The latest Baseball Hall of Fame election results revealed Tuesday night were notable in that Mariano Rivera became the first ever with a 100 percent invitation, Mike Mussina barely snuck in above the 75 percent minimum, and two others in between received a sentimental bounce from extenuating circumstances: Roy Halladay died at age 40 in a plane crash, and Edgar Martinez was in his 10th and final year of Hall eligibility.
I should say I am a Baseball Writers Association of America member among the 425 Hall voters, and my ballot included all four men who got in.
My ballot also included votes for some who did not get in and, as usual, for me, that’s the more interesting discussion.
We — as a society, as baseball fans, as voting media — are still collectively trying to decide what to do with the “steroid guys,” and we are doing it together, feeling our way, trying to get it right. We are figuring out how to fit the shamed outcasts into the history of the one sport that most holds its history dear.
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I vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, despite the stain that has held them out of Cooperstown, New York. I do that partly because performance-enhancing drugs were not against baseball’s rules at the time, and I’m not big on retroactive punishment. I do that mostly because their gargantuan career numbers were Hall worthy even apart from their timeline of enhancement.
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were not Bonds and Clemens. Those two, to me, were the exceptions, the top-tier guys whose greatness was legit, not artificial.
But I get the disagreement and respect it. I see it up close, My own Miami Herald colleague, Clark Spencer, who covers the Marlins and is recent past president of the BBWAA, does not vote for Bonds and Clemens.
“To me it [would be] offending those players who did not cheat during that era,” Spencer said Wednesday. “If I vote for these guys, it’s sending a message to future guys that they can cheat and still get in the Hall of Fame.”
Maybe not, though.
Voters are softening on Bonds and Clemons, albeit gradually. This year both were just short of 60 percent of the vote, their supporters now in the majority. Five years earlier both were in the 35 percent range.
Some of the rise, as Spencer notes, is that “year by year, there are newer, younger voters who look at that era differently.”
Some of it, too, I think, is that voters look much more harshly at players found to have used steroids and other PEDs since baseball made them explicitly against the rules.
That’s why Manny Ramirez, an otherwise near-certain Hall of Famer, languished at 22.8 percent this year. It’s why Alex Rodriguez, who will be a first-time eligible in 2022, faces a tougher fight than Bonds and Clemens now find themselves in despite sharing a similar place on baseball’s highest echelon of career numbers.
The next couple of years of Hall voting will feel very personal to Miami.
In 2020 Derek Jeter, now running the Marlins, will be eligible for the first time. He should sail into Cooperstown on the first ballot. But A-Rod, Miami-raised, his name on the Hurricanes’ baseball park — “He’s in trouble,” says Spencer, meaning likely Hall support. “He’s in the same boat as Ramirez.”
Bonds and Clemens were of the era when baseball was just discovering PEDs and deciding they should be banned. By A-Rod’s time they were against baseball law. In 2013 MLB suspended him for 211 games, the biggest PED punishment in baseball history.
Bonds and Clemens were cutting corners ill-defined. A-Rod was cheating against black-and-white rules. That’s the difference.
I have doubts A-Rod will ever get into the Hall of Fame, where it figures to be a very close whether Bonds or Clemens will make it in their remaining three years of eligibility. It will be up to voters. I doubt Bonds or Clemens can rely on any benevolence from the Today’s Game Era Committee (the erstwhile Veterans Committee), which can induct players it think voters overlooked but is not known to delve into matters of controversy.
I hope Bonds and Clemens get in on merit. I also support baseball dropping its lifetime ban for gambling and letting Pete Rose into Cooperstown, too. The Hall is about baseball greatness. These aren’t the gates of heaven. As a sort of bridge to help the likes of Bonds, Clemens and Rose reach Cooperstown, the Hall should include the reason for the delayed induction on their bronze plaque.
For all three players, the stain on their reputation is real, and indelible. But so is the greatness.
I would also love to see all three men get in for the sheer drama of it. All three are mercurial figures who can be combative loose cannons.
I could envision Bonds, Clemens and Rose being appreciative for the ultimate honor they thought had eluded them. Showing a hint of contrition, even, in what would be the most-watched induction speeches in Cooperstown history.
I could also envision all three men letting their anger out in those same speeches, or boycotting their own induction with a [bleep] you and a raised middle finger.
I hope we get the chance to see for ourselves.