Monday, January 17, 2022

What Happens if Bonds and Clemens Get In

 Last year was the first year since the inception of the blog that I didn't do a Hall of Fame ballot post. 

There were two reasons behind it. One was that I had a feeling that nobody would be getting in, as the ballot-tracker spreadsheet was already tracking people at 60s at the very highest. The second reason was that there was a large probability that some of the steroids guys would make it in, and I wasn't sure how I felt about that.

In case I haven't talked about it much on here- I don't collect players that took steroids. As a hypocrite, I've made the occasional exception, like Andy Pettitte, who took them to get over an injury and has expressed regret about it, or David Ortiz, who did enough in the wake of the non-Mitchell-report HGH claims to gain a lot of headway, as well as becoming an important sports figure that seems to even forgive a major scandal, sort of like Brett Favre or Ray Lewis. And I'll go into more detail about it when I do a ballot for the blog, but Ortiz still gets my vote. Because of the timing, his career outweighs the steroids push. Which I can't say for Clemens or Bonds, or even Robinson Cano or Alex Rodriguez, people who I rooted for that played with HGHs. 

So, I've had to even stop collecting people like A-Rod, or Jason Giambi, or Marlon Byrd, people who did enough for my team to enjoy them but eventually became more steroid than player. And that's really where I'm at with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Let's do the math right now. Barry Bonds started working with the BALCO trainer in 2000, so I would say that anything from 1986 to 1999 is fair game. In that time he has 445 home runs, 460 stolen bases, hits .288, has 2010 hits, and has a career WAR of 103.7, which is already great career numbers. Roger Clemens started working for his steroid-supplying trainer in 1998, so anything from 1984 to 1997 is fair game. In that time he has 213 wins, a career 2.97 ERA, 2882 strikeouts, a 1.147 WHIP, and a career 92.7 WAR, similarly excellent. 

If Bonds stops playing after 1999 and Clemens stops playing after 1997, I have a clear conscience, they both go in easily, they deserve accolades as ambassadors to the sport. But the fact that they weren't satisfied with everything they had already achieved, including 3 Cy Youngs and an MVP for Clemens and 3 MVPs for Bonds, irks me. 

I did a research paper on steroids in eighth grade, and I talked with Howard Bryant, who literally wrote the book on the subject, and who my dad knew well from college. While admittedly my interview skills were not up to snuff at that age [that was around the time I started writing the blog], I got the sense from his book that giving respect to these players was entirely counterintuitive. Bryant knows the strength of a great black role model in sports, he's written books on Hank Aaron, and one of his chief subjects is the race discrepancy in sports, especially baseball. So the fact that the man who dedicated several years to a work about why Hank Aaron was great also dedicated even more to a work about why Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were indefensible...stuck with me. 

Bryant was preparing for a world in which the right choice for many sportswriters would be to enshrine Clemens, Bonds and Rodriguez anyway, and talk about their high points while sweeping their 'cheating' under the rug. In 2013, the first year Bonds, Sosa and Clemens went on the ballot, Bryant handed in a blank Hall of Fame ballot. No names. Not even admirable choices like Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, or even Lee Smith, Tim Raines or Edgar Martinez, would be on his ballot. And that year, no one got in. It was a habit that Bryant would go back to on a few more occasions. He wasn't doing this, in my opinion, for attention from the public. He was trying to get the attention of his fellow sportswriters. Basically saying 'if you give them glory, you'll be encouraging people to forget about steroids'. 

Howard Bryant's main thesis is that these players deserve to be remembered, but not for the awards and the records. For breaking the rules. They shouldn't be legends, they should be cautionary tales. And already, a lot of these people, like Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra and Ken Caminiti, have become that. 

And so here we are. 2022. The last year that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Roger Clemens can get into the Baseball Hall of Fame before a veterans vote inevitably gets them in anyway. It is looking very likely that Bonds and Clemens will get in, primarily for their pre-steroid numbers, but also for their 2000s numbers, record breaking and the like. 

So what happens then? I collect the Hall of Famers, I have a binder full of contemporary releases of HOF players. I try to collect everybody, even the obscure ones, and even the ones I didn't love getting in, like Harold Baines and Ted Simmons. I'm already telling myself that I won't collect Jim Kaat, solely because I don't agree that he should be in, and also I'm not ready to forgive him for that racism on the air against Ohtani. And so if Bonds and Clemens get in...I'm not gonna find all my Bonds and Clemens cards and re-add them to my HOF binder. I just don't see the point of rewarding that, or wasting binder space for them.

If anything, it'll mean that these players' market stock will rise, and that it'll be easier to deal away some of the higher-price cards I have of them, once I eventually figure out how to properly do eBay. But this July, there will still be a ceremony in Cooperstown that rewards these players, and the gift shop will sell Bonds and Clemens merchandise along with Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva stuff, won't sit right for me.

I can't change the system. The system rewards baseball greatness regardless of moral obligation [no word on Joe Jackson or Pete Rose, though]. The system rewards not the people who break the rules, but the people who are talented enough to get away with it. 

So if I can't change that, I guess I'll just have to change how I think about it. 


  1. It will be interesting if the steroids players (Bonds, Clemens etc..) are ever admitted. If you let in cheaters, you may as well put Rose in. Also, even being a Twins fan, I was against putting Kaat in (not due to his comments), but I just don't feel his stats stack up. I was always on the fence with Oliva, and now the local debate is whether Mauer's stats are good enough.

  2. For years I was against PED users, but I've softened my stance after hearing about all of the guys who used "greenies" to heighten senses and speed up reaction time. The other problem I have with not letting obvious guy in like Bonds and Clemens is that there's very good chance that there are already guys in Cooperstown who used them. Another thing to consider are pitchers who illegally scuffed up balls or used foreign substances on them like Gaylord Perry. The topic is a slippery slope... and I slipped up a few years ago.