Why I’ll vote for Robinson Cano for Hall of Fame, despite PED stain
Assuming I’m still around, assuming the Baseball Hall of Fame still relies primarily on writers to determine its honorees and assuming this planet still revolves reliably around the sun, I’ll be voting for Robinson Cano to be enshrined in Cooperstown come 2029.
His spectacular career speaks for itself statistically, his latest milestone occurring Tuesday night, when he tallied his 2,500th hit. Morally, his half-season suspension last year for violating baseball’s illegal performance-enhancing drug rules — he tested positive for a masking agent — represents reindeer games compared to the collusion in which Bud Selig engaged as the Brewers’ owner, and the former commissioner deservedly cruised to election in his first opportunity. No selective outrage here.
Yet if I feel certain about my personal commitment to Cano, now 36 and a first-year Met, that certainty diminishes when trying to forecast how he’ll fare with the rest of the voting body. Cano’s best chance to defy the obvious odds against him comes in playing well — not as much to boost his already stellar résumé as to kick the can down the road on his verdict.
On Wednesday afternoon, after the Mets ended their terrible road trip with a 3-2 loss at San Diego, Cano insisted he spends virtually no time contemplating his ultimate professional judgment.
“For me, I’ve got four years left [beyond this season], and that’s all that matters,” he said. “Just concentrate on staying healthy and keep doing what I’m doing and prepare myself to be able to play every day.”
His underwhelming start in a Mets uniform — he’ll bring a .254/.307/.400 slash line into Friday night’s homestand opener against the far-worse Marlins — calls into question whether Cano will even make it all the way through the end of his contract in 2023. An earlier-than-desired retirement would lead to an earlier-than-scheduled placement on the Hall’s ballot, and that might make a difference as we try to contemplate the key factors to Cano’s baseball immortality. Here they are:
— The voting body’s evolution. A writer gets a Hall of Fame vote after being a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 10 years, and a voter loses that privilege after being out of the business for 10 years. It’s a nice circle of life.
Consider that in the most recent ballot, steroids scapegoats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens received support from eight of the 10 new voters who publicized their selections. In 2018, Clemens got 12 of 13 such votes and Bonds 11 of 13 (thanks to Hall tracker Ryan Thibodaux for the data).
Project those numbers and percentages 10 years down the road, and you’re talking about roughly 100 new voters open to illegal PED transgressors. On the other side of the spectrum, Bonds and Clemens have fared poorly among voters who keep their ballots private, and that bloc tends to be older. How many of those “no” votes will even still have ballots in 10 years? That, too, bodes well for Cano.
— Some illegal PED pioneers. It’s going to be close for Bonds and Clemens, who each have three years left and stand at 62.2 percent. Since baseball never punished them, they symbolize the first rung of forgiveness.
Then come the guys who failed drug tests and served suspensions: Manny Ramirez, who got caught twice, and Alex Rodriguez, who got caught after previously admitting to usage. Both men present as egregious offenders, and Ramirez has been stuck in the 22-24 percent range during his three years on the ballot. A-Rod, now a star broadcaster as he has worked diligently to rehabilitate his image, enters the ballot in 2022.
Here’s an under-the-radar possibility who could help Cano: Andy Pettitte. The beloved Yankee got nailed in the Mitchell Report for utilizing HGH, and he immediately owned up to his mistake and apologized. He debuted on the ballot with 9 percent of the vote, enough to stick around.
If Cano didn’t come out and say, “I knew exactly what I was doing and I’m sorry,” he at least took accountability for deploying the masking agent Furosemide to deal with an undisclosed “medical ailment,” which put him miles ahead of guys like Ramirez, A-Rod and Rafael Palmeiro, who fell off the ballot after four years despite showing 569 home runs and 3,020 hits on his résumé.
— Positive trends. Since the infamous empty podium of 2013, writers have elected a total of 20 players in six years. The Hall likes such volume, as it’s good for business. Most new voters seem to approach their ballot with a “Big Hall” philosophy and select the maximum 10 candidates.
This belief system should aid Cano, all the more so if the first two factors here turn in his favor.
“My focus is on playing baseball, going out and being the same guy that I’ve been for the past 14 years,” Cano said, when I asked him specifically about his suspension.
That same guy might be viewed in a different light a decade from now. Even if he won’t admit that, Cano must hope that time winds up on his side.
The case for Cano
- Eight-time All-Star
- Five top-six finishes in MVP voting
- Two Gold Gloves
- .304 career average, .846 career OPS, 314 home runs, 1,244 RBIs
- Career WAR of 69.5
- WAR higher than those of Hall of Famers Tim Raines, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Carlton Fisk, Edgar Martinez, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Roberto Alomar, Pee Wee Reese, Andre Dawson, Willie McCovey, Dave Winfield, Mike Piazza, Harmon Killebrew, Yogi Berra, Vladimir Guerrero and others
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