Not Feeling Too Sorry for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
I can’t say that I feel any sadness about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each failing to get even 40% of the vote in their year of Hall of Fame eligibility. The sportswriters are rightfully sending a message that neither deserves to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer due to the steroids taint. I would have voted the same way.
In my mind, the big question is how the electors will vote next year and in the years after that. There’s no doubt that Bonds’ and Clemens’ on-field performances were better than merely Hall of Fame worthy. There’s no reasonable way to conclude that these players don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because of their purported steroid use, while numerous other players from generations past have been elected in spite of similar conduct and worse.
For example, most of the Hall-of-Famers from the 1960’s, ’70’s and ’80’s used performance enhancing drugs in the form of greenies (amphetamine pills) and other stimulants during their playing careers. MLB condoned or at least turned a blind eye to stimulant use by players for more than 40 years until the fall-out from the steroid scandal forced MLB and the players’ union to agree to a ban.
Ty Cobb once claimed that during his playing career he chased down a man who tried to rob him on the street and catching him several blocks away beat the attempted robber to death. No effort has been made to throw Cobb out of the Hall of Fame.
The same goes for Cap Anson who today is remembered as much for being the poster boy for separate-but-equal in professional baseball when he refused to allow his team to take the field against an African American opponent as he is for being the first player to accumulate 3,000 hits in his career. Again, no one is suggesting we throw Anson out of the Hall of Fame, even though MLB’s 60+ plus year de facto ban on players of African decent is a far bigger stain on baseball history than players trying to get an edge by taking performance enhancing drugs.
In short, Bonds and Clemens ultimately deserve to be in the Hall of Fame based on their on-field performances and the degree to which they dominated the game even in an era when a lot of players were using performance enhancing drugs. If their 15 years of eligibility pass without their being elected, that would be a real travesty.