Sunday, June 12, 2022

Nadal Moves Further Ahead of the Pack With 14th French Open Title/22nd Grand Slam Title

In January 2022, Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open, becoming the first man to capture 21 Grand Slam singles titles--breaking a three way tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It is interesting to contrast the reaction to Nadal's feat with the typical reaction every time Federer accomplishes something: every breath Federer takes is construed as proof that he is supposedly the greatest tennis player of all-time, while Nadal's feats are often diminished or qualified in some fashion--but Nadal forges ahead, and he is making it increasingly difficult for anyone to rank Federer ahead of him. Nadal is now halfway through toward a calendar year Grand Slam--one of the few significant achievements not yet on his resume--after winning the French Open to extend his records for French Open titles (14) and Grand Slam titles (22, now two ahead of Federer and Djokovic).

When Nadal first started dominating Federer head to head, we were told that Nadal is just a clay court specialist whose body will break down prematurely due to his hard-charging style. Even after Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon, there were still many commentators who stubbornly refused to admit that Nadal had surpassed Federer. Now that Nadal and Djokovic have emerged as the only Open Era players to win each Grand Slam at least twice, and now that Nadal is setting longevity records--including being the oldest French Open winner--after previously setting "youngest to" records, Nadal's critics are running out of arguments to make against his greatness: Nadal has maintained his head to head advantage versus Federer, Nadal has beaten Federer at Wimbledon, and Nadal has broken Federer's record for Grand Slam singles titles. Name an objection to Nadal being ranked ahead of Federer, and Nadal has refuted it.

Nadal's French Open dominance is unparalleled in tennis history, and may be unparalleled in sports history. Bjorn Borg won four straight French Open titles (1978-81) and a then-record six overall (1974-75, 1978-81) but Nadal has not only shattered those marks but his French Open titles alone outnumber the combined Grand Slam wins of every male player in tennis history except for Federer (20), Nadal (Djokovic), and Pete Sampras (14). Jimmy Connors (eight) and John McEnroe (seven) are top ten players of all-time but their combined Grand Slam win totals only exceed Nadal's French Open win total by one. 

From the perspectives of total accomplishments and longevity, Nadal is the Open Era's greatest player. Would Nadal have been able to beat Borg at the French Open if both players were in their respective primes? That question is unanswerable due to the vast differences between their eras. The most intriguing and unique aspect of Borg's career is that, at his best, he was both Federer and Nadal at the same time: Borg not only dominated the French Open the way that Nadal has, but Borg also won a then-unprecedented five straight Wimbledon titles. Borg's feat of winning both events in the same year three straight times (1978-80) has yet to be matched. Borg is likely the only player in the Open Era who could have beaten Federer at his best at Wimbledon and Nadal at his best at the French Open. For example, Pete Sampras--whose name at one time was mentioned prominently in the greatest player of all-time conversation--would not have stood a chance at the French Open against either Borg or Nadal. 

If Nadal can find a way to manage his chronic foot injury, he appears to have enough left to continue to add to his record Grand Slam singles win total, perhaps pushing that number to a level that will not be challenged for a long time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Triumph and Tragedy of Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods' ability to play competitive rounds at major golf championships after almost losing his leg in a car accident speaks volumes about not only his prodigious talent but also his determination, grit, and pain tolerance. Woods made the cut at the 2022 Masters ahead of several notable names, and he finished 47th. He then made the cut at the 2022 PGA Championship before withdrawing after limping through a difficult third round. There is much about Woods to be admired, emulated, and respected, both in terms of his dominance in his prime, and his determination to play through injury now.

However, obscured in the story of his remarkable comeback is why exactly he has to come back.

In February 2021, Woods suffered serious injuries in a one car accident during which he was entirely at fault due to driving far faster than the speed limit. Despite his vehicle event recorder demonstrating that he was driving in excess of 80 mph in a 45 mph zone at the time of the crash, Woods was not even issued a speeding ticket. His dangerous conduct not only caused serious injuries to himself, but he could have seriously injured or even killed innocent people. Even worse, this not the first time that Woods' reckless conduct behind the wheel potentially endangered other people. 

In May 2017, he was arrested for suspicion of DUI after police found him sitting unconscious in a damaged Mercedes Benz on the side of a road; he tested positive for five different drugs and had no explanation for how his car became damaged, but he was permitted to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for entering a diversionary program. 

In November 2009, Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant, a tree, and several hedges. He was cited for careless driving as a result of that incident. Fortunately, no one was injured other than Woods. 

Woods' injuries and the obstacles that he created for himself in his personal life are tragic notes to his golf career, but his reckless behavior behind the wheel could have led to fatal tragedies not only for himself but for innocent people and their families. While it would be inspiring to see Woods charge up the leaderboard at a major golf championship again, it would be even more inspiring if he conquers whatever causes him to get behind the wheel with such callous disregard not just for his life and limbs, but for the life and limbs of others. If Woods is only working on his golf, his life story may have a much more tragic ending than just falling short of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record for major championships won.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The NCAA Tournament Provides Drama, but Does it Provide Great Basketball?

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (better known as "March Madness") is one of the sports world's most high-profile and beloved events. Passionate fans energetically cheer for their favorite schools (and, it must be noted, passionate fans wager on the outcomes of the games). No one can dispute March Madness' enduring popularity. However, passion and popularity should never be confused with high efficiency and skill set mastery; the notion that college basketball players and teams play a better and/or "purer" form of the game than NBA players and teams do is demonstrably false.

Put more bluntly and concisely, several of the biggest NCAA games of this season were almost unbearable to watch because the level of play was so bad.

Perhaps mismatches are to be expected during the NCAA Tournament's early stages, so this discussion will focus on the Elite Eight, the Final Four, and the Championship Game. If college basketball is a better and/or "purer" form of the game then surely this would be most evident in the most important games of the year featuring the top eight teams in the country.

In the first Elite Eight game of 2021, Villanova defeated Houston, 50-44. As the low score indicates, the pace of this game was painfully slow, bringing back nightmarish memories of the awful pre-shot clock era when stalling was a regularly used strategy; the NBA began using a 24 second shot clock in the 1954-55 season, but the NCAA did not start using a shot clock until the 1985-86 season, when the college game finally limited each possession to 45 seconds (that number was cut to 35 in 1993-94, and then reduced to the current number of 30 in 2015-16). Houston shot 17-57 from the field (.298), including a brutal 1-20 (.005--that is not a typo!) from three point range. Villanova shot even worse from the field (15-52, .288) but compensated by shooting 5-21 (.238) from three point range--which is bad, but not as bad as Houston--and making all 15 of their free throw attempts. Despite the low number of possessions and high number of missed field goals, the teams combined to commit a total of 20 turnovers.

It is true that defense and rebounding have always been essential elements for winning a basketball championship, but when the field goal percentages in a game would not even be good batting averages it is evident that we are not watching great defense as much as we are watching players and teams that are unable to execute basic, fundamental offensive strategies, and are unable to make shots under pressure. NBA defenses are more sophisticated than college defenses, and NBA players are much more athletic, so if Houston and Villanova players cannot make shots under NCAA Tournament conditions then that does not bode well for how those players may perform at the next level.

The second Elite Eight game featured Duke defeating Arkansas, 78-69. Duke played at a high level, with team shooting splits of .547/.400/.889, but this just highlighted how outmatched Arkansas (.419/.300/1.000) was. Duke led by as many as 18 points, and the margin was not closer than 10 points during the final 11 minutes until Arkansas made a layup with :46 remaining, after which neither team scored the rest of the way. Duke is one of college basketball's elite programs of the past four decades, and Arkansas was not competitive for most of the game.

Kansas stomped Miami 76-50 in the third Elite Eight game. Miami kept the score close in the first half before being outscored 47-15 in the second half; it is difficult to imagine that anyone other than a diehard Kansas fan considered the game entertaining, or even watchable: how can a supposedly "elite" college basketball team score just 15 points in 20 minutes? It is not inconceivable that an NBA team, if motivated to do so, could hold a major college basketball team scoreless for 10, 15, or even 20 minutes, because far too many college teams and players simply lack the necessary fundamental skills to make shots against any kind of defensive resistance.

The Elite Eight concluded with North Carolina jumping out to a 9-0 lead versus Saint Peter's, and never looking back en route to a dominating 69-49 win. Saint Peter's shot 7-31 (.226) from the field in the first half, and trailed 47-20 with 15:33 remaining in the second half before "heating up" to only lose by 20 on 18-60 (.300) field goal shooting--and it's not like North Carolina shot the lights out, either, as the Tar Heels finished with shooting splits of .410/.273/.619. How can anyone consider any of these games, or the NCAA Tournament as a whole, to represent great--or even fundamentally sound--basketball?

This analysis is not meant to take anything away from what Saint Peter's accomplished by advancing to the Elite Eight as a small school; the point is about the overall quality of play at the highest levels of college basketball.

The Final Four opened with Kansas beating Villanova, 81-65. Kansas opened the game with a 10-0 run, and pushed the lead to 38-19 before settling for a 40-29 halftime advantage. Kansas shot 15-31 (.484) from the field in the first half, while Villanova shot just 10-29 (.345) from the field. Kansas outscored Villanova 10-5 to take a 50-34 lead early in the second half, but Villanova rallied to cut the margin to 64-58 before Kansas outscored Villanova 11-1 to remove any doubt. Villanova shot 12-28 (.429) from the field in the second half to finish 22-57 (.386) for the game.

The much anticipated second Final Four game featured Duke versus North Carolina. North Carolina ended Coach Mike Krzyzewski's regular season career by beating his Blue Devils 94-81 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, avenging Duke's 87-67 win at North Carolina on February 5--and North Carolina ended Kryzewski's NCAA Tournament career by beating his Blue Devils 81-77. The first half was very competitive, with neither team leading by more than six points, but the offensive execution was sloppy at both ends of the court: North Carolina shot just 12-34 (.353) from the field, while Duke shot 16-37 (.432) from the field as the Blue Devils led 37-34 at halftime. Both teams were awful from three point range in the first half, with North Carolina shooting 3-13 (.231) and Duke shooting 2-12 (.167). The Tar Heels shot 5-6 from three point range at the start of the second half en route to taking a 60-55 lead. Duke kept attacking inside, and used a 10-4 run to go up, 65-64. With North Carolina clinging to a 75-74 lead, Duke's Mark Williams missed two free throws, and then Caleb Love hit a dagger three pointer to make the score 78-74; that sequence exemplified the game's two big themes: the Tar Heels shot 7-13 (.538) from three point range in the second half to finish 10-26 (.385) overall, while Duke struggled to make free throws (12-20, .600). North Carolina shot 27-64 (.423) from the field overall, while Duke shot 30-72 (.417), including 5-22 (.227) from three point range.

Kryzewski's resume--including five NCAA championships and a record 13 Final Four appearances--indicates that he is one of the greatest college coaches of all-time, but it is worth noting that his Duke team this season lost seven times to an unranked team while being ranked in the AP Top 10, the most such losses in one season since the AP poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989-90. Throughout his career, his teams have often lost to underdog teams in the NCAA Tournament--including a loss as the second seed to 15th seed Lehigh in 2012, one of just 10 times a second seed has lost to the 15th seed, and a loss as the third seed to 14th seed Mercer in 2014. Kryzewski did a great job of building Duke into a recruiting powerhouse, but it could be argued that--considering the amount of talent his teams had relative to other teams during the past several decades--he could/should have won even more than he did.

The NCAA Championship Game featuring Kansas and North Carolina epitomized the characteristics and trends described above: we saw an abundance of energy and passion, but that should not in any way be confused with high level execution or a consistent display of basic fundamental skills. Kansas won 72-69, making history with the biggest comeback (16 points) in NCAA Championship Game history. Kansas began the game with a 7-0 run, but trailed 40-25 at halftime, tied for the fourth largest halftime deficit in NCAA Championship Game history. Kansas shot 10-33 (.303) from the field in the first half, including 2-7 (.286) from three point range and 6-21 (.286) in the paint. North Carolina built a 15 point halftime lead despite shooting just 12-33 (.364) from the field in the first half, including 3-11 (.273) from three point range. Kansas opened the second half with a 20-6 run to erase most of North Carolina's advantage, and then Kansas tied the score at 50 on a three point play by Ochai Agbaji with 10:53 remaining in the contest. Agbaji, who scored 12 points on 4-9 field goal shooting in the Championship Game after scoring 21 points on 6-8 field goal shooting in the Final Four rout of Miami, was voted the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Kansas soon took a 56-50 lead, and was on top most of the rest of the way, though North Carolina briefly went up 69-68 with 1:41 remaining. Even after shooting 19-33 (.576) from the field in the second half, Kansas shot just 29-66 (.439) from the field overall, including 6-17 (.353) from three point range. North Carolina shot just 11-40 (.275) from the field in the second half, including 2-12 (.167) from three point range, finishing 23-73 (.315) overall, including 5-23 (.217) from three point range.

There are many reasons that the quality of play at the highest levels of college basketball is not as good as the quality of play in the NBA. The first, most obvious, and indisputable reason is that in no field of endeavor would it be reasonable to expect apprentices to outperform seasoned professionals: an apprentice craftsman is not superior to an experienced craftsman, and apprentice basketball teams/players are not superior to experienced professional basketball teams/players. The second reason is that there is very little continuity in major college basketball because the best players leave school after just one season; this is not to suggest that players should not be allowed to leave or that they should choose not leave: the point is that the best college-age basketball players in the world are, for the most part, playing in the NBA, not in college. The talent drain of young players going to the NBA means that every year the best college teams are rebuilding, which in turn means that rivalries--at least in terms of individual player matchups--cannot be sustained, and it also means that the best teams do not have a chance to build chemistry or work much on skill set development. Each college season consists of a breathless race to determine which group of talented freshmen can gel as quickly as possible to peak during the one and done NCAA Tournament before the best players jump straight to the NBA. This is the basketball version of fast food, not gourmet cooking, and that is why we see unwatchable games with wretched field goal percentages.

There is no question that the worst NBA team could beat the best NCAA team by at least 20-30 points. Not only are the NBA players more athletic, more talented, and more fundamentally sound, but they are coached better. 

The NCAA Tournament is very popular and generates much passion, but popularity and passion should not be confused with mastery of basketball fundamentals. 

Further Reading:

Baylor Dominates Gonzaga to Win the 2021 NCAA Title (April 2021)

Separating the Grownups From the Kids in Basketball (November 2018) 

Heels Stomp Spartans (2009 NCAA Championship)

C(h)alm in the Clutch: Kansas Defeats Memphis in OT, 75-68 (2008 NCAA Championship) 

Early Entry Players Have Diluted Both College and Pro Basketball (March 2008)

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Cleveland Browns Players and Coaches Often Reach the Super Bowl--But Only After Leaving Cleveland

The Cleveland Browns have never played in the Super Bowl, though the franchise has won four AAFC titles (1946-49) and four NFL titles (1950, 1954-55, 1964). However, many Cleveland Browns have played in the Super Bowl--as members of other teams. Even a partial list of former Browns who have played in the Super Bowl is a depressing reminder for Browns fans of just how inept the team's owners and general managers have been for the past several decades:

Len Dawson: Played for the Browns from 1960-61; won Super Bowl IV MVP after leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 23-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Paul Warfield: Played for the Browns from 1964-69, and helped the Browns win the 1964 NFL championship as a Pro Bowl receiver during his rookie season; won two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins.

Greg Pruitt: Four-time Pro Bowl running back with the Browns in the 1970s before earning one Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl XVIII ring with the L.A. Raiders.

Lyle Alzado: Played for the Browns from 1979-81, earning one Pro Bowl selection; joined Pruitt on the Raiders' Super Bowl XVIII championship team.

Earnest Byner: Played for the Browns from 1984-89; made two Pro Bowls and won one Super Bowl after the Browns traded him to the Washington Redskins in 1990.

Bernie Kosar: Played for the Browns from 1985-93, leading the team to three AFC Championship Games; after the Browns released him, the Cowboys signed him and he completed 5 of 9 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown while replacing the injured Troy Aikman in the NFC Championship Game. The Cowboys won that game en route to winning Super Bowl XXVIII. Kosar took a kneeldown on the final snap of the Super Bowl.

Shaun O'Hara: Played for the Browns from 2000-03; won Super Bowl XLII with the Giants, and also earned three Pro Bowl selections as a Giant.

Mike Adams: Played for the Browns from 2007-11; played in Super Bowl XLVIII for the Denver Broncos, who lost 43-8 to Seattle. He also played in two Pro Bowls after leaving Cleveland.

Alex Mack: Played for the Browns from 2009-15, earning three Pro Bowl selections; Mack signed with the Falcons in 2016, and he continued to be a Pro Bowl player while also playing for the Falcons in their Super Bowl LI loss.

T.J. Ward: Played for the Browns from 2010-13; after leaving Cleveland, he played in Denver's Super Bowl 50 win. 

Jabaal Sheard: Played for the Browns from 2011-14; won Super Bowl LI with the New England Patriots.

Mitchell Schwartz: Played for the Browns from 2012-15; won Super Bowl LIV with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Josh Gordon: Played for the Browns from 2012-18; won Super Bowl LIII with the Patriots.

Dion Lewis: Played for the Browns in 2013; after spending one season with Indianapolis, he joined the New England Patriots and played in two Super Bowls, including the Patriots' Super Bowl LI championship.

Danny Shelton: Played for the Browns from 2015-17; won Super Bowl LIII with the Patriots.

Jason McCourty: Played for the Browns in 2017; won Super Bowl LIII with the Patriots.

At least three former Browns are members of this season's two Super Bowl teams. Larry Ogunjobi will not play in Super Bowl LVI due to injury, but he played a big part in the Cincinnati Bengals' success this season. Guard Austin Corbett, who the Browns traded to the L.A. Rams for a fifth round draft pick, started all 16 regular season games for the Rams this season. Odell Beckham Jr. is of course the most famous and most outspoken former Brown who will be playing in Super Bowl LVI, and he played a key role for the Rams after the Browns traded him. He has the necessary talent and big play ability to win the Super Bowl MVP.

Again, the above is just a partial list, largely off the top of my head. I remember that Tony Grossi wrote at least one article with a larger list of former Browns who reached the Super Bowl after leaving Cleveland, but I could not find that article online.

In addition to players making Super Bowl appearances after leaving Cleveland, many coaches and assistant coaches have gone to the Super Bowl after finishing their time with the Browns. Here is a partial list:

Forrest Gregg: The Browns' head coach from 1975-77 before coaching the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI.

Bill Cowher: Played for the Browns from 1980-82, was an assistant coach with the Browns from 1985-88, and then became the Steelers head coach from 1992-2006. He led the Steelers to two Super Bowl appearances, including a win in Super Bowl XL.

Bill Belichick: The Browns' head coach from 1991-95 before coaching the New England Patriots to a record six Super Bowl titles.

Kyle Shanahan: The Browns' offensive coordinator in 2014 before coaching the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl LIV.

Bruce Arians: The Browns' offensive coordinator in 2001-03 before winning two Super Bowls as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers and winning one Super Bowl as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Not only have many former Browns advanced to the Super Bowl as individuals, but the former Browns team has won not one but two Super Bowls: Baltimore partnered with Browns owner Art Modell to steal the Browns from Cleveland, and the renamed Baltimore Ravens went on to win two Super Bowls, the ultimate slap in the face/punch to the gut for loyal Browns fans who have received many slaps to the face and punches to the gut since the Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Tom Brady Ends an Unprecedented Career on His Terms

Tom Brady, who just announced his retirement from the NFL after 22 seasons, won more Super Bowls (seven) than any single NFL franchise. If NFL titles from the pre-Super Bowl era are counted--and they should be--there are still only three franchises that won more championships than Brady: Green Bay Packers (13), Chicago Bears (nine), and New York Giants (eight). If AAFC titles are included--and they should be--then the Cleveland Browns are tied with the Giants. 

Speaking of the Browns, Brady is often described as the greatest quarterback ever based on how many championships his teams won, but Browns quarterback Otto Graham played 10 seasons (four in the AAFC followed by six in the NFL) and his teams appeared in the championship game 10 times, winning seven titles. Graham passed for 174 touchdowns, and he scored 44 rushing touchdowns; he led the league in passer rating (retroactively calculated, as passer ratings had not been created yet) five times, and his 112.1 passer rating in 1946 stood as the single season professional record until Joe Montana broke the mark in 1989. Graham ranked first in career passer rating for over 40 years until Montana surpassed him. I do not put much stock in passer ratings, but it is notable that Graham's passer ratings were so high that it took decades before anyone broke his single season and career records.

The rules, playing styles, and playing conditions of the 1940s and 1950s are so different from the rules, playing styles, and playing conditions of the 2000s that it is not meaningful to compare Graham's individual statistics with Brady's individual statistics, but to the extent that winning championships is an important metric for quarterbacks Brady and Graham are on equal footing. To the extent that being an efficient passer is an important metric for quarterbacks, Graham stood further ahead of his peers (and even succeeding generations of quarterbacks) than Brady.

Brady spent the first 20 years of his career in New England, leading the Patriots to six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances, including the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons as the Patriots captured three Super Bowl titles in a four year span, a feat matched by only the Dallas Cowboys in the 1992-93 and 1995 seasons. The 2007 Patriots became the first (and still only) NFL team to go 16-0 in the regular season, but their bid for a perfect season fell short due to a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

Other than an ACL injury that forced Brady to miss almost the entire 2008 season, he was remarkably durable, and he rarely sat out a play. Brady was not fast, but he had an uncanny ability to shift around in the pocket so that he avoided absorbing big hits. The only other quarterback that I have seen who was not fast but had a similar pocket agility was Dan Marino (prior to the Achilles injury that he suffered late in his career); Marino rarely scrambled, but he would move away from pressure to avoid the big hit and get rid of the ball. 

The final act of Brady's career took place in Tampa Bay, where he continued to play at a high level and set records while leading the Buccaneers to the second Super Bowl title in franchise history. Brady is not the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback to win a title with a second team--Peyton Manning won one Super Bowl with Indianapolis and one Super Bowl with Denver--but Brady won a Super Bowl in his first year with his new team, and Brady played at an elite level throughout the season and the playoff run, while Manning won in his fourth season in Denver as a caretaker quarterback who threw more interceptions than touchdowns during the regular season.

Brady was remarkably effective in high pressure situations throughout his career, conducting numerous game-winning drives. In his last game, he almost led Tampa Bay to victory after trailing 27-3 in the Divisional Playoff game versus the L.A. Rams, who survived and will now represent the NFC in the Super Bowl after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship.

It is unfortunate that instead of appreciating the greatness that Brady displayed in Tampa Bay there are many commentators who feel obligated to treat the Buccaneers' title run as some kind of indictment not just of New England not making sure that Brady finished his career with the Patriots but of Bill Belichick's entire coaching career. Brady winning a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay has no connection with Belichick's legacy; Belichick was a great defensive coordinator for two New York Giants Super Bowl teams, in his first head coaching job he led the Cleveland Browns to their only playoff victory in the 1990-2019 time period, and in his second head coaching job he guided the New England Patriots to a record-setting six Super Bowl titles. Belichick's record more than speaks for itself, and he is not required to "validate" his Super Bowl wins by winning a Super Bowl with a different quarterback. Think about how foolish it would sound to say that Chuck Noll had to "validate" his four Super Bowl wins by winning a Super Bowl without Terry Bradshaw. No one says that because it is nonsense, so commentators should stop saying nonsense about Belichick; their resentment at his brief press conference answers to their ridiculous questions should not impact how they describe his legacy.

Is Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time? Brady has to be on the short list of greatest quarterbacks. He holds all of the important "counting" records, from Super Bowl titles (seven) to career playoff wins (35) to career playoff passing yards (13,049) to career playoff touchdowns (86) to career regular season wins (243) to career regular season passing yards (84,250) to career regular season passing touchdowns (624). He excelled in the biggest moments, he was incredibly durable, and he won big even when he did not have big name players at the "skill" positions. 

Graham's name is too often left out of this conversation, probably because he played so long ago and because he played the first four years of his career in the AAFC, but he led the Cleveland Browns to the NFL title in his first NFL season (1950), disproving any notion that the Browns' four consecutive AAFC championships were less valuable than NFL championships. Graham won three NFL championships in just six NFL seasons, and he was a big threat not only as a passer but also as a runner. He and Peyton Manning share the quarterback record for most All-Pro First Team selections (seven; four of Graham's selections were in the AAFC, but those four are included in ProFootballReference.com's list, as they should be). Brady earned three All-Pro First Team selections in his 22 season career. The quarterback position is often stacked with a lot of talent, so it is unusual for a quarterback to earn more than three All-Pro First Team selections. Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Brett Favre join Brady on the list of quarterbacks who received the honor three times.

Graham is the all-time leader in winning percentage among starting quarterbacks, and he is the all-time leader in yards per attempt, which is remarkable considering that he played in an era when the rules did not favor the passing game. Brady ranks second in winning percentage, but he barely cracks the top 30 in yards per attempt; in general, Brady ranks number one in almost every "total" statistic, but he is not at or sometimes even near the top in percentage statistics. Brady deserves credit for playing such a long time at a very high level, but his peak value in a given season or game may not have been the highest ever.

Johnny Unitas held the records for career passing yards and career passing touchdowns when he retired. He earned All-Pro First Team honors five times, trailing only Graham and Manning at the quarterback position. Unitas' Baltimore Colts won three NFL titles in the pre-Super Bowl era, and they added a fourth title in Super Bowl V. In 2004, The Sporting News ranked Unitas as the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time, ahead of Joe Montana.

Montana tied Bradshaw's record by winning four Super Bowls, a mark that stood until Brady broke it. Montana was the modern day Graham, an efficient passer who also had mobility that enabled him to be a threat to roll out and either pass or run depending on how the defense reacted.

Unitas and Montana were probably the consensus choices as the two greatest quarterbacks of all-time prior to Brady's emergence, although there is no objective reason for Graham to be ranked below them. It is fair to say that Graham was the best quarterback of the 1940s/1950s, Unitas was the best quarterback of the 1960s, Montana was the best quarterback of the 1980s, and Brady was the best quarterback of the 2000s. The 1970s and 1990s are more difficult to assess. Bradshaw won the most championships in the 1970s, but Roger Staubach was a more efficient passer and better runner than Bradshaw while winning two Super Bowls. Dan Fouts was the most prolific passer of the late 1970s/early 1980s, but he never played in a Super Bowl. Dan Marino was the most prolific passer of the mid-1980s/early 1990s, but he only played in one Super Bowl, losing to Montana. Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, but he was not individually productive enough to be ranked among the very best. Brett Favre set many career passing records during the 1990s, but he was not as efficient as several of his predecessors, and he only won one Super Bowl.

If championships matter the most, why would Brady's seven in 22 years rank higher than Graham's seven in 10 years? If Graham had played an 11th season and won his eighth title would he be considered hands down the greatest quarterback of all-time? If not, why not?

However, if durability while maintaining a high level of play is the tiebreaker/decisive factor, then Brady lapped the field: no quarterback has played so well for so long, even if there may be a few quarterbacks who played better over shorter time periods.

Passer ratings are so skewed by the rules changes from the past 40 years or so (and other factors beyond the scope of this article) that they do not factor into my rankings (they are only useful for comparing players who competed in the same era, but they are worthless for comparisons across eras). For the record, Brady's career passer rating is eighth all-time on the all-time list, just ahead of Tony Romo and just behind Kirk Cousins. With all due respect to Romo and Cousins, they do not belong in the greatest quarterback of all-time conversation--and passer ratings do not belong in the conversation, either.

The case for calling Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time is strong, but not definitive. However, it should be clear that--contrary to assertions by Dan Shaughnessy--Brady is not the greatest athlete in Boston history. Shaughnessy, who covered the Boston Celtics in the 1980s, should know better. As great as Brady was, he did not come close to matching what Bill Russell accomplished: Russell led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships in 13 seasons, including a run of eight championships in a row. A football team has 11 players on the field at a time, and it has been decades since players regularly played offense and defense (Deion Sanders being the notable exception), but a basketball team has just five players on the court at a time, and all five players play both offense and defense. Russell's direct impact on team success was greater than Brady's; that is not a shot at Brady, but just a statement of fact recognizing the difference between being a great basketball player and being a great football player. Bill Russell is the greatest winner/champion in the history of major North American team sports, and he is without question the greatest athlete in Boston history.

Brady's career is unprecedented in many ways: he went from being the 199th pick in the draft to being the NFL's greatest winner during the Super Bowl era, and he played at a high level for 22 years. It was  a treat to watch him play, and it will be interesting to see what he does now that his playing days are over.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Nadal Stands Alone at the Grand Slam Summit

Rafael Nadal bounced back after trailing two sets to none to defeat Daniil Medvedev in five sets to not only win the Australian Open for the second time, but also become the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles, breaking a tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. In 2008--at the height of Federer-mania--I deemed it premature to label Federer the greatest tennis player of all-time: "Considering that Nadal is almost five years younger than Federer it is entirely possible that he will eclipse what Federer has done; after all, five years ago Federer had just won his first Grand Slam, while Nadal already owns four Grand Slam titles, beating Federer along the way each time."

As I predicted, Nadal has eclipsed Federer--but Nadal's accomplishment may not silence his critics, who have always been vocal:

1) "Nadal is just a clay court specialist."

Nadal is a great clay court player--he has won a record 13 French Open titles, shattering the mark of six held by Bjorn Borg from 1981 until Nadal captured his seventh Roland Garros crown in 2012--but even if you ignore those 13 championships only seven players have won more total Grand Slams than Nadal's eight "other" Grand Slam titles. Nadal's eight "other" Grand Slam titles match the total career Grand Slam wins posted by Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, and Andre Agassi. 

Nadal and Djokovic are the only Open Era players to win the double career Grand Slam (winning each Grand Slam at least twice). The notion that Nadal is strictly a clay court specialist could not be further from the truth. If Nadal had never set foot at the French Open he would still rank among the top 10-12 players of all-time. 

2) "Nadal's hard-charging style will cause his body to break down, so he will have a short career."

In 2020, Nadal dominated Djokovic in straight sets to win the French Open and tie Federer with 20 career Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal also broke Borg's record by winning his fourth Grand Slam title without losing a single set during the tournament, and Nadal became the first Open era player to win six Grand Slam singles titles after the age of 30--keep in mind that Don Budge, Boris Becker, and Stefan Edberg each won six Grand Slam singles titles in their entire careers! Nadal, who will turn 36 in June 2022, is on his way to becoming perhaps the greatest "older" player of all-time.

What can Nadal's critics say now? 

Nadal owns the career Grand Slams record, he maintains a decisive head to head advantage versus Federer (24-16 overall, including 10-4 in Grand Slams, with Nadal beating Federer at least once in three of the four Grand Slam events), and he only trails Djokovic slightly head to head (30-28) while leading Djokovic 10-7 head to head in Grand Slam matches. 

Nadal's Grand Slam winning percentage is .333 (21 titles in 63 appearances), and his Grand Slam match winning percentage is .879. Federer's Grand Slam winning percentage is .247 (20 titles in 81 appearances), and his Grand Slam match winning percentage is .860. Djokovic's Grand Slam winning percentage is .303 (20 titles in 66 appearances), and his Grand Slam match winning percentage is .875. 

In the Open Era, no player has won a single event more often than Nadal has won the French Open. Nadal also owns second place and third place on that list, with 12 Barcelona Open wins, and 11 Monte Carlo Masters wins.

Is Nadal the greatest tennis player of all-time? That is not an easy question to answer, for several reasons. 

First, it is very difficult to compare tennis players from before the Open Era to players from the Open Era because of rules changes, equipment changes, and changes in tennis' organizational structure that impacted which tournaments players could enter/which tournaments were the most lucrative and/or prestigious. The most obvious and significant difference is that before the Open Era began professional players could not participate in the Grand Slam events. Rod Laver won all four Grand Slams in 1962 as an amateur, and then after he turned pro in 1963 he was not eligible to participate in those events until the 1968 French Open, when the Open Era began. Laver dominated the Pro Slam events from 1963-68 with eight wins and six Finals appearances in 15 events, and there is no doubt that he would have won many Grand Slam titles during that period had he been permitted to compete.

Second, even within the Open Era there have been significant changes. To cite just one example, during the 1970s there were non-Grand Slam events that paid more prize money than the Grand Slams. This impacted how the players set their schedules, and how the players trained; it made more sense (not to mention more dollars and cents) to train with a focus on the biggest money events than it did to focus on the Grand Slams. Bjorn Borg won the Pepsi Grand Slam for four straight years (1977-80) when that event featured the world's top players and paid out a bigger prize fund than any of the Grand Slams: Borg's $100,000 first prize in the Pepsi Grand Slam was more than he received in 1976 for winning Wimbledon and the WCT Tour Finals--combined!

That is not to suggest that the Grand Slams were not important, but the near-obsessive focus on Grand Slam titles that exists now did not exist with the same intensity at that time. As proof, consider that Borg only played in one Australian Open, Jimmy Connors played in two Australian Opens, and John McEnroe played in five Australian Opens in a 16 year Grand Slam career.  In contrast, nine of Djokovic's 20 Grand Slam wins are Australian Open wins. Comparing Djokovic's Grand Slam win totals from playing four Grand Slam tournaments per year to the Grand Slam win totals of players who generally played three Grand Slam tournaments per year is not meaningful.

Is Nadal the greatest player of the Open Era? 

Perhaps the best way to frame this conversation/analysis is to note that Borg is the Sandy Koufax of tennis: like Koufax in baseball, Borg was further ahead of his contemporaries than perhaps any other tennis player has ever been. When Borg retired from Grand Slam play at just 25 he owned the career record for both French Open titles and Wimbledon titles. Federer now holds the Wimbledon record and Nadal now holds the French Open record, but during Borg's time he was literally Federer and Nadal in one package!

Think of the difference between NFL running backs Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith. Brown, who played nine seasons consisting of either 12 or 14 games each, held the career rushing yards gained record for over 20 years, but he now ranks 11th on the all-time list. Smith, who played 15 seasons consisting of 16 games each, has held the career rushing yards gained record for almost 20 years--surpassing Walter Payton, who broke Brown's record in 1984--but knowledgeable NFL analysts do not rank Smith as the greatest running back of all-time, because there is a significant difference between productivity and dominance. Brown dominated his era, while Smith was durable enough to be very productive for a long period of time. Borg is the tennis version of Brown, while the subsequent players who have been productive but not as dominant--most notably, Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer--are analogous to Smith.

There is a difference between being the most accomplished player, and being the greatest player. There are many pitchers who won more games than Sandy Koufax, but few--if any--pitchers who I would choose over Koufax to pitch game seven of the World Series. If I needed a great running back to help me win one game, there is no one who I would take ahead of Jim Brown, including the players who have rushed for more career yards than he did. 

In my October 23, 2012 article Fun With Tennis Numbers, I listed some of the records Borg still held (or held jointly) more than 30 years after he played his final Grand Slam tournament:

  1. Best career overall match winning percentage (.827)
  2. Best career Grand Slam match winning percentage (.898)
  3. Best career Wimbledon match winning percentage (.927)
  4. Best career match winning percentage against top 10 players (.725)
  5. Best career Grand Slam tournament winning percentage (.407)
  6. Won at least one Grand Slam singles title for eight straight years
  7. Only man to win three Grand Slam singles titles without losing a set
  8. Only man to reach four Grand Slam singles finals without losing a set
  9. Only man to defeat six previous Grand Slam winners in a Grand Slam final
  10. Holds the record for most consecutive Davis Cup singles match wins (33)
  11. Holds the record for most singles titles won before his 25th birthday (59)
  12. Reached the finals in 11 of 12 Grand Slams entered during a four year stretch

Remarkably, nearly 10 years later Borg still holds (or holds jointly) nine of those records! Nadal now holds the records for overall match winning percentage, for winning one Grand Slam singles title for 10 straight years (2005-14), and for for winning four Grand Slam singles titles without losing a set. Borg not only dominated his peers, but he set some marks that remain unbroken more than 40 years after he played in his last Grand Slam event.

In Federer, Nadal and Djokovic Reconsidered--and Why Borg Still Stands Alone, I wrote: 

Anyone who sees the larger historical perspective is amused by all of the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic talk, because none of those guys measure up to Bjorn Borg, who I described as the "Sandy Koufax of tennis." Borg outdistanced his contemporaries by a greater margin than any player in the Open Era. Consider these statistics:

* Borg was the youngest player to win the Italian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. Borg's records for the French Open and Wimbledon have been broken but he is the only player who was simultaneously the youngest ever champion of all three events.

* Until the age of 21, Borg never lost to a player younger than he was.

* Borg achieved the French Open/Wimbledon double each year from 1978-80. No player before or since has accomplished this feat in three straight years, or even two straight years.

* Borg tied the all-time record by winning three Grand Slam titles without losing a set (1976 Wimbledon, 1978 French Open and 1980 French Open).

* Borg simultaneously held the record for most career French Open singles titles (six) and most career Wimbledon titles (five). While both records have since been broken, no other player in the Open Era has simultaneously held both marks. For half a decade, Borg was the best grass court player in the world and the best clay court player in the world. In other words, he was Nadal and Federer rolled into one, while competing against at least two players who should still be listed among the 10 greatest of all-time (Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe).

* Borg won five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976-80, a feat that had not been accomplished since the 1880s, when the defending champion was automatically seeded into the next year's Finals.

* When Borg retired from Grand Slam competition at the age of 25 he ranked second all-time with 11 Grand Slam singles titles, trailing only Roy Emerson. Emerson won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, but six of his were in his native Australian Open; until the 1980s, non-Australian players regularly skipped the Australian Open, and Borg only played the event once, as a teenager.

* Borg remains the youngest player to ever win 11 Grand Slam singles titles (25 years old).

* Borg still holds the highest career Grand Slam tournament winning percentage (.407; 11/27).

* Borg still holds the highest career Grand Slam match winning percentage (.898; 141-16).

* Borg still holds the highest career Grand Slam five set match winning percentage (.889; 24-3).

* Borg remains the only player who posted five straight years with a Grand Slam match winning percentage above .900 (1977-81).

* Borg still holds the highest career Wimbledon match winning percentage (.927; 51-4).

* Borg still holds the record for consecutive Wimbledon matches won (41).

The main knocks against Borg are his lack of longevity and the fact that he never won the U.S. Open. The funny thing about Borg's longevity is that he won at least one Grand Slam title in eight straight years (1974-81), a record that stood alone until Sampras matched it in 2000. Federer achieved the feat from 2003-10, and Nadal now holds the record with 10 (2005-14). In terms of Grand Slam dominance--as opposed to mere Grand Slam participation--Borg enjoyed enviable and nearly unmatched longevity. Regarding the U.S. Open, Borg reached the Finals four times in nine appearances, and his Finals losses all came at the hands of Connors or McEnroe, two of the most decorated U.S. Open champions ever. The lack of at least one U.S. Open title is the only legitimate mark against Borg, and in terms of ranking the greatest players of all-time that one negative mark does not outweigh all of the positive marks listed above.

Borg remained solidly in second place with 11 Grand Slam singles titles from 1981 until 1998, when Sampras tied him. Sampras passed him in 1999 and retired in 2002 as the all-time leader with 14 Grand Slam singles titles. Sampras won 14 of the 52 Grand Slam singles events that he entered (.269). He never made it to the French Open Finals, and he only made it to the French Open semifinals once in 13 tries. Sampras was not nearly as dominant as Borg. While Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have each subsequently passed both Borg and Sampras in terms of total Grand Slam event wins, no one has approached Borg's .407 Grand Slam event winning percentage or his astonishing 16 Finals trips in 27 appearances (.593). Borg on his best day could beat anyone from any era on grass or clay. That is clearly not true of Sampras, Federer or Djokovic, particularly regarding clay. Borg versus Nadal on clay would be an incredible spectacle but Nadal at his best is not beating Borg at his best on grass.  

You may ask, "What would Nadal--or any player--have to do to surpass Borg?" The answer is simple--but not easy to do: to surpass Borg, a player would have to dominate his peer group from a young age and continue to do so for an extended period of time in the most important events on a variety of surfaces. As noted above, Borg's simultaneous dominance of Wimbledon and the French Open has yet to be matched; it took two different players--Federer and Nadal--plus the passage of more than 20 years to break just some of the records Borg set. 

Therefore, I would say that Borg is the greatest Open Era player, while Nadal is the most accomplished Open Era player.

Former MLB Player Doug Glanville Explains Why Barry Bonds and the Other PED Cheaters Should Never be Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

I recently articulated my position regarding why PED cheaters should not be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I rarely provide links to ESPN.com, for reasons that should be obvious, but once in a while the site provides a gem. Former MLB player Doug Glanville offered a passionate and well-reasoned argument about why he is OK with Barry Bonds not being elected to the Hall of Fame.

Glanville makes a great point while refuting the notion that not electing Barry Bonds and the other PED cheaters is wrong because the Baseball Hall of Fame is a history museum: the story of PED cheating can be thoroughly told without electing Bonds and the other cheaters, because there is a difference between telling history and honoring people who behaved poorly. Of course the history of the PED era should be told: instead of inducting Commissioner Bud Selig--perhaps the worst commissioner in major North American sports in the past several decades--he should have towered over the PED exhibit as the poster boy of ineffective leadership that permitted the cheaters to damage the game and destroy baseball's record book, which should now only be shelved in the fiction section of libraries and bookstores.

The whole article is worth reading (just mute the speakers on your device to spare yourself the agony of hearing "Screamin' A" Smith yelling that Barry Bonds should be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame--to find one "diamond" on ESPN.com you must traverse a lot of "rough"), but here are some excerpts to whet your appetite:

The most common argument for the inclusion of PED users in the Hall is that we can't ignore the past, and trust me--I hold no rose-colored glasses to the idealism of this game's origins. Throughout my playing career, I was always acutely aware that players who looked like me once could not even participate in that history. And yes, there are likely players who are in the Hall now who took PEDs and got away with it. Yes, there are players in the Hall who took amphetamines, whose behavior would not have lived up to the policies today. But why should any of that stop us from being better now?

We all accept that the Hall of Fame is a museum, tasked with telling the full story. But it is also a shrine. There should be a difference between being recognized in the Hall of Fame and being honored by it. I am represented in the Baseball Hall of Fame--or at least, my senior thesis from college is. Does that mean that I am a Hall of Famer? I doubt my .277 batting average and 59 home runs would have gotten me in. And I am fine with that.

I don't see why this distinction cannot be made who took PEDs and also had a record-setting impact. If we want to recognize PED users in the Hall, we can build them an exhibit, or even their own wing. We should acknowledge all of our history, both glorious and ugly. Like I am, with my paper, they can be in the Hall--as a fixture and as a recognition of their accomplishments. But I don't see why they need a plaque.

What we celebrate--what we enshrine--should have a different set of criteria. We cannot treat induction into the Hall as simply an act of historical graduation--automatic entry into the Hall because the numbers are in record books--especially when the inductees did not stand on the shoulders of their predecessors so much as trample them into the ground with glee...

With some of these players, their proponents make the argument that they would have been Hall of Famers whether or not they used. I have always been skeptical that anyone could know for sure when or if a player started taking PEDs. But more importantly, when you make a choice that artificially manipulates your performance and your future, it colors your past. Fairly or not.

We simply can't say what these enhanced players would do or be without the stuff. I was drafted in 1991, one pick in front of Manny Ramirez, a player some call the "greatest right-handed hitter of all time." Maybe he was; maybe he deserved to be drafted ahead of me. But I did not fail two tests and miss 150 games because of it. I do not know what kind of hitter he would have been without what he took. No one does. So talking about picking me over Ramirez is like comparing apples to oranges. We weren't even playing the same sport in the end. Good for him--he made his money, he won world championships. But does he need to be enshrined as an example of the best of our sport? The answer to that question is really up to us...

Nearly a decade ago, I worked on a task force with the United States Anti-Doping Agency. I was helping to evaluate a report on youth sports to understand what gives young people the fullest, healthiest and most enjoyable experience when participating in sport. Also in the group was an ethicist by the name of Tom Murray, and he said something that stuck with me: "You reward what you value."

If we are to reward players with induction into the Hall, it should be based on our values. We are the ones who need to decide the difference between being great and being consequential.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Baseball Hall of Fame Voters Correctly Shut the Door on Bonds and Clemens, but Give a Pass to Ortiz

In Hall of Fame balloting conducted among members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, David Ortiz received 77.9 percent of the votes, surpassing the 75 percent threshold for induction. Although Ortiz is the only player selected by the media, he will not be the only inductee this summer. He will be joined by six players who were selected by various Hall of Fame committees: Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Minnie Minoso, Jim Kaat, Bud Fowler, and Buck O'Neil. Kaat, Oliva, and Ortiz are the only 2022 inductees who are alive.

Ortiz ranks 17th on MLB's regular season home run list, his teams won three World Series championships (2004, 2007, 2013), and he won the 2013 World Series MVP. He is a first ballot inductee, but barely. Why did he not receive more votes? One reason is that he spent most of his career as a designated hitter, and Hall of Fame voters have typically passed on players who spent most of their careers as a designated hitter (with a few notable exceptions, including--most recently--Edgar Martinez, inducted in 2019). 

The other reason is that it is likely, but not definitively proven, that Ortiz used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his career.

In a recent article, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci noted that prior to 1996 there had never been an MLB season in which 12 players each hit at least 40 home runs. Then, at least 12 players each hit 40 home runs for six straight years. Verducci's 2002 SI story about rampant steroid use in MLB shamed Congress into action, and led to MLB taking the first tentative steps to test players and assess the problem. Ever since MLB began testing, there has never been another season in which at least 12 players each hit 40 or more home runs; the bloated home run numbers are tainted and, as I wrote in 2009, MLB's record book should be shelved in the fiction section.

Here are a couple player quotes from Verducci's 2002 article:

Pitcher Matt Herges declared, "I know what steroids did for me. It made me superhuman. It made me an android, basically. Your body shuts down and the stuff takes over."

Pitcher Dan Naulty said, "I was a full blown cheater and I knew it. You didn't need a written rule. I was violating clear principles that were laid down within the rules."

PEDs are called "performance-enhancing" because they enhance performance: they help pitchers throw faster and harder, and they help batters swing faster and harder. "Stat gurus" have trouble grasping this basic concept, but anyone with common sense understands why the players cheated, and anyone whose moral compass is functioning understands why the cheaters should not be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2012 Mark McGwire--who spent a long time evading the topic but eventually admitted that he used steroids--said, "It's a mistake that I have to live with for the rest of my life. I have to deal with never, ever getting into the Hall of Fame. I totally understand and totally respect their opinion and I will never, ever push it."

Ortiz tested positive for PEDs in 2003, though those test results did not become public knowledge until 2009. Ortiz was not productive during the early portion of his career, but he turned things around after he was released by the Minnesota Twins in 2002. At that time, he was 26 years old, and he had never hit more than 20 home runs in a season, nor had he ever slugged more than 75 RBI in a season. In 2003, the year that Ortiz tested positive, he had 31 home runs and 101 RBI in his first season with the Boston Red Sox. In 2004, Ortiz had 41 home runs and 139 RBI, followed by 47/148 and 54/137 in 2005 and 2006. MLB's PED testing program began during the 2006 season (the 2003 tests were "survey" tests to assess the extent of the problem, with the results not publicized, and with no players being disciplined even though steroids were and are illegal without a prescription). A player who stopped taking PEDs that season would be able to pass drug tests but still likely benefit from the residual effects and the muscle mass already built. Ortiz was just 30 years old, and he played 10 more years until he was 40, but he never hit more than 40 home runs in a season, though he was very productive even at age 40 (38 home runs, 127 RBI). It must be emphasized that Ortiz' production after PED testing was implemented does not prove that he was clean: it may be possible to cycle usage in a way to avoid detection, and--even more to the point--research has shown that even brief PED use can confer long-term strength gains.

So, the facts that we know are that Ortiz was a mediocre player at best until he was 26, he suddenly became good around the same time that he tested positive for PEDs, PEDs can provide a long-term advantage even after usage is discontinued, and neither Ortiz nor anyone else has provided a public explanation for Ortiz' positive test. It is not surprising that MLB, not wanting to have yet another star tainted, has stood behind Ortiz, because the evidence against him is easier to sweep under the rug than the massive evidence against Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, and many other players. It is worth mentioning that Ramirez and Ortiz were teammates on two World Series championship teams. Like Ortiz, Ramirez tested positive in 2003; Ramirez also tested positive a second time after MLB instituted penalties for positive tests, and he was suspended for 50 games during the 2009 season. MLB loves to publicize how the Red Sox overcame the "curse" to win three World Series, but the fact that the team's two best sluggers both tested positive for PEDs is brushed under the carpet (Ramirez played for the 2004 and 2007 championship teams, while Ortiz played for all three championship teams).

Verducci, who is a Hall of Fame voter, voted for Ortiz, as he does not believe that one failed test whose results were not supposed to be publicly released should disqualify Ortiz. I respect Verducci--one of the best baseball writers of all-time--but I respectfully disagree. You can be convicted in court based on circumstantial evidence, and I think that the circumstantial evidence cited above is sufficient to keep Ortiz out of the Hall of Fame, or to at least delay voting for him unless/until he is more forthcoming about his positive test.

Bonds and Clemens finished second and third in the 2022 voting. This was the final year on the ballot for both of them. Alex Rodriguez finished 10th in the 2022 voting. MLB suspended Rodriguez for the entire 2014 regular season and the entire 2014 postseason not only for using PEDs but for actively obstructing MLB's investigation of his illegal conduct. He should have been banned from the sport for life, not invited back to become a highly paid MLB analyst. Manny Ramirez finished 12th in the 2022 voting, while Sosa finished 14th.

Curt Schilling not only was not tainted by PED use, but while the PED usage was at its highest he was an outspoken critic of players who cheated by using illegal drugs. Schilling did more than enough to earn induction, but many media members do not like him because of various opinions that he has expressed, and thus Schilling only finished fifth in the balloting in his final year of eligibility. In case you forgot, never knew, or are too young to remember, Schilling posted an 11-2 postseason record, including 5-0 in elimination games. His .846 postseason winning percentage is the all-time record for pitchers with at least 10 postseason decisions. He played for three World Series champions (2001, 2004, 2007), and he won the 2001 World Series MVP. Four pitchers in MLB history have struck out 300 or more batters in a season at least three times: Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, and Randy Johnson. Schilling is the only one of the four who has not been inducted in the Hall of Fame. Schilling won 216 regular season games, with a .597 winning percentage. He is one of 19 members of the 3000 strikeout club, and he has the best strikeout to walk ratio in that elite club. 

Let me be perfectly clear: I did not root for Schilling or his teams, and I disagree with some things that he has said and done. Whether you like a person or agree with a person has nothing to do with that person's qualifications to be a Hall of Famer; I understand that, but many biased media members who have been given the privilege of filling out a Hall of Fame ballot fail to understand that.

It must be noted that the PED cheaters not only caused damage during their own era, but the artificially inflated home run numbers of Bonds, McGwire, and others made it even more difficult for clean sluggers from previous eras to be inducted. Dale Murphy should have made the Hall of Fame a long time ago, but his career numbers--including 398 home runs--now look pedestrian alongside the counterfeit numbers posted by the cheaters. Murphy won back to back National League MVPs (1982-83) while leading the league in RBI during both of those seasons, and then he led the NL in home runs in 1984 and 1985 while earning two more top 10 MVP finishes. He smashed a career-high 44 home runs in 1987 during a run of nine straight seasons during which he hit at least 20 home runs (he had 36 or more home runs in five of those seasons). A 20 home run season may not seem impressive after the fake pyrotechnics of McGwire-Sosa-Bonds and the other cheaters, but Murphy finished in the NL's top four in home runs seven times, including six top three finishes. Murphy not only won four Silver Slugger awards but he also earned five Gold Gloves. He was a complete player who did things the right way, and he has been unjustly forgotten by history and by the Hall of Fame voters.

Players who fail to be elected after 10 years on the ballot can still become Hall of Famers if they are selected by a committee comprised of executives, players, and media members. As mentioned above regarding the 2022 inductees, often that recognition does not happen until after the player has died.

Bonds came within 10 percent of the vote of receiving Hall of Fame induction this year. Pete Rose, the all-time hit king who played for three World Series championship teams, never appeared on the ballot, and it does not seem likely that his candidacy will receive serious consideration during his lifetime. After Rose accepted a lifetime ban from MLB because of his gambling, the Baseball Hall of Fame created a rule making Rose ineligible to appear on the ballot, and later the Hall created a rule making him ineligible for consideration by the Veterans Committee.

All of the major sports leagues--including MLB--now reap major profits from partnerships with gambling entities, but Rose is still stuck in permanent pariah status. 

It is ridiculous that Bud Selig--perhaps the worst commissioner of a major sports league in my lifetime, if not longer--has been inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame while Rose, Murphy, and Schilling have not been inducted. 

I hope that Rose, Murphy, and Schilling are elected as soon as possible, and I just as fervently hope that the Baseball Hall of Fame never opens its hallowed doors to the PED cheaters who permanently stained the sport.