Vot­ers facing re­al­ity that Bonds, Cle­mens be­long in Hall of Fame

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

Judg­ing by bal­lots re­leased by Hall of Fame vot­ers, Barry Bonds and Roger Cle­mens even­tu­ally will take their right­ful place in Coop­er­stown. How ap­pro­pri­ate. Only Pete Rose’s ex­clu­sion makes less sense.

I don’t have a vote, but my bal­lot would’ve in­cluded Bonds and Cle­mens from their first year of el­i­gi­bil­ity un­til they no longer ap­peared. The ar­gu­ment against their en­shrine­ment was al­ways too sim­plis­tic and naive for my lik­ing, not to men­tion ar­bi­trary and il­log­i­cal.

In other words, the stance was based too much on the Hall of Fame’s phi­los­o­phy in de­cid­ing who be­longs and who doesn’t.

The hall’s uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion in 2014 to cur­tail a player’s time on the bal­lot (to 10 years in­stead of 15) was an ob­vi­ous at­tempt to avoid in­duc­tion cer­e­monies for Bonds, Cle­mens and other stars from the Steroids Era. But the Class of 2016 in­cluded for­mer catcher Mike Pi­azza (a ru­mored but never-proven user) and for­mer com­mis­sioner Bud Selig (whose em­pire ben­e­fited from steroid use in base­ball).

Their in­clu­sion ap­par­ently eased the con­science of oth­er­wise rea­son­able vot­ers who have op­posed Bonds and Cle­mens. The elec­torate — mem­bers of the Base­ball Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica — must be con­clud­ing that ad­mit­ting Selig while bar­ring two of the sport’s all-time greats is hyp­o­crit­i­cal.

The vot­ers are only half-right, though.

Shun­ning Bonds and Cle­mens was hyp­o­crit­i­cal, pe­riod. Re­gard­less of Selig’s fate.

Bonds won seven Most

Valu­able Player awards and eight Gold Gloves. Cle­mens won seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP. Bonds is the all­time leader in home runs, to­tal walks and in­ten­tional walks, as well as third all-time in runs scored and wins above re­place­ment (WAR). Cle­mens is third all-time in strike­outs, third in wins (not count­ing dead­ball era pitch­ers) and third in WAR for pitch­ers.

Noth­ing that hap­pened on a base­ball di­a­mond gives pause to these im­mor­tal play­ers’ can­di­da­cies. The idea that we should de­bate their Coop­er­stown-wor­thi­ness is lu­di­crous be­cause op­po­si­tion isn’t based on mea­sur­ables like statis­tics and awards, but murky judg­ments on morals and ethics.

The Hall of Fame bal­lot in­cludes a clause that reads: “Vot­ing shall be based upon the player’s record, play­ing abil­ity, in­tegrity, sports­man­ship, char­ac­ter and con­tri­bu­tion to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Con­sid­er­ing the hun­dreds if not thou­sands of ma­jor lea­guers who took per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs dur­ing the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, Bonds and Cle­mens ex­hib­ited typ­i­cal in­tegrity, sports­man­ship and char­ac­ter. But their abil­ity was out of this world.

I’ve never un­der­stood the ar­gu­ment for ex­clud­ing the duo even though they mer­ited in­duc­tion prior to juic­ing. If you sep­a­rate their ca­reers into be­fore and af­ter, they clearly demon­strated unique and his­toric tal­ent without for­eign sub­stances. Their fi­nal num­bers wouldn’t be as mind-bog­gling, but they’d still rank among the best to ever play.

An­other thing I’ve never un­der­stood is vot­ers’ will­ing­ness to be so sanc­ti­mo­nious about a cer­tain PED (steroids), yet as­sume a lais­sez­faire at­ti­tude to­ward an­other PED (am­phet­a­mines).

Like steroids, use of am­phet­a­mines without a pre­scrip­tion is against fed­eral law. But be­fore base­ball banned am­phet­a­mines in 2006, play­ers popped “gree­nies” and chugged “red juice” like their lives de­pended on it.

More ac­cu­rately, their liveli­hoods de­pended on the pick-me-ups and in­dis­pens­able boosts for the six-month, 162-game grinds. Among the play­ers who have ad­mit­ted or been linked to am­phet­a­mines are Wil­lie Mays, Ted Wil­liams, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Mike Sch­midt.

In or­der to im­prove your per­for­mance, you first must be in the lineup. But of all the ma­jor lea­guers who ever popped a pill to play or took an in­jec­tion to play bet­ter, only 217 are in the hall. Sub­stances can en­hance per­for­mance but they can’t cre­ate some­thing out of noth­ing.

Oth­er­wise, Coop­er­stown would need to add a few wings to in­clude all the play­ers like Wil­liams and Bonds.

As for non-drug as­pects of the hall’s “char­ac­ter” clause, I’ll let oth­ers ex­plain the ex­ist­ing plaques for known racists, spit­ballers, drunks, gam­blers and adul­ter­ers. If you’re look­ing for per­fect peo­ple, good luck. We don’t know the whole story, any­way. Play­ers present a cer­tain pub­lic im­age — of­ten scrubbed and san­i­tized — keep­ing their dirt be­hind closed doors where it be­longs.

I sug­gest putting the most weight on a player’s record and play­ing abil­ity. Short of com­mit­ting mur­der, rape or other heinous crimes, the top one per­cent should be im­mor­tal­ized in Coop­er­stown. It’s called the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame

and Mu­seum for a rea­son.

The story of base­ball can’t be told prop­erly without men­tion­ing the Steroid Era, which fea­tured two of the great­est play­ers who ever lived. Like it or not, Bonds and Cle­mens de­fined the sport for a gen­er­a­tion. PED use doesn’t ex­plains the sub­stan­tial gap between them and other su­pe­rior play­ers.

No one be­longs in the Hall if Bonds and Cle­mens don’t be­long. You can hate their guts. You can call them ar­ro­gant, ly­ing cheaters. You can boo them at their in­duc­tion cer­e­mony in a cou­ple of years.

But they’ll be in their right­ful place.

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