Steve Phillips: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens belong in Cooperstown
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are Hall of Famers in my book. If I had voted, both would have received a check next to their names for each of their 10 years on the ballot.
This is the year they were supposed to enter Cooperstown. This is the 10th and final year on the ballot for steroid-era posters.
It seemed clear from the start that the writers were going to keep them waiting as punishment for cheating, as Bonds and Clemens only got 36.2% and 37.6% respectively in their first year on the ballot.
As you can see, they have grown in size over the years:
It takes 75% of the vote to win the induction into Cooperstown. Bonds and Clemens both tend to slightly more of that mark ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, based on the tally of votes that have been made public by the writers. That might sound like good news, but in the past Bonds and Clemens have dropped 11-12% in the final tally from the percentage that was known to the public.
The reason for this is that the writers who share their ballot picks tend to be younger writers who also seem more likely to consider the era of steroids to be one of many eras in gaming history.
Older writers are a little more adamant in their assessment of any player tied to performance-enhancing drugs and tend to keep their picks closer to the vest. Hence the late drop in percentages for the poster artists of the PED.
Neither Bonds nor Clemens have ever been identified by the league as having failed an MLB drug test. But there is no doubt that they used PEDs which 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’ longtime coach Brian McNamee who testified in federal court that he injected Clemens with steroids as early as the 1998 season when he was pitching for the Blue Jays. McNamee kept evidence of these injections.
We know that steroids and HGH improve performance, but it’s hard to pinpoint just how much.
There’s no doubt that Bonds and Clemens were big players before they were linked to PEDs. Some may argue that they were already members of the Hall of Fame and therefore using them does not affect their qualification for Cooperstown – even though they had some of their best statistical seasons after the age of 35. year.
Some think the numbers speak for themselves, and since we don’t know how many players they played against and who they also cheated against, that’s not a problem. If their number is good enough, then they are Hall of Famers.
There are those who say that any player linked to PEDs should never be in the Hall of Fame, no matter how many. They argue that the cheating players have harmed the game and that their Hall candidacy is in jeopardy due to a lack of character. Character is one of the criteria writers should consider when voting for candidates.
I completely respect and understand that there are reasonable people who see things differently from me. There are very defensible arguments against Clemens and Bonds.
But I would give my votes to Clemens and Bonds for the Hall because every era of baseball has had an improvement in performance.
Babe Ruth hit 714 homers, but that number has been improved. He has never faced one of the best pitchers in the Negro League in his career. If he had, he wouldn’t have hit 714 homers.
Many players served in the military during World War II. In fact, 1,393 major and minor league players, coaches, managers and umpires have served. Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller were among 29 Hall of Famers who ran out of time, each out for three seasons. Unserved stats have been improved by not having to compete with those who did.
Changes to gear over the years have also improved player performance. The ball was changed after the 1919 season. Ruth led all baseball with 29 homers that year, while only five other players had 10 or more. In 1920 Ruth hit 54 home runs.
The 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 offered opportunities in the majors.
The mound was lowered in 1969 in an effort to add offense into the game – a direct move to improve performance. The American League added the designated hitter in 1973, which further improved offensive production.
We celebrate Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry for his cheating, which came via his legendary spitball. The land had been banned in 1920. One has to wonder if Perry would have been a Hall of Famer if not for cheating.
Amphetamines have been used for decades in MLB, readily available at clubs. There was even a time when doctors provided it to players. Many Hall of Fame players used amphetamines (known as greenies and red juices) to add focus and energy, which helped their performance.
We had a sign-stealing scandal a few years ago with the Houston Astros. I’d rather my entire lineup know what pitch was coming than everyone was on steroids.
Last season, we discovered that pitchers were using military-grade stickies to add spin to baseball, gaining an advantage over batters.
I understand that the character clause is a hurdle that needs to be overcome in Bonds and Clemens’ candidacy. But what is the standard for character? Should writers define what this means to them? Or should it be compared to the character of those already in the Hall of Fame, much like statistics are factored into voting?
Chances are there are already other steroid users in Cooperstown.
The fact is, there has been an improvement in performance in every era of baseball. Part of it was due to players cheating. Some were due to the ignorance of society. Some were circumstantial. Some were intended to modify 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 time.
Bonds holds the all-time home run record (762 HR) and Clemens has 354 career wins (ninth most). They posted Hall-worthy numbers that would have been recognized by induction in their first year on the ballot, if not for their connection to the steroid era. Now, it seems unlikely that they’ll enter via writers’ votes at all.
Bonds, Clemens, and many other players have been shunned by writers for their ties to DEPs. But all is not lost. They are sure to receive special attention down the road from the Era Committees, formerly known as the Veterans Committee, which re-examine player cases overlooked by the writers.
It will certainly take courage and perspective from a select group of people on a 16-person committee to vote for them.
Maybe one day.