The scene is Petco Park in San Diego, Sept. 2005. As I settle back in my seat along the left-field line to take in the final innings of a close game between the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, Barry Bonds trots out to left-field between innings and takes his familiar stance. Suddenly, the voice of a booming heckler rings out, undoubtedly loud enough for Bonds to hear: "No juicers in the Hall, Barry!"
Padre fans laughed and whooped it up, but little did we know that that heckler was prophetic–at least for now. The Baseball Writers Association of America have spoken, and their message is loud and clear: suspected steroid or PED (performance-enhancing drug) users beware–your chances of making the Hall of Fame are in jeopardy.
In BBWAA's annual Hall of Fame vote, held on Jan. 9, two of the greatest players to ever don a major league uniform, Bonds and Roger Clemens, were on the ballot for the first time. Statistically, both are sure-fire, no-brainer Hall of Famers.
Bonds won seven, yes, seven, MVP Awards. He holds the record for home runs in a season, 73, and career, 762. Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, and is third on the all-time list in both wins, 354, and strikeouts, 4,672.
75% of the vote is needed to gain entry into the Hall. Clemens and Bonds received a meager 37.6% and 36.2%, respectively. What are we, the fans, to make of this? Is it justice? Is it a tragedy? Is it all a big question mark because nobody really knows who used what?
To be sure, Bonds and Clemens not in the Hall of Fame is nothing short of preposterous. It is, without exaggerating, like the Beatles not making the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or Donald Duck getting snubbed for the Disney Hall of Fame (if there was one). But the question is, in light of their known connection to illegal substances, is it justified? Not according to Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Player's Association:
"Those empowered to help the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum document the history of the game failed to recognize the contributions of several Hall of Fame worthy players. To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify."
Perhaps a look at the facts is in order here. First of all, we all know that steroid/PED use was rampant throughout the major leagues in the late '90's to early 2000's, with the peak years generally considered to be 1997 to 2003. Evidence of this is not lacking.
- Mark McGwire, who broke Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998 with 70, has admitted that he used steroids that season.
- The NY Times reported that Sammy Sosa, among other players, tested positive for a banned substance in 2003. Sosa has denied the allegations, but remember, this is the same guy who was caught using a corked bat.
- The top six single-season home run totals of all-time came between 1998-2001: 73, 70, 66, 65, 64, and 63. Prior to 1998, only two players in the history of the game, Babe Ruth in 1927 and Roger Maris in 1961, had ever reached the 60 mark in a single season.
- In 2003, a jury found Barry Bonds guilty of obstruction of justice for an evasive answer under oath when he was asked about his alleged use of a banned substance.
- In a 2002 Sports Illustrated article, Ken Caminiti admitted to using steroids during his MVP season of 1996, and credited them for his increased power.
And let's not forget the Mitchell report. In Dec. of 2007, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell issued a 409 page report to the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig, on the illegal use of steroids and other PED's by MLB players. The report is substantiated by confessions, and evidence such as paper receipts and phone records. It names 89 players alleged to have used steroids or drugs, including Bonds and Clemens.
Clemens is shown to have indirect ties to convicted steroid dealer Kirk Radomski through his former trainer, Brian McNamee. In investigating Radomski, McNamee's name came up as a "customer and possible sub-distributor," and he agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's Office. He was interviewed three times by Mitchell. According to McNamee, in 1998 Clemens approached McNamee about using steroids, and McNamee injected him with Winstrol, a steroid Clemens had provided, from "time to time" over the remainder of the 1998 season. The report goes on to say that Clemens' steroid use continued in 2000 and 2001.
What, then, are we to conclude? That Bonds and Clemens were innocent pawns in someone's sinister game? That they didn't know that they were taking illegal substances? That they're innocent because "everyone was doing it?" Are the above facts not more than enough to lead us to the conclusion that they both knowingly used illegal substances?
If they indeed cheated, and the evidence suggests they did, do they belong in the Hall of Fame? In the immediate aftermath of the voting results, a handful of current Hall of Famers aired their opinions. Most, such as Rich "Goose" Gossage, Al Kaline, and Dennis Eckersley, felt completely satisfied that Bonds and Clemens didn't get in. Gossage spared no words:
"If you don't think Roger Clemens cheated, you're burying your head in the sand."
Ok, but tell us what you really think, Goose:
"If they let these guys in ever–at any point–it's a big black eye for the Hall and for baseball. It's like telling our kids you can cheat, you can do whatever you want, and it's not going to matter."
So we have opinions ranging all the way from it's "hard to justify" not voting them in, to "it's a big black eye for the Hall" if they do get in. It seems to me that there are two camps here–those who believe that the "Dynamic Duo" are guilty but should be voted in anyways, and those who believe they are guilty and should not be voted in. In other words, pretty much everyone knows, deep down, that they cheated.
Take, for example, the comments of current Hall of Famer Juan Marichal:
"I think that they have been unfair to guys who were never found guilty of anything. Their stats define them as immortals. That's the reality and that cannot be denied."
His use of the word "immortals" makes it clear that he is referring to Bonds and Clemens, not others on the ballot who were considered Hall-worthy but didn't get enough votes, such as Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza. So we got it, Juan. You're saying they are innocent, that they "were never found guilty of anything."
Now catch this, as he comments on the perceived injustice of Biggio, Piazza, etc. not getting in:
"What we're witnessing here is innocent people paying for the sinners."
Whoa there, Juan. Did anyone else catch the doublespeak? First he declared Bonds and Clemens innocent, then he referred to them as "sinners." Which is it?
"Well, even if they are guilty, you can't penalize them," some say. "After all, everyone was doing it." Yes, many players were using illegal substances. Not all, many. If you are more than, say, 12 years old, you probably understand that just because "everyone" is doing something doesn't make it ok. And let's not forget, no current Hall of Famers got there by padding their stats and breaking records via the use of steroids or PED's.
"But Hank Aaron popped "greenies," some argue, "and Gaylord Perry threw spitters or scuffed balls or something terrible like that, and some guy named Pud Galvin used PED's in 1889, and Ty Cobb was a racist, and…and…oh yeah, the 1986 New York Mets were all coke fiends!"
Don't laugh, none of these are made up. They are but a sampling of the real-life objections that have been used in recent days in reaction to the BBWAA's snubbing of the Dynamic Duo. Few of them are worthy of a response, because they are irrelevant to the heart of the issue: Bonds and Clemens piled up astronomical, record-breaking stats by the use of illegal substances.
As for the Hank Aaron allegation, there is not a shred of evidence, that I know of, to support it, and isn't it funny that most people who say this don't even know what "greenies" are? You want to know about Pud Galvin? Don't ask me, ask your great-grandfather.
"They were good enough to be Hall of Famers without PED's." Really? Apparently they didn't think so, otherwise they would not have chosen to use them. Besides, who would be happy about a teacher's decision to give a passing grade to students caught cheating on a test, on the grounds that they were smart enough to pass without cheating?
One of the BBWAA's election rules states: "Voting shall be based on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." Integrity, sportsmanship, and character are criteria for election, and as such, Bonds, Clemens, and all others who cheated fail the test.
Yes, the Hall of Fame has already enshrined various racists, rascals, and unsavory sorts. It is by no means a Hall of Holiness. But let's understand this: none of those unsavory sorts got into the Hall because of their unsavoriness. Ty Cobb's racism didn't help him break any records. If Mickey Mantle played drunk sometimes, as some of us have heard, he played well despite that, not because of it. Let's not pretend like Bonds and Clemens are in the same boat as these guys.
Going back to Michael Weiner's quote, is it hard to justify ignoring the historic accomplishments of Bonds and Clemens? Indeed it is. But it's not hard to justify keeping them out of the Hall of Fame. Put an asterisk next to their records, but give them no plaque to hang in the Hall. If Pete Rose, the man with more hits than anyone to ever play the game, can be banned from baseball for life for betting on games, an activity that has nothing to do with playing ability or stats, how much more undeserving of the Hall are Bonds and Clemens?
Hopefully, for the sake of the future of Major League Baseball, the BBWAA will continue to send a strong message in future Hall of Fame votes: steroid/PED users beware–you don't belong here.
Tags: Barry Bonds, Baseball, Craig Biggio, Hall of Fame, Hank Aaron, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, MLB, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, San Diego, San Diego Padres