Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and the PED/Hall of Fame Debate

On January 24, Major League Baseball will announce the newest members of the Hall of Fame. I wrote a little while back when the initial finalists were announced who I would vote for, which you can read here. I briefly mentioned in that blog that I wouldn’t vote for Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens mainly because I wouldn’t feel good about it even though Ivan Rodriguez was elected on the first ballot last year despite having been named in the Mitchell Report, a report created by George Mitchell consisting of evidence of numerous current and former Major League Baseball players that had been linked in some form or fashion to PED’s. I understand the argument in favor of putting them in, which I’ll highlight a little later, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.

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The case for each player is very simple. Ignoring all the steroids allegations (which is all they are: allegations, since neither failed a PED test), here’s how Bonds’ and Clemens’ resumes stack up. Bonds was the son of former big league All Star Bobby Bonds and made his debut in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team he played for until 1992. He won 2 NL MVPs as a member of the Pirates, slugging 176 home runs and hit .275. In 1993, he signed with the Giants, which was when he went from a superstar to arguably the most feared hitter to ever play the game. Bonds played in San Francisco from 1993 until his retirement in 2007 and hit 586 home runs by the bay and won 5 MVPs, including 4 in a row from 2001-2004. In all, Bonds holds the record for most home runs ever hit in a career with 762, most in a season with 73 in 2001, most walks in a career with 2558, most intentional walks in a career with 688, was a 14-time All Star and was also consistently one of the toughest guys to strike out, as he only struck out 100 times in a season once in his career, which was his rookie year. Bonds is also one of only 5 players in the 40-40 club, a feat he accomplished in 1996 when he hit 42 home runs and stole 40 bags. His 7 MVP’s are by far the most ever, next closest being 3 by several players. Bonds won more than that in consecutive seasons. Bonds even holds the rare distinction of having been intentionally walked with the bases loaded. Nobody was more feared in recent memory than Barry Bonds. The only way you could pitch to him was by not pitching to him.

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Roger Clemens was one of the most dominant pitchers of the last half century in a time when balls were flying out of the yard at a rate never seen before. Clemens began his career in 1984 with the Boston Red Sox and retired in 2007 as a member of the New York Yankees with stints in Toronto and Houston in between. He holds the record for 7 Cy Young Awards, next closest being 4 by Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, both of whom are first ballot Hall of Famers. Clemens also won the 1986 AL MVP, which is a rarity for a pitcher, when he went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 238 K’s. Clemens is a 2-time World Series champion as a member of the Yankees in 1999 and 2000. In 2005 as a member of the Houston Astros and at the age of 42, he set a career low ERA of 1.87. He also set the record for strikeouts in a 9-inning game with 20, a feat he accomplished twice. For his career, Clemens went 354-184 with an ERA of 3.12 and 4672 K’s, numbers that rank him amongst the greatest to ever play the game and he did it at a time when a lot of the top hitters were using performance enhancers.

Which brings me to my next point, why guys with resumes as great as these are being left out of the Hall of Fame at the moment. It has nothing to do with their numbers, those are as good as anybody has ever put up. It’s the matter that these guys have been too heavily linked to PED’s over the years. Despite the fact that neither ever tested positive for PED’s, the evidence is pretty apparent. It was reported that Barry Bonds’ hat and shoe sizes grew long after that stops for normal people. George Mitchell’s investigation from 2006-7 named both of them amongst other star players as guys with ties to PED’s. Plus, just look at the differences.

Here’s Bonds in his rookie year with the Pirates.

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Here he is in his 73 home run 2001 season with the Giants.

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Now yes, there’s about a 15-year gap between these two photos. But nobody gets that huge in that amount of time without a little added boost.

Now let’s look at Clemens. Here’s a picture of him from the 1986 season where he struck out 20 batters in a game for the first time and won AL MVP.

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Now here’s a picture of him in 2000.

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I don’t think anybody’s denying there was pharmaceutical assistance for these guys just looking at them. But there is a pretty legitimate argument for both of them to get in to the Hall of Fame despite the fact that both men allegedly used PED’s. I’ll list them out here.

1. PED’s were not banned at the suspected time they were used.

2. A large portion of Major League Baseball was using PED’s as well.

3. Excluding these guys would be like trying to pretend an entire era of baseball never happened.

4. They never actually tested positive so trying to punish them for something they were never technically found guilty of is cheating both men.

5. Ivan Rodriguez, who was named in the Mitchell Report, got in on the first ballot in 2017.

It’s hard to argue with any of these and quite frankly, I do believe Bonds and Clemens will get in at some point, whether it’s this year or sometime in the future. Look all over the internet or any publication or sports network and you’ll see that everybody seems to be softening their stance against PED’s. The most telling sign of this is of course Ivan Rodriguez getting in on his first try last year. Rodriguez was named in the Mitchell Report as having used PED’s and he never denied it, yet that didn’t seem to matter to the voters. If you vote Rodriguez in, there is no reason you shouldn’t vote in Bonds and Clemens as well. Sure they might have had some rough personalities and exchanges with the media, but the Hall of Fame isn’t a nice guy award. I made the same case in my Hall of Fame ballot, but Ty Cobb was a notorious racist who would slide into a base cleats up to try and injure black players during exhibition games. He was the first man ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. I also hate the argument that some people have about putting them in the Hall of Fame but having an asterisk next to their name. I’m just not on board with that. For me, the Hall of Fame is pretty black and white. You’re either a Hall of Fame-caliber player, or you’re not. Plain and simple. Putting an asterisk next to their name will diminish the credibility of the Hall itself.

My main issue with putting them in is this: PED’s are fucking deadly. The problem with PED’s for me isn’t that it gives some players an unfair advantage. Ted Williams having ridiculous eye sight is an unfair advantage and nobody bitched about that. It was the stuff of legend. It’s that in order for clean players to keep up with the PED users, they would have to cut years off their lives by taking these dangerous drugs. Otherwise they might be out of a job. When I see guys like Ken Caminiti die from steroid usage, it really makes me uncomfortable rewarding people who haven’t yet paid the price with enshrinement. I don’t know, that’s just me.

That’s going to do it for today’s blog. Let me know what you think about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and any other known PED user’s Hall of Fame candidacy in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

4 thoughts on “Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and the PED/Hall of Fame Debate

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