Hall of Fame debate set to get even crazier with Papi, A-Rod entering mix in 2022

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By WEEI 93.7

Every year, the debate around Baseball Hall of Fame voting is heated. Depending on your perspective, that debate can be entertaining, amusing, annoying, frustrating or downright infuriating.

This year, things kicked up a notch. It started in the build-up to Tuesday night’s announcement of the voting results when reports emerged that some voters (it’s unclear exactly how many) wanted to change their votes for Curt Schilling after the former Red Sox pitcher tweeted support of the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump on Jan. 6.

No votes were actually changed, but Schilling still wound up missing out on induction by 16 votes, marking the ninth year he has fallen short. Afterwards, he posted a letter he had written to the Hall of Fame announcing his desire to be removed from the ballot next year, his final year of eligibility.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America responded on Wednesday, urging the Hall’s board of directors to reject Schilling’s request since he still meets all the requirements to remain on the ballot.

If Schilling does remain on the ballot, he will once again be a major story around this time next year. But next year, he will be just one of many.

The potential is there for the 2022 ballot to generate some of the most heated debate yet. Let’s start with two newcomers on the ballot who are sure to get people fired up: David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez.

Obviously, the overwhelming majority of Red Sox fans are going to say Ortiz should be a slam dunk. Consistent greatness at the plate for nearly 15 years. Postseason excellence. Three World Series. A World Series MVP. Too many clutch moments to count.

Voters around the country may not view Ortiz the same way, though, for one reason: There’s a steroid connection. Ortiz was one of over 100 players whom the New York Times reported in 2009 were on a list compiled by federal investigators of players who allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

Questions about the accuracy and meaning of that list have lingered ever since, though, and it’s possible Ortiz will avoid the fate of other stars who have been connected to steroids (like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- more on them later) thanks in part to commissioner Rob Manfred saying in 2016 that it was “entirely possible” Ortiz did not test positive in 2003, that those tests were “inconclusive,” and that it should not hurt Ortiz’s legacy.

Even if that isn’t held against Ortiz, the designated hitter debate is sure to surface again. While Edgar Martinez’s induction in 2019 helped open the door for DHs, there are still only three players in the Hall who played more than 50% of their career as a DH (Frank Thomas, Martinez and Harold Baines). Ortiz’s 88% at DH would far exceed even that of Martinez’s 70%.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, is unlikely to get any leniency. The steroid hard-liners who continue to keep Bonds and Clemens out (not to mention Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa) would have to keep Rodriguez out as well. In 2009, Rodriguez admitted to having used steroids from 2001-2003. In 2013, he was suspended for the entire 2014 season for allegedly obtaining PEDs as part of the Biogenesis scandal.

Speaking of Bonds and Clemens, next year is their 10th and final year on the ballot. Both picked up a few more votes this year, but they still topped out at just under 62%.

In many ways, next year will mark voters’ final verdict on the steroid era. If anyone has been holding out until the last minute, 2022 is their last chance to let Bonds and Clemens in. If they close the door on the two all-time greats one last time, then the door is closed on everyone who has a clear link to PEDs, including A-Rod.

And then there will be debate about just how clear that link has to be. Is Ortiz’s tenuous connection enough to keep him out? After all the uproar this year, will the Hall of Fame finally provide any sort of guidance to voters about how to approach "steroid guys" or how to apply the "character" clause?

Get ready for it. If you thought the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame debate and discussion was wild, 2022 is shaping up to be even crazier.