Based on what I’ve seen on Twitter, this will be about as popular an opinion as calling for a national ban on puppies.
The consensus on that platform — which, as I often emphasize, doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of the public — is that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were robbed of their rightful place in Cooperstown.
On Tuesday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America denied the former titans of the game entry into the Hall of Fame, as each fell about 10% short of the necessary 75% of the vote required for induction.
And though I understand the arguments for letting them in, I think the voters who refused their admission got it right.
One could contend that Clemens was the most accomplished pitcher in MLB history and Bonds the most accomplished hitter. The former won a record seven Cy Young Awards and the latter a record seven MVPs.
Clemens had the best ERA in his respective league eight times. Bonds’ 762 home runs are the most in MLB history.
But the mountains of evidence that both used steroids in the latter part of their careers are what has kept them out of the Hall.
A common argument among Clemens and Bonds advocates is that there was no MLB rule prohibiting steroids. This is true. But it was also illegal to use anabolic steroids without a prescription.
It’s not as though players were openly injecting the juice while waving their doctors’ notes. There’s a reason all the cheating — yes, cheating — was done in secret. Players knew it was wrong. As former Braves slugger Dale Murphy said: “Everyone understood that it was against the law. … It was also against the spirit of the game.”
And the benefits of juicing were undeniable. In a piece by Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, former pitcher Dan Naulty — who called himself a “full-blown cheater” said steroid use caused his fastball to go from 87 mph to 96. Verducci also pointed out that before 1996, there had never been a season in which 12 players hit 40 home runs — then it happened in each of the next six seasons.
Think about the players that could have roided up but didn’t. Think about the honest minor-leaguers who were getting passed up by juicers.
This might sound like the height of moralizing to some, but cheating can’t be condoned with a Hall of Fame vote.
Of course, the argument for sending Bonds and Clemens to Cooperstown is that they had Hall of Fame résumés before they started juicing. This is true as well. Here’s what I would say: If a journalist was honest for the first 30 years of his career — winning Pulitzers and getting laws changed and the whole nine — but was discovered to have made stories up over the last five years of his career, should he get a lifetime achievement award? I don’t think so. His misdeeds wouldn’t erase his previous accomplishments, but they would serve as a permanent black mark.
Bonds and Clemens still have all their records and awards. Presumably, they still have the money from those massive contracts steroids helped land. Clemens’ two World Series titles weren’t vacated. Neither was Bonds’ National League pennant. The one thing the BBWAA voters could have done to hold the pair accountable for acts they had to know were wrong was keep them out of the Hall of Fame.
Yes, I know there are likely steroids users enshrined in Cooperstown. But as Verducci mentioned, none had a preponderance of evidence against them. That’s likely why David Ortiz just made it despite appearing on a list of positive tests in 2003 as part of an anonymous survey. No substance was identified, and the case against him is fishy.
The great Jeff Passan of ESPN recently wrote that Bonds’ and Clemens’ entrance into the Hall of Fame is necessary to preserve history. It’s a fair point in a very well-written column. But I don’t think posterity is going to forget these two, in the same way it won’t forget Pete Rose, whose absence from Cooperstown might have made him even more well-known.
Bonds’ statistics and awe-inspiring at-bats are there for everyone to see. Clemens’ numbers and video clips are there, too. The two belong in the conversation of the best to have ever played the game.
They just don’t belong in the Hall of Fame.