After ten years on the ballot, MLB career home runs leader, Barry Bonds, will not be entering the Hall of Fame by way of the Baseball Writers of America Association. Notably falling of the ballot alongside Bonds was right-handed ace, Roger Clemens.
As blinding as the lights of their success, just as prominently do the shadows of their late-career decisions loom. With 75% of the vote required for induction, the two received support at an almost identical rate throughout their time on the ballot. Bonds finished with 66.0% of the vote, Clemens finished not far behind at 65.2%, three votes fewer than Bonds.
The biggest concern for fans has been inconsistencies within the BBWAA. The fact that Clemens and Bonds did not have the same amount of votes certainly stands out. Bonds may hold the all time and single season homerun records, but Clemens holds the record for Cy Young Awards with seven.
Without any blemishes against them, both players would have been surefire, first-ballot inductees. So how could anyone possibly vote for one and not the other? Unfortunately, it comes to voters judging players’ character rather than their baseball résumé. The BBWAA is tasked with voting because they’re the ones watching these men play everyday, not because they may know them on a personal level.
The Hall of Fame was never meant to be a judge of character. If it was, players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, two deserving members of the the Hall of Fame's introductory class, would have had a much harder fight gaining induction.
Furthermore, MLB never outlawed performance enhancing drugs prior to steroid controversies in the early 2000’s. When its reputation was seemingly damaged beyond repair after the 1994 strike, it was the steroid-induced homerun race of 1998 that put baseball back in the spotlight. It’s nearly impossible to understand the scope of PED usage prior to that.
Still, with David Ortiz gaining induction on his first ballot despite allegedly using PEDs prior to 2004, it seems the BBWAA has made another judgment of character. While the results of Bonds and Clemens display a blanket statement against anyone connected to steroids, Ortiz's induction denotes that a gray area exists.
Ultimately, the only precedence needed in this case should be decisions passed down from the MLB. In the past, the league has struck hard against perceived wrongdoing by banning Pete Rose as well as Shoeless Joe Jackson and others from the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal.
However, no such move was made against Bonds or Clemens. No bans were issued and no records expunged. Since the league continues to acknowledge Bonds as the all-time home run leader and Clemens as having won more Cy Young Awards than anyone else, precedence indicates that both men should be allowed entrance into Cooperstown.
For now, between Bonds and Clemens there will be eight MVP’s, seven Cy Young awards, 25 All-Star appearances, 12 silver sluggers, eight gold gloves and two pitching Triple Crowns missing from Cooperstown.
Among Bonds’ statistical achievements were a record 762 homeruns, including 73 in one season. His all-time record for walks and intentional walks in a career as a lifetime slash line of .298/.444/.607 remain on the outside as well. Clemens’ 354 wins, 4672 strikeouts and 3.12 career ERA led him to two more Cy Young Awards than the next best pitcher.
Bonds and Clemens will be left out of Cooperstown until December at least, when the Today’s Game Committee will vote on players who played between 1988-2016 and are no longer eligible for the BBWAA ballot. That will be most telling for the fates of steroid users. As the greatest of the pack, Bonds and Clemens will finally be judged by a jury of their peers.
Ultimately, the job of Cooperstown is to tell the story of baseball and a decision must be made on whether or not that can be effectively done without including Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.
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