Silence isn’t golden: baseball’s bad boys and the Hall of Fame

First off, congratulations to Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez on their induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Not to take away from your special day, but this was never going to be and I assume some if not all of you knew that.

The announcement of this year’s inductees was Kanye West famously interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards all over again.

“Barry Bonds…” “Roger Clemens…” “Curt Schilling…”

Names mentioned more than the inductees themselves.

With the exception of Curt Schilling, whose Twitter account and radio interviews will likely keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame for the foreseeable future, if not indefinitely, the other aforementioned names have one thing in common: suspected steroid use.

Bonds (44% to 64%) and Clemens (45% to 63%), both in their fifth year on the ballot, saw a 20 percent improvement compared to last year’s ballot, but remain well short of the 75% needed from BBWAA voters for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

Which begs the question, would admission of guilt in using performance enhancing drugs during their career have gotten either in the Hall of Fame by now?

bonds-clemens-cooperstown-future

Barry Bonds & Roger Clemens, long suspected of steroid use during their careers.

In January 1998, Bill Clinton famously stood in the Roosevelt Room of the White House and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman [Monica Lewinsky].” Everyone knew he lying and the American people made him pay a higher price for the lie than the affair itself. His poll numbers sank, Congress moved to impeach him and he became fodder for every late night comedian.

By August, he came clean and confessed to having an, “inappropriate relationship” with the former White House intern. People forgave the president, the impeachment proceedings went nowhere, and Clinton’s approval ratings skyrocketed to the highest point during his presidency in December.

So why is it those clouded by their suspected steroid use in baseball’s most infamous era refuse to do the same and come clean?

Would it even matter?

Some like Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci have said they, “…will never vote for Clemens and Bonds.” But the BBWAA consists of more than one voter. Last year’s induction of former Mets and Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza, along with Ivan Rodriguez’s enshrinement later this year represent at least two former players who have fallen under steroid suspicion before, but managed to find their way to Cooperstown none the less.

While Bonds and Clemens have managed to keep their candidacy alive, others including Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa, have seen their chance at immortality go up in smoke.

Piazza and Pudge’s inductions, along with the fact Bonds and Clemens finished 6th and 7th respectively in this year’s vote, while increasing their tallies by a substantial margin, suggest they keep their mouth shut. But imagine if both had retired, come clean, admitted they used PEDs and said it was a mistake. Would they already be in the Hall of Fame?

It’s clear not all voters are interested in punishing Bonds forever. Some including FOX and MLB Network analyst, Ken Rosenthal, who held reservations in the past about casting a ballot for the embattled slugger have since changed their tune.

The fact that Bonds left the game with 300 more home runs and RBIs than Piazza and Bagwell, who never avoided allegations themselves seems to be softening voters minds.

Clemens, whose approval ratings amongst the BBWAA are likely on par with the sand that you can’t get rid of after a week in Hawai’i, has seen trust in him fall after appearing before Congress and on the news program 60 Minutes.

Voters and fans alike see him as a liar, a cheat and someone who doesn’t deserve recognition as a Hall of Famer. But looking at Clemens’ career before steroid allegations began in 1998 reveal a stronger candidacy than many would care to give him credit for.

In fourteen “clean” seasons prior to allegations of steroid use from former Toronto Blue Jays strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee following the 1998 season, “The Rocket”, posted four 20 win seasons, six All Star Game selections, led the American League in wins three times, ERA five times, strikeouts four times, won 4 Cy Young awards and an AL MVP award.

Between 1984 and 1997, Clemens accumulated a 213-118 record, 2.97 ERA and 41 complete game shut outs. All but 8 of the 39 pitchers who have recorded more shut outs are in the Hall of Fame.

In comparison, over the first fourteen years of his career, 2011 Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven amassed a 96-85 record, 3.21 ERA and 21 complete game shut outs.

Had Roger Clemens’ career ended following the 1997 season before steroid accusations surfaced, he would be tied for fourth all time with future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw and current Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver and Pedro Martinez in Cy Young Awards. His 213 wins put him 10 over future Hall of Famer and former Blue Jays teammate Roy Halladay.

Can I 100% guarantee both men did steroids? No, and neither can you. However, we cannot guarantee they didn’t use a performance enhancer either. That’s the problem plaguing BBWAA voters when it comes to judging potential Hall of Famers from the Steroid Era in baseball. We don’t know. We don’t know who did what, when, where, was it legal or was it against the rules?

It’s like a red sock thrown into a load of whites; it gets on everything, tainting the purity of the lot. There is no doubt before steroid allegations against Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens arose, they were both incredibly talented players. Would those numbers alone be good enough to get them into the Hall of Fame and over the hurdle of voters who just cannot forgive?

The earliest we’ll know that answer is next January.

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