Quick Thoughts: Bonds, Clemens, and MLB Hall of Fame

I love baseball, but I am not a baseball stat-head. I can’t recount how many bases someone stole or how much shutout innings someone pitched. I don’t go in for all those fine-grained analyses over who should and should not get into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

With that caveat, I think it is silly that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not voted into the Hall of Fame today. Yes they both cheated; they used substances that were prohibited by their sport. Their legacies are forever tarnished by this, and rightfully so. But both Bonds and Clemens were two of the greatest baseball players ever—PEDs or not. And given the alleged pervasiveness of PED usage in their era, one might argue that their dominance was even more impressive.

Moreover, there is little doubt that PED users and cheaters of other kinds are already in the Hall—having played in a time when knowledge of such things was harder to come by or just ignored. No one, as far as I know, has called for a purge of all cheaters and scoundrels already in the Hall of Fame (Let’s not!)

The voters who refused to vote for Bonds and Clemens seem to be trying to undo history or pretend like it didn’t happen. But it did happen. These men played the game. They dominated. How does one tell the history of baseball in the late 20th/early 21st century without talking about Bonds and Clemens? As ESPN baseball writer Jayson Stark puts it: “Do we really want a Hall of Fame that basically tries to pretend that none of those men ever played baseball? That none of that happened? Or that none of that should have happened?”

Another view of why the voters voted the way they did is that the voters were taking out their frustration and anger at the whole so-called Steroids Era by punishing these men. But this strikes me as largely misplaced. It is not the voters’ role to dole out justice for such rule-violations. That role belonged to the league, owners, and players. They all failed in that regard, but that does not license the baseball writers to take it up.

I am of the camp that thinks we ought to put the best, most dominant players of their respective eras in the Hall and where appropriate note the admitted, alleged, or suspected PED use on plaques/signs by the players’ bust. Anything else seems to be either hypocrisy or evasion.

5 Comments

Filed under baseball, PEDs

5 responses to “Quick Thoughts: Bonds, Clemens, and MLB Hall of Fame

  1. Sean Beckmann

    I tend to think there are three reasonable ways to go on this. The first is your own, reward the best of each era with admittance and recognize them them for what they are (good, bad, or ugly). The second is to black ball anyone with a proven/admitted history of PED use, but what about all those not caught, or those not guilty but accused. The third is to black ball the entire error but then you punish a lot of innocent people (unless you believe Canseco).

    I agree with your thought but I can at least rationalize all of these thoughts. The one I have the biggest issue with is the “all admitted or proven are guilty and so are any with a whiff of possible use”. This is the Jeff Bagwell doesn’t belong because he got too big too quick school. That’s the one that makes me sick. Love to hear your thoughts on that ideal.

  2. Sean Beckmann

    Sorry for all the typos. I just noticed the autocorrect issues.

  3. martin quitt

    I concur for the most part. The change that is needed is in the rules for voting. I believe #5 cites character. It should be removed. The HOF should recognize only baseball performance. Once character is introduced, the opening for voter mischief has no limit. Even on the field racism has not banned some players from the past. To me that was worse than steroids or gambling. But that is my judgment of the character issue, which should be eliminated from voting consideration. Evaluation of on the field performance is difficult enough. Character is an extraneous intrusion.

  4. pkstephens

    For the record, I’m on the side of the dopers. I don’t quite see how taking a drug to improve performance is any less “unfair” than is having a particular set of genetic endowments. Wasn’t Shaquille O’Neal’s very existence unfair?

    But leaving that argument aside, it seems to me that there is something intangible that separates the Hall of Fame from a statistics roster. If we want to know what players had the most hits we can look at list of compiled statistics. But the leader isn’t in the Hall and will never be in the Hall. It’s not that his record is expunged, it’s just that the Hall and it’s voters have decided that he is not representative of the “Best” of baseball. We can debate that decision, but I don’t know that we diminish the game by having that discussion. Perhaps, in a few cases, the exclusion of players of obvious statistical merit actually enhances the game by creating a context in which we can discuss exactly which ineffables constitute greatness.

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