Introduction | Take the poll | The backlog problem
Frank Thomas | Jack Morris | Jeff Bagwell | Craig Biggio
Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina | Edgar Martinez |
The Hall of Fame “debates” about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren’t really debates, because it is so emotionally charged that most are not going to change their opinion. Both are clearly Hall of Fame talents with Hall of Fame resumes. In another world, both would have sailed in last year and would be considered two of the greatest players ever.
Of course, that didn’t happen because Bonds and Clemens are Public Enemy #1 and 1A in the battle about PEDs. Both even went to federal court about it (or specifically, perjuring themselves when denying drug use). Many dollars were wasted and many column inches were used trying to “get” these guys. For the most part, that didn’t work, so for the BBWAA, denying them election of the Hall of Fame is all they’ve got.
If one doesn’t want to vote for Bonds, Clemens, or anyone else who is a confirmed or all but confirmed PED user, that’s fine. That’s their right, and as long as it’s applied consistently, it’s a fair argument (I’ll get to what I mean by that in a later piece). However, Bonds and Clemens are different from the others because their numbers are so overwhelming, and both had Hall of Fame numbers because they are believed to have started using.
The narrative is that Bonds watched the 1998 home run race, got angry at the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were getting, and started using the next year. If we take that at face value, we have 13 seasons (1986-1998) where Bonds was “clean.” In that time, he hit .290/.411/.556 with 1917 hits, 1364 runs, and 411 home runs. He had led the league in runs once, homers once, RBIs once, slugging three times, and most importantly, OBP four times. Bonds also led the league in OPS five times and OPS+ four times in that span. He had won three MVPs in those thirteen years. He was essentially already a Hall of Fame before his alleged drug use started.
With Clemens, his drug use is believed to have started after he left Boston. In his 13 years in Boston alone, he went 192-111 (for those who care) with a 3.06 ERA, good enough for a 144 ERA+. He struck out 2590 batters, which alone would rank 25th all-time. He led the league in ERA four times, shutouts five times, strikeouts three times, ERA+ five times, WHIP twice, and K/BB ratio four times. He also won three Cy Youngs and the 1986 MVP. That’s all just from his Boston career. Again, already a Hall of Famer.
At the same time, we have no idea exactly how much benefit Bonds, Clemens, or anyone else got from PEDs. We don’t know how many players were using, and almost certainly never will. There’s no way of knowing for sure that Bonds hit X more home runs due to PEDs, and Clemens struck out Y more batters due to PEDs. There are too many unknowns to come anywhere close to a “correct” answer.
In the end, my YES votes for Bonds and Clemens aren’t because I’m some sort of PED-apologist, although I’m more apathetic about them than most. It’s because the Hall of Fame is a museum, and it should thus tell the history of baseball. You can’t discuss the history of baseball without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, and to keep them out is a whitewashing of history. Put on the plaque that they were (likely) PED users and disgraced the game. Go for it, but you can’t have a Hall of Fame without them.
WILL THEY GET IN: Not surprisingly, their opening vote totals were nearly identical, with Clemens getting a tick higher (37.6% to 36.2%). There may have been some voters who are willing to vote for them but didn’t want to do first ballot, for whatever reasons. Thus, unlike most of the holdovers, there’s a chance their vote totals go up a bit. Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine regarding their totals, but one thing is for sure, neither are getting elected.
When it comes to Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the question is this: Can baseball history truly be complete without them?
The easy answer is no. That's why they're both Hall of Famers.
In 100 years, when the average human's daily vitamin supplements are stronger than anything Bonds or Clemens could ever dreamed of taking, no one is going to care about whether or not they took PEDs. They're going to care about the ridiculous numbers.
For Bonds, it's the 7 MVP awards, the 762 home runs, the 2558 career walks. All are all-time MLB records. It's also the 8 Gold Gloves, 12 Silver Slugger awards, 2 batting titles, 1996 RBI (4th all-time), 2227 runs (3rd all-time) and the 1.051 OPS (4th all-time).
For Clemens, it's the 7 Cy Young awards, 1 MVP, 4672 strikeouts (3rd all-time), 354 wins and the two pitching Triple Crowns (1997, 1998).
If these two players are omitted from the Hall of Fame, there will be a huge hole in the story that the Hall of Fame tells. Major League Baseball didn't do anything about them, so it's a bit late and disingenuous for the BBWAA to act like judge and jury at this point.
WILL THEY GET IN: Not this year. Perhaps never. It all depends on writers changing their views on PED users. As it stands now, I don't see either of them getting in unless lots of minds are changed or voters are replaced.