Will A-Rod make the Hall of Fame? Keep an eye on Manny

Hall of Fame ballot gains made by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens could bode well for Alex Rodriguez. But Manny Ramirez is the better test case for A-Rod and Cooperstown. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If there was one subject Alex Rodriguez was always game to talk about, it was this: Who are the greatest players of all time?

He was curious about what reporters/potential Hall of Fame voters thought and, given his vanity, it was always easy to tell he wondered where he ranked among baseball's legends.

After his yearlong PED suspension in 2014, the ongoing conversation shifted. A-Rod softened his edge, acted a little more vulnerable and re-calibrated, wondering now if he could still make the Hall at all.

Suddenly, and with time on his side, there seems to be a chance A-Rod could be voted in one day. The real test case for A-Rod, though, is not the recent elections of Bud Selig -- commissioner during the steroid era -- or Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez -- all players suspected of PED use but never proven. Or even of the gains made by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. It's Manny Ramirez.

Ramirez, in his first time on the ballot this year, received nearly 24 percent of the vote. He would, of course, have been a guaranteed Hall of Famer if he hadn't twice been caught using enhancements banned by MLB.

Voters will have to decide whether there is a difference between the 2007 Mitchell Report on PEDs or involvement with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and being actually nabbed -- and banned -- during MLB's testing period. At this point, the question cannot fully be answered.

While Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a test, has fallen off the ballot, he was not the player Ramirez and A-Rod were, and his election timing was far worse.

A-Rod will have his Hall of Fame clock begin this year, meaning in 2022 the gun will go off on his 10-year election process. He will have until 2032 to reach the 75 percent threshold.

Voters will only become younger during that time. And younger voters seem to be more lenient on steroids.

Taking PEDs out of the conversation, Rodriguez is easily one of the greatest players ever. His 696 homers are fourth best in history. He won three MVPs and made 14 All-Star teams. He was a Gold Glove shortstop before unselfishly moving to third base in the Bronx, even though he was a better defender than the Yankees had at the time.

He collected his only World Series ring in 2009, the year he was ousted as a PED user. During that postseason run, however, A-Rod had one of the great individual Octobers in the game's history.

After Sports Illustrated broke the story before the 2009 season, Rodriguez said he had started using PEDs only after he signed the then-largest contract in American sports history, a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.

When he led the Yankees' offense in the playoffs later that year, he talked about how a burden had been lifted off his shoulders, allowing him to perform up to his capabilities.

A-Rod, though, couldn't help himself and was back on the PED train soon after. Really, there is no telling when he was off it.

This is where the Manny test case will play out. Will the majority of voters one day decide they don't care at all about PEDs? With Selig in and Clemens and Bonds suddenly well-positioned, that is maybe where this will end up.

If that is the case, the question A-Rod really wanted to discuss in all those locker-room conversations will have an answer. He will be a Hall of Famer, and his accomplishments on the field will be validated.