I ran into Nick Cafardo's latest notes column because of something he wrote in passing about Yoenis Cespedes, but I wound up taken instead by Cafardo's treatise on the Hall of Fame prospects for Manny Ramirez, who debuts on the BBWAA ballot next year.
According to Cafardo, Ramirez's For comes down to one thing, really. Or at least one thing that the voters are likely to think much about: "Ramirez's numbers are extraordinary." He's 18th on the all-time RBI list, 15th on the home runs list. Oh, and he's eighth in career OPS.
Now, we do have to leaven Ramirez's numbers with a few grains of salt. He played most of his career in hitter's parks, in a hitter's era. So his adjusted OPS ranks just 27th. Which of course is still extraordinary. It's just not eighth.
Cafardo also lists Ramirez's Against, and I must mention that Cafardo is a master of understatement. To wit: "Defense was not a strength."
If you consider defense -- and yes, I understand that voters often don't consider defense much at all, but please bear with me for a moment -- then Ramirez, even with all those OPS's, falls into a group that includes, yes, players like Tim Raines and Tony Gwynn and Al Simmons, but also players like Larry Walker and Kenny Lofton and Jim Edmonds. And none of those latter three are heading to Cooperstown anytime soon.
But as I said, voters don't care much about defense. Historically speaking, Ramirez did the things that Hall of Fame voters have always admired.
If you think that was understatement, though, get a load of this one: "The PED violations are maybe too much to overcome in the eyes of voters, even though they came at the end of his career."
Maybe? Maybe too much?
Yes, for all we know, Ramirez didn't start using illegal sports drugs until the end, or nearly the end. I mean, that seems highly unlikely, based purely on what we know about the culture during that era. But hey, it's possible. It seems unlikely to me that Ramirez would come remotely close to 75 percent in a Hall of Fame election after failing three tests (two known, one alleged), when Bonds and Clemens can't come close -- or haven't so far, anyway -- after failing none.
Granted, that's just my opinion. And it's hardly a perfect analogy, as Bonds and Clemens, rightly or wrongly, are seen by many voters as Bizarro Apotheoses of their era, and punishable to the full extent of the ballots and periods of eligibility.
Fine. Lousy analogy. You want a better one. You deserve a better one.
Palmeiro's qualitative hitting numbers aren't as good as Ramirez's. But his big-time counting stats -- the homers and the RBI, in particular -- are dead ringers. Their overall Wins Above Replacement are virtually identical, too.
Now, before I get to my big reveal, I really should mention one huge difference between Palmeiro and Ramirez. While neither of them ever won an MVP Award or even finished second, Manny's got four top-five finishes and nine top 10s, while Palmeiro's got just one top five (fifth) and three top 10s. Whatever your feelings about the MVP, they're a pretty good gauge of the writers' perceptions of a player during his career. And it's pretty obvious that Ramirez was perceived as a significantly better player.
On the other hand, memories do fade, leaving the numbers. And the numbers for these guys really aren't so different.
Like Ramirez, Palmeiro failed a drug test toward the end of his career. Not three of them. But one. Right at the end.
Right at the end.
In Palmeiro's first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, he got 11 percent.
In his second year, 13 percent.
In his third, nine percent.
In his fourth, four percent.
You fall below five percent and you're off the ballot.
I'm not saying Ramirez won't last five years on the ballot. He's got those two rings and those one hundred and eleven postseason games and those big seasons, and all that's going to count for something.
But what's going to count for the most, the most by a lot, are those three failed drug tests. And while the voters might well become more and more forgiving in the coming years, Manny Ramirez has a long, long wait ahead of him.