On Jan. 24, the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce the results of its 2018 Hall of Fame balloting. Among the candidates are Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader and seven-time Most Valuable Player, and Roger Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young winner. Because their careers were tainted by steroid use, however, neither player deserves a bronze plaque at Cooperstown.
Baseball’s steroids era, which began in the late 1980s and continued to the late 2000s, has created a serious dilemma for the Baseball Writers. Whenever a candidate who used or was suspected of using steroids is listed on the ballot, the purists evoke Rule 5 of the BBWAA election rules.
Known as the “morals clause,” Rule 5 states that voting will be based not only on the “player’s record, playing ability, and contributions to his team(s)” but also on the “integrity” and “character” of the candidate. The morals clause has always been a moot point, though.
If morality counted, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, who were allegedly members of the Ku Klux Klan, would never have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Nor would Cap Anson, who established baseball’s color line in the 1880s. Babe Ruth was a drunk, and Mickey Mantle bragged about his promiscuity. I’m sure there are many other Hall of Famers who cheated on their wives, taxes, or the game itself, but never got caught.
If morality counted, several players suspected of steroid usage, including Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jeff Bagwell would’ve never been elected to the Hall in recent years. The morals clause is simply an excuse used by the Baseball Writers to deny induction to a player they don’t like for whatever reason. If the clause had been dropped six years ago, when Bonds and Clemens became eligible for the Hall, they would probably have been first-ballot inductees, due to their overwhelming statistical credentials. Ironically, neither player needed steroids to gain entry.
Prior to 1997, when they were playing clean, Bonds and Clemens had already posted Hall of Fame numbers. Bonds, who began his major league career in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was considered the “complete player.” He could throw, run, field, hit for average and power. By 1997, Bonds, then with the San Francisco Giants, was a three-time MVP and six-time All-Star, and boasted a career batting average of .288 with a total of 334 home runs.
Clemens was every bit as impressive. Between 1984 and 1996, when he was playing for the Boston Red Sox, the “Rocket” won 192 games and posted 2,590 strikeouts with an earned run average of 3.16. He was also a three-time Cy Young winner, a five-time All-Star and the 1986 American League MVP, a singular honor for a pitcher.
During the second half of their careers, however, the two stars were linked to performance-enhancing drugs as their muscle mass increased and their performances continued to improve despite advanced age. Both were also acquitted of perjury and/or obstruction of justice charges pertaining to the steroids connection, though only after tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money was wasted on high-profile show trials.
Despite the steroids-inflamed controversy surrounding their candidacies, it appears that both players will eventually gain entry. Last year, in their fifth time on the ballot, Bonds received 53.8 percent of the vote and Clemens 54.1 percent, moving closer to the 75 percent threshold required for enshrinement. It indicates that a new generation of the Baseball Writers is willing to forgive and forget their indiscretion.
Some writers have already begun to defend Bonds and Clemens by arguing that their steroid use pre-dated MLB’s prohibition of the drug. Other supporters point out that steroids are the same type of performance-enhancing drug as amphetamines, which players used for decades and have been linked to Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Mantle, Willie Stargell, and Frank Thomas.
But these arguments fail to recognize that by using steroids, Bonds and Clemens cheated because they held an extraordinarily unfair physical advantage over any opponent who was playing clean. This is especially true in the case of a power hitter or a starting pitcher, who have the potential to alter the competitive balance of a game with one swing of the bat or a dominant pitching performance.
Worse, Bonds and Clemens also disrespected the historical integrity of the game by breaking the records of more worthy predecessors who played clean, including Hank Aaron, Roger Maris, Steve Carlton, and Nolan Ryan. In the process, they detracted from the substantive achievements of truly great performers who did not enjoy the same advantages of a lengthier career or the power and endurance to compile the even greater statistics that steroids enabled Bonds and Clemens to achieve.
MLB and the Hall of Fame have already lost considerable respect among the fans over the last three decades. If the Writers truly care about the game, they will not make the mistake of voting frauds like Bonds and Clemens into Cooperstown.
William Kashatus, author of “Macho Row: The 1993 Phillies” and “Baseball’s Unwritten Code,” hosts a weekly baseball podcast on the Comfortably Zoned Radio Network. email@example.com