma to the lighthouse out there. That’s a good ride."

New York: "New York is great. It’s a town most people wouldn’t think of biking, but to go along the Hudson River and going up as far North as you want, or going as far South as you want. It’s fun going back down past the aircraft carriers and the old planes, and the Wall Street area is great."

Chicago: "Chicago is wonderful, sneaky good. You can go along the lakes. You only have to go two or three blocks down the road and there’s a bikepath where you can go for an hour, 1 ½ hours, easily."

Milwaukee: "Milwaukee is another sneaky good one. There’s a bike path that I joke it must go all of the way to Canada. I don’t know where it goes, but you can ride it as far as you can go and that bikepath just keeps going and going. That’s a great town."

Pittsburgh: "That’s fun going along all of the different rivers."

St. Louis: "We don’t stay downtown [30 minutes away in Clayton], so I’ll ride in going through the zoo and the beautiful [Forest] park, all of the way to the ballpark."

Mets and Yankees players line up during ceremonies prior to the game on Sept. 11 at Citi Field.
Mets and Yankees players line up during ceremonies prior to the game on Sept. 11 at Citi Field.

9/11 – 20 years later

Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Charley Steiner, a native New Yorker who covered the first baseball game played after 9/11, the first sporting event back in New York City, and the first Yankees game after the terrorist attacks, says he simply couldn’t celebrate the 20-year anniversary.

"I didn’t need to be reminded," Steiner said, "how I felt that day. I don’t need or want to relieve that depression. I’m aware of it. Everyone remembers where they were, and what they were supposed to do that day, and the uncertainty of the days, weeks, and months. I see Spike Lee and all of these documentaries. I don’t need to inflict self-pain.

"But I can put blinders on and will remember and re-live every moment of the first game back between the Phillies and Braves, the first game at Shea Stadium, and the first game at Yankee Stadium. I’m more than willing to re-live those games, but not the morning of 9/11.

"I try to block out from 9/11 to 9/17 because it was just such a horrible depression. That day of 9/11 still is a deep, black, emotional hole for me."

Steiner’s first game after 9/11 was in Philadelphia with the Phillies playing against Atlanta. For several hours before the game, he sat with Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen in the stands, with Rolen questioning whether it made any sense to even play.

Steiner’s next assignment was the Mets game against Atlanta. Steiner visited the Mets clubhouse after the game when he was handed an NYPD hat worn by Mets reliever John Franco, a Brooklyn native, during the game.

"It was almost like the Mean Joe Greene commercial," Steiner said, "Here kid."

Steiner went to his office closet this past week, found the hat, and sent a picture.

The front of the cap was a police emergency NYPD squad logo. On the back, it read: "We will never forget. 9-11-01."

"In that game, in that moment, being a New Yorker," Steiner said, "that was maybe one of the top five sporting events, let alone baseball moments I ever covered."

Yet, the most indelible moment that will never leave his memory was doing the Yankees game. He looked into the dugout where he saw hundreds of police officers in dress uniforms. There was Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli holding and embracing a police officer, offering solace with the two crying.

"That was the most incredible moment for me," Steiner said. "I will never ever forget Lee Mazzilli, one human to another, providing comfort to a police officer when it’s usually the other way around. I still get lump in my throat thinking about it. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget."

Mazzilli, 66, who was at the 9/11 anniversary game Saturday at Citi Field, says he vividly recalls the scene.

"I remember going around thinking who needs a hug," Mazzilli says. "Everyone did because nobody knew what to do. All of our hearts were broken obviously."

Mazzilli, like Steiner, says the 20th anniversary won’t be remembered any more than any other day since the terrorist attacks.

"You read these stories about earthquakes and those wildfires in California," Mazzilli says. "We feel bad for those people. They lose their homes, and we watch it on TV, and we feel so bad for them.

"But when 9/11 happens, as New Yorkers, we live it every day here. It’s not that we don’t care, everyone cares, but when you live here, you think about it every day. You just don’t think about it on 9/11."

Around the basepaths

– Can we please give the Giants some credit for what they’ve accomplished this year?

There are only three weeks left in the season. They are not a fluke. They are a juggernaut.

They are the first Giants team to win 90 of their first 140 games since 1913, and are the first NL team to post a winning percentage of at least .600 in the first five months since the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers.

– The Red Sox have had 10 players test positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 27, and with ace Chris Sale now out, they’ll have played at least 24 consecutive games without at least one key player in their lineup due to the virus.

"At this point," Red Sox manager Alex Cora says, "nothing shocks me to be honest with you."

– Veteran scout Tim Schmidt, 65, has filed a lawsuit against the Dodgers, alleging they violated age discrimination laws by declining to renew his contract for the 2021 season. There will be plenty of scouts keeping a close eye on this case.

–Max Scherzer has been a lifesaver for the Dodgers since being acquired at the trade deadline, along with All-Star shortstop Trea Turner, going 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in seven starts, striking out 63 in 43 innings.

But where does he rank among all-time post-deadline hot streaks?

Randy Johnson went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA for the Houston Astros in 1998, striking out 116 in 84 ⅓ innings. He left as a free agent after the season and became the greatest free-agent signing in history with his four-year, $52 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, winning four Cy Young award and leading the D-backs to the 2001 World Series championship.

And don’t forget CC Sabathia, who carried the Milwaukee Brewers on his back in 2008. Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 130 ⅔ innings in 17 starts, including seven complete games and three shutouts. Even more remarkable, Sabathia pitched on short rest in his final three starts, risking an arm injury just two months from free agency.

– Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien have a realistic chance to become the only teammates to have 40 homers apiece from the first and second base positions in the same season. Guerrero has 43 homers and Semien has 39.

– Matt Harvey’s stay is coming to an end in Baltimore, and he has an ugly 6-14 record with a 6.27 ERA. If you ask the Orioles, he has been a $1 million blessing.

"He’s incredible, honestly," Orioles ace John Means said this week. "He’s taught me a lot in how to push through some things. … The man was on top of the world for three years, four years, and completely fell off. And to have the demeanor that he has still is absolutely incredible."

Matt Harvey could reach 30 starts in a season for the first time in his career.
Matt Harvey could reach 30 starts in a season for the first time in his career.

– What uniform will Albert Pujols be wearing in 2022?

Prediction: He comes full circle and is the Cardinals’ right-handed designated hitter (assuming the universal DH is implemented), joining Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright for one final ride.

"Fifty years from now, the way we talked about Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and who’s better," Dodgers starter Max Scherzer said, "I really think we’re going to be talking about who’s better with Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. And I get to say I played with both. I’ll be telling that to my grandkids.”

– Sure, COVID has been a huge factor for the plummeting attendance figures this season, but so has tanking.

There are 11 teams averaging fewer than 15,000 fans per home game, including four teams averaging less than 10,000: The Marlins, Rays, Athletics and Blue Jays.

– Considering Cody Bellinger’s awful season, the Dodgers are going to have to decide whether they will even offer him a contract after this season, knowing he could earn at least $20 million in salary arbitration.

Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, has started September 0-for-23, has no homers since Aug. 11 or an extra-base hit since Aug. 17, and his .157 batting average and .523 OPS this season are the worst among all players with at least 300 plate appearances.

– Pretty cool to see Hall of Famer Alan Trammell back in the Tigers dugout as their bench coach this weekend with four of their coaches on the COVID injured list.

– Los Angeles Angels slugger/pitcher Shohei Ohtani picked up a new fan in Astros manager Dusty Baker.

"He’s tough not to like," Baker says, "because anybody that nods to you, nods to the pitcher, nods to the umpire, nods to the catcher, you nod back. You know he’s very honorable and respectful not only to the people in authority but he’s respectful to the opposition as well. I think that’s something that our youth can take to heart and sort of copy the spirit of sportsmanship."

– Atlanta has a chance to have the first infield in history to have each of its four players hit at least 30 homers in a season: First baseman Freddie Freeman and third baseman Austin Riley have 29 homers each, second baseman Ozzie Albies has 27, and shortstop Dansby Swanson has 26.

– Will the last fan at Chase Field in Arizona please turn out the lights?

"We kind of joke that we might have had more cardboard cutouts here last year," D-backs starter Zac Gallen cracked.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hall of Fame 2022 class could be shutout: A-Rod, David Ortiz on ballot