Judging by ballots released by Hall of Fame voters, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens eventually will take their rightful place in Cooperstown.
How appropriate. Only Pete Rose’s exclusion makes less sense.
I don’t have a vote, but my ballot would’ve included Bonds and Clemens from their first year of eligibility until they no longer appeared. The argument against their enshrinement was always too simplistic and naïve for my liking, not to mention too arbitrary and illogical.
In other words, the stance was based too much on the Hall of Fame’s philosophy in deciding who belongs and who doesn’t.
The Hall’s unilateral decision in 2014 to curtail a player’s time on the ballot (to 10 years instead of 15) was an obvious attempt to avoid induction ceremonies for Bonds, Clemens and other stars from the Steroids Era. But the Class of 2016 included former catcher Mike Piazza (a rumored but never-proven user) and former commissioner Bud Selig (whose empire benefitted from steroid use in baseball).
Their inclusion apparently eased the conscience of otherwise reasonable voters who have opposed Bonds and Clemens. The electorate – members of the Baseball Writers Association of America – must be concluding that admitting Selig while barring two of the sport’s all-time greats is hypocritical.
The voters are only half-right, though.
Shunning Bonds and Clemens was hypocritical, period. Regardless of Selig’s fate.
Bonds won seven Most Valuable Player awards and eight Gold Gloves. Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP. Bonds is the all-time leaders in home runs, total walks and intentional walks, as well as third all-time in runs scored and wins above replacement (WAR). Clemens is third all-time in strikeouts, third in wins (not counting deadball era pitchers) and third in WAR for pitchers.
Nothing that happened on a baseball diamond gives pause to these immortal players’ candidacies. The idea that we should debate their Cooperstown-worthiness is ludicrous because opposition isn’t based on measurables like statistics and awards, but murky judgments on morals and ethics.
The Hall of Fame ballot includes a clause that reads: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Considering the hundreds if not thousands of major leaguers who took performance-enhancing drugs during the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, Bonds and Clemens exhibited typical integrity, sportsmanship and character. But their ability was out of this world.
I’ve never understood the argument for excluding the duo even though they merited induction prior to juicing. If you separate their careers into before and after, they clearly demonstrated unique and historic talent without foreign substances. Their final numbers wouldn’t be as mind-boggling, but they’d still rank among the best to ever play.
Another thing I’ve never understood is voters’ willingness to be so sanctimonious about a certain PED (steroids), yet assume a laissez-faire attitude toward another PED (amphetamines).
Like steroids, use of amphetamines without a prescription is against federal law. But before baseball banned amphetamines in 2006, players popped “greenies” and chugged “red juice” like their lives depended on it.
More accurately, their livelihoods depended on the pick-me-ups, indispensable boosts for the six-month, 162-game grinds. Among the players who have admitted or been linked to amphetamines are Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt.
In order to improve your performance, you first must be in the lineup. But of all the major leaguers who ever popped a pill to play or took an injection to play better, only 217 are in the Hall. Substances can enhance performance but they can’t create something out of nothing.
Otherwise, Cooperstown would need to add a few wings to include all the players like Williams and Bonds.
As for non-drug aspects of the Hall’s “character” clause, I’ll let others explain the existing plaques for known racists, spitballers, drunks, gamblers and adulterers. If you’re looking for perfect people, good luck. We don’t know the whole story, anyway. Players present a certain public image – often scrubbed and sanitized – keeping their dirt behind closed doors where it belongs.
I suggest putting the most weight on a player’s record and playing ability. Short of committing murder, rape or other heinous crimes, the top one percent should be immortalized in Cooperstown. It’s called the National Baseball Hall of Fame AND MUSEUM for a reason.
The story of baseball can’t be told properly without mentioning the Steroid Era, which featured two of the greatest players who ever lived. Like it or not, Bonds and Clemens defined the sport for a generation. PED use doesn’t explains the substantial gap between them and other superior players.
No one belongs in the Hall if Bonds and Clemens don’t belong. You can hate their guts. You can call them arrogant, lying cheaters. You can boo them at their induction ceremony in a couple of years.
But they’ll be in their rightful place.