Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are Hall of Famers in my book. If I had a vote, both would have received a check next to their name for each of their 10 years on the ballot.
This is the year they were supposed to get into Cooperstown. This is the 10th and final year on the ballot for the poster boys of the steroid era.
It seemed clear from the outset that the writers were going to make them wait as a punishment for cheating, as Bonds and Clemens only received 36.2 per cent and 37.6 per cent respectively in their first year on the ballot.
As you can see, they have gained momentum over the years:
Percentage of HOF Balloting
|Year||Barry Bonds||Roger Clemens|
It takes 75 per cent of the votes to earn induction to Cooperstown. Both Bonds and Clemens are trending at just over that mark going into the announcement on Tuesday, based upon the accumulation of votes that have been made public by writers. That might sound like good news, but in the past Bonds and Clemens have dropped 11-12 per cent in the final tally from the percentage that was publicly known.
The reason for that is that the writers who share their ballot selections tend to be younger writers who also seem more likely to consider the steroid era as just one of the many eras in the history of the game.
The older writers are a bit more inflexible in their evaluation of any player with ties to performance-enhancing drugs and tend to keep their selections closer to the vest. Hence, the late drop-off in percentages for the PED poster boys.
Neither Bonds nor Clemens have ever been identified by the league as having failed an MLB drug test. But there is little doubt that they used PEDs that benefited their careers. Bonds’ attachment to steroids and HGH came from grand jury testimony stemming from the BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) investigation. BALCO was a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company that produced and distributed anabolic steroids to professional athletes and their trainers.
It was Clemens’ long-time trainer, Brian McNamee, who testified in federal court that he had injected Clemens with steroids as far back as the 1998 season when he was pitching for the Blue Jays. McNamee kept evidence from those injections.
We know steroids and HGH help performance, but it is hard to determine just how much.
There is no debating that Bonds and Clemens were great players before ever being tied to PEDs. Some may argue that they were already Hall of Famers and therefore their usage doesn’t impact their qualification for Cooperstown – even if they had some of their best statistical seasons after the age of 35.
Some believe that the numbers speak for themselves, and since we don’t know how many players they competed with and against were also cheating, it is a non-issue. If their numbers are good enough, then they are Hall of Famers.
There are some who say that any player tied to PEDs should never be in the Hall of Fame, regardless of their numbers. They argue the cheating players have harmed the game and their candidacy for the Hall is compromised because of a lack of character. Character is one of the criteria writers are asked to consider when voting for candidates.
I completely respect and understand there are reasonable people who look at it differently than I do. There are very defensible arguments against Clemens and Bonds.
But I would give Clemens and Bonds my votes for the Hall because every era of baseball has had performance enhancement.
Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs but that number was enhanced. He never faced any of the best Negro League pitchers during his career. If he had, he would not have hit 714 homers.
Many players served in the military during the Second World War. In fact, 1,393 players, coaches, managers and umpires from the major and minor leagues served. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller were among the 29 Hall of Famers who missed time, each absent for three seasons. The statistics of those who didn’t serve were enhanced by not having to compete against those who did.
Changes in the equipment over the years have also enhanced players’ performance. The ball was changed after the 1919 season. Ruth led all of baseball with 29 home runs that year, while only five other players had 10 or more. In 1920, Ruth hit 54 round-trippers.
Expansion has diluted the talent in the game over the years. Every time two new teams are added, 50 players who would have been in the minors are given opportunities in the majors.
The mound was lowered in 1969 in an effort to add offence in the game – a direct move to enhance performance. The American League added the designated hitter in 1973, which enhanced offensive production even more.
We celebrate Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry for his cheating, which came via his legendary spitball. The pitch had been banned in 1920. One has to wonder whether Perry would have been a Hall of Famer if not for cheating.
Amphetamines were used for decades in MLB, made readily available in clubhouses. There was even a time when doctors would provide them to players. Many players in the Hall of Fame used amphetamines (known as greenies and red juice) to add focus and energy, which helped their performance.
We had a sign-stealing scandal a couple of years ago with the Houston Astros. I would rather have my entire lineup know what pitch was coming rather than all of them using steroids.
Just this past season, we discovered that pitchers have been using military-grade sticky substances to add spin to the baseball, gaining an advantage over hitters.
I understand the character clause is a hurdle that needs to be overcome in the candidacy of Bonds and Clemens. But what is the standard for character? Should writers define what it means to them? Or should it be in comparison to the character of those already in the Hall of Fame, much like the statistics are considered in the voting?
It is highly likely that there are other steroid users already in Cooperstown.
The point is there has been performance enhancement in every era of baseball. Some of it was due to players’ cheating. Some was due to societal ignorance. Some was circumstantial. Some was intended to tweak the game for entertainment purposes.
I believe the Hall of Fame is a museum to document the history of the game. I want every great player from every era to be recognized in the Hall. Induct them and then tell the story of their era.
Bonds owns the all-time home run record (762 HR) and Clemens had 354 career wins (ninth most). They put up Hall-worthy numbers that would have been recognized with induction in their first year on the ballot, if not for their connection to the steroid era. Now, it seems unlikely they will get in via the writers’ votes at all.
Bonds, Clemens and many other players have been shunned by the writers for ties to PEDs. But all is not lost. They will certainly get strong consideration down the road from the Era Committees, formerly known as Veterans Committee, which reconsider the cases of players passed over by the writers.
It will certainly take courage and perspective from a select collection of people on a 16-person committee to vote them in.