The Hall of Fame Case for Manny Ramirez

The latest Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released on Monday, and it features Red Sox icon Manny Ramirez as a headliner. Few athletes have electrified Boston more than Ramirez, whose talent was outrageous, but failed drugs tests and off-field antics will likely keep him out of Cooperstown. Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at his case.

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez played in parts of 19 seasons, mainly with Cleveland, Boston and the Dodgers. His career slash line of .312/.411/.585 is otherworldly, and only seven men have outperformed his .996 OPS. Manny hit 555 home runs, more than Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Foxx or Ted Williams. He also drove in 1,831 runs, good for 18th all-time. In every way, Manny Ramirez was one of the greatest hitters ever to grasp a bat.

Manny Ramirez, Soul of the Red Sox

Perhaps more importantly, the charismatic outfielder helped bring two World Series championships to Boston, a city that yearned for just one. Along with David Ortiz, Manny defined a generation at Fenway Park, forming arguably the greatest three-four punch in modern baseball history. Ramirez made 12 All-Star teams; won nine Silver Slugger Awards; and was named MVP of the 2004 World Series. He was also the American League batting champion in 2002, and the home run king two seasons later. That illustrates just how dynamic he was at the plate.

In any other era, such numbers and achievements would have made Manny Ramirez a lock for the Hall of Fame. But his career overlapped a dark period for the National Pastime, which was blighted by performance-enhancing drug abuse. Ramirez failed three tests and served two suspensions in his career. The first came in May 2009, when Manny used a women’s fertility drug to aid his production. Though it came late in his career, one can only question the validity of so many numbers compiled through the years. That may be difficult for Ramirez to overcome.

The Long Road to Cooperstown

If superior players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are kept outside the Hall of Fame due to steroid allegations, then Manny Ramirez has little hope. At first glance, the evidence against those players is far sketchier than it is against Ramirez. Bonds received just 44% of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot, while Clemens got 45%. Players need 75% to join the Hall of Fame. It’s a rocky road for anybody tainted by PED innuendo.

Manny Ramirez has admitted his mistakes. He’s even displayed a willingness to help younger players avoid similar pitfalls. As an instructor with the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez has been praised by Theo Epstein, whose life he routinely made difficult with the Red Sox. While those steps deserve praise, history says they won’t affect Hall of Fame voting numbers. Mark McGwire has enjoyed a renaissance as a coach, but his Cooperstown support slumped to just 12% last year. There’s little hope he’ll ever be elected.

If you add in Manny’s often prickly attitude, an uphill struggle awaits. People don’t easily forget a star outfielder roughing up a travelling secretary, for instance, and these things matter in a voting context. My best guess is that Ramirez receives around 25% of votes this year. That’s obviously inadequate, but it’s also a poor base from which to build support in subsequent years, sadly.

To anyone who watched the Red Sox during their golden rise in the 2000s, the suggestion that Manny Ramirez wouldn’t one day have a plaque in the Hall of Fame seems absurd. He was one of the most dominant hitters of his era, of any era. But poor decisions along the way will likely curtail his ride to Cooperstown. And that’s a real shame for all involved.

Boggs Better Than Gwynn?

Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn both debuted in 1982, won multiple batting titles, and joined the 3,000 hit club in 1999. They were perennial All-Stars, multi-Gold Glove winners, and first-ballot Hall of Famers. They played 2,440 games in careers that perfectly paralleled each other. But was Boggs better than Gwynn? Boggs Better Than Gwynn?

By looking at the numbers it’s almost impossible to tell. See below:

Boggs 1,513 R 3,010 H 578 2B 118 HR 1,014 RBI .328/.415/.443 (132 wRC+) 1,412 BB 745 K
Gwynn 1,383 R 3,141 H 543 2B 135 HR 1,138 RBI .338/.388/.459 (132 wRC+) 790 BB 434 K

As you can see, it’s a virtual wash. Boggs scored more runs, but Gwynn knocked in more. Boggs stroked a few more doubles, while Gwynn socked a few more homers. Boggs walked twice as often, but also struck out twice as much. Boggs got on base more, but Gwynn had more hits and greater power.

Was Boggs better than Gwynn by advanced metrics? Once again it’s really close:

Boggs: .302 true AVG .381 wOBA 1,750 runs created 479.7 batting runs
Gwynn: .300 true AVG .370 wOBA 1,636 runs created 437.7 batting runs

Boggs comes out on top, barely. His edge in adjusted batting runs is roughly two per season, while his advantage in runs created is about four per year. You’re splitting hairs at that point, albeit in Boggs’s favor.

But then, Boggs spent much of his playing days in hitter’s parks—nobody took greater advantage of Fenway—whereas Gwynn spent his entire career in Qualcomm Stadium—the Petco Park of its time. Accordingly, when you neutralize their numbers, Gwynn’s get better while Boggs’s get worse:

Boggs .321/.407/.435 (.842 OPS) 1,664 runs created
Gwynn .340/.391/.461 (.852 OPS) 1,735 runs created

Now it’s flipped, as it’s Gwynn who holds the slight edge. Had Gwynn played in Fenway, he probably hits .350 for his career. Meanwhile, had Boggs spent his whole career in San Diego, he wouldn’t have come close to batting .328.

Boggs could hit anywhere—he batted .302/.387/.395 on the road—but that would have been a bad season for him. It also pales in comparison to what he did at home (.354/.443/.495). Most hitters benefit from their home parks, but not to the same degree that Boggs did (unless they play in Coors Field).

Gwynn, on the other hand, hit nearly as well on the road as he did at home. His .334/.384/.451 road averages are nearly identical to his .343/.393/.466 home record. Gwynn would have been a .330 hitter no matter which team he played for, but Boggs might have batted closer to .300.

Was Boggs better than Gwynn? After taking their environments into account, it appears Gwynn was the superior batsman.

David Ortiz Doubles Machine

Only three players in baseball history have amassed more than 600 doubles and 500 home runs. The first was Hank Aaron, baseball’s home run king from 1974-2007. The second was Barry Bonds—baseball’s home run king since then. They were recently joined by David Ortiz doubles machine. Ortiz finds himself in pretty good company, alongside two of the greatest hitters who ever lived. Now, please tell me why he’s not a Hall of Famer.

David Ortiz Doubles Machine

When David Ortiz joined the 500 home run clubs last year, few were aware that he was David Ortiz Doubles Machinealso on the verge of 600 doubles. If anything, people probably assumed Ortiz had fewer doubles than home runs, given that he’s never been particularly fast.

And yet, Ortiz was racking up doubles long before he learned to hit the long ball. When he joined Boston in 2003, he had twice as many career two-baggers (76) as four-baggers (38). Moving to Fenway—a doubles paradise—ensured Ortiz would continue piling up two-base hits as long as he wore a Red Sox uniform. Thankfully, Ortiz has only donned the blue and navy since 2003.

Still, 600 doubles is a lot. Ted Williams didn’t reach that benchmark, and neither did Willie Mays. It’s a milestone that longtime teammate Manny Ramirez fell short of, as did Wade Boggs—another doubles machine who spent a considerable portion of his career in Boston. To get there, one must average 30 doubles a year for 20 years. This is Ortiz’s 20th season, so I’ll let you do the math.

It may come as something of a surprise that as great as Ortiz has been at hitting home runs—his 513 rank 22nd all-time—he’s been even better at hitting doubles. He’s one of only 15 players to total 600 in his career and has the most of any active player. His next two-bagger will tie Bonds on the all-time list, and assuming he hits 25 more over the rest of the season (a reasonable assumption given that he hit 31 from this date forward last year), he’ll leapfrog Aaron into the top 10.

Unless he plays until he’s 50, Ortiz isn’t catching Bonds or Aaron on the home run list. But there’s a strong likelihood he winds up with more doubles than either of them, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

Seeing Luis Tiant Outside Fenway Always a Treat

I love seeing Luis Tiant outside Fenway Park on game day. One of my most favorite things to do when I get to Fenway is to see if Tiant is hanging out at his concession stand appropriately named El Tiante. Seeing the Red Sox pitching legend on Yawkey Way not only excites visitors, but cements his status as an ambassador of inspiration for the Red Sox Nation.

I started going to Red Sox games often after moving to Boston in 2014. Seeing Luis TiantSeeing Luis Tiant Outside Fenway outside Fenway Park at El Tiante for the first time was exciting, especially since it’s rare for most fans to get that close to a retired all-star. I first heard about Luis Tiant after watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary on PBS in 1994. I immediately became a fan of the Cuban-born pitcher after watching footage of him pitching in the 1975 World Series. I even tried to mimic his unusual pitching style, which often led to throwing the ball over the backstop. Needless to say, my pitching career was never going to go anywhere.

Luis Tiant played in Boston from 1972 to 1978, longer than any other team he pitched for in his 19 year career. He was a four 20-game winner and twice led the American League in ERA. His best years, however, were with the Red Sox. Not only were three of his four 20-game winning seasons with the Red Sox, but he won two games against the Reds in the 1975 World Series, both complete games with one being a shut out. Tiant even managed to hit a decent .250 with two runs scored in the series. While not a great average, it’s not bad for an American League pitcher who hadn’t had an at bat for a few years. Why he isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame remains a mystery. Let’s hope the Veteran’s Committee picks him when they meet in 2017.

Before coming to Boston, injuries and lack of offensive support almost forced Tiant’s career to end prematurely. Leading the league with 20 losses in 1969 made almost everyone assume that his career was finished. Boston, however, took a chance on him. He was named Comeback Player of the Year in 1972 after leading the American League with an astounding 1.91 ERA and 15 wins. Luis Tiant is now a living example of what it takes to overcome the challenges life places before us, and he inspires so many in the Red Sox Nation, including this writer. He’s a big part of what makes us continue to root for the Red Sox, especially after two losing seasons. He’s proof that it’s possible to come back stronger than ever.

Let’s hope we get to see Luis Tiant outside Fenway Park for years to come!

Red Sox Hall of Fame: Nomar Garciaparra

Red Sox hall of fame

On Thursday August 14, the Boston Red Sox enshrined a talented group of stars into their hall of fame. Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and longtime radio play-by-play voice Joe Castiglione were inducted into what may be the most talented Red Sox Hall of Fame class ever.

When I first began watching the Sox in 2000, Nomar Garciaparra was instantly my favorite player. As kids growing up, Nomah’s antics and dominant hitting were things we tried to emulate in the backyard. The toe taps, the batting glove adjustments, the jump throws from deep in the hole at shortstop. Nomar was a fan favorite during his time in Boston despite the way his career with the Sox ended.

In a time when the home run was dominating the game, Nomar was perhaps the best hitter for average. A .372 average in 2000 was the best in the American League since George Brett’s .390 average in 1980. Nomar was flirting with .400 until mid-August of that year when his average dipped at the end of the season. His .323 career average with the Red Sox is the 4th best in club history behind three hall of famers—Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, and Tris Speaker.

Nomar had a different approach though. A free swinging, first pitch hitter, Nomar was able to translate an aggressive plate approach into success, which has been seldom done. His .365 career average on first pitches proved that a hitter doesn’t need to take a traditional approach to be one of the best.

After winning the Rookie of the Year unanimously in 1997, Nomar hit 35 home runs and drove in 122 runs to finish second in the MVP voting in 1998. His batting titles in 1999 and 2000 further solidified him as one of the game’s elite hitters. It is a shame that Nomar was sent out of town in 2004, but he was evidently unhappy in Boston at that point and the Red Sox ended up being able to win without him.

Did Nomar do steroids? It’s very possible in this writer’s opinion. The Sports Illustrated cover of him looking jacked doesn’t help his case looking back on the matter. His series of muscle related injuries doesn’t help either, but essentially everyone playing at that time can be looked at and argued over whether they took steroids or not.

The fact of the matter is that Nomar helped turn the Red Sox from a mediocre team in the mid-90’s into the powerhouse team they became in the 2000’s. Like Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and others, Nomar’s departure from Boston wasn’t pretty, but his years in town helped shape the Red Sox culture of this generation.