A last word on Bonds, Clemens
The poetic justice of about 34 percent of the voters keeping them out of Cooperstown aside, here's the real reason they were right to keep them out
There’s a kind of perfection to the baseball writers wrestling with Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ Hall of Fame causes over 10 years, most giving in to their Cooperstown cases, yet not enough to give them their Cooperstown plaques.
It’s kind perfect because it reflects the angst and mixed feelings all of us have trying to weigh their places in the game, their historic greatness on the one hand and the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt certainty they turned to performance enhancing drugs in the latter part of their careers on the other.
Getting about 66 percent of the writers’ votes for induction when 75 percent’s required seems to tell their story in the game better than a plaque with their name on it ever could.
The problem, of course, is it’s the most meta of takes, attempted real-time historical perspective that might need another decade or two to prove correct.
Given that, a few more words need spilling before the matter’s closed, so here we go.
The members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who put Bonds and Clemens on their ballots are wrong and those that left them off their ballots, killing their induction, are right.
It’s not close.
It’s not just that they cheated the game, though they did. It’s not only that they committed fraud upon the game, though they did that, too, a fraud far more profound than you may have considered, one that saw them steal hallowed numbers and records from a game that stands upon those numbers and records.
There will be no more single-season home run record chases, when once they owned the nation’s attention, even before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa grabbed it with their own fraud, before Bonds came along and hit 73 in 2001 at age 36.
Remember Matt Williams and Ken Griffey Jr. in the late 90s?
Or how about the excitement that could have been in 2006, when Ryan Howard hit 58 or just five seasons ago when Giancarlo Stanton, still a Marlin, hit 59? Did you even know Howard hit 58 and Stanton 59? Your not knowing, and not caring about it, cheaters stole from the game.
Clemens finished with 354 wins, which may not be what they used to be, though 300 remains an impossibly beautiful number.
Would he have gotten there without juicing up? Would he have passed Tom Glavine’s 305, Tom Seaver’s 311, Phil Neikro’s 318, Nolan Ryan’s 324 or Steve Carlton’s 329 without turning to PEDs?
Clemens also won seven Cy Young Awards, four after turning 35, the last after he turned 42.
His last four years in Boston he went 40-39 with a 3.77 earned run average. His next four, in Toronto and New York, 1997-2000, he went 68-31 with a 3.12 earned run average and his last two Cy Youngs came even later, in 2001 and 2004.
In leaked grand jury testimony, Bonds admitted using “the clear’ and “the cream,” the first a designer steroid and the second a masking agent, though he claimed to not know what they were.
Of the top 12 slugging percentages in major league history, an index that now incorporates Negro Leagues statistics, Negro Leagues stars Josh Gibson, Mule Suttles and Charlie Smith own eight of them, all but one before any of them turned 30; Babe Ruth has two, Nos. 6 and 7, achieved at ages 25 and 26; Bonds has three, Nos 5, 10 and 11, achieved at ages 36, 39 and 37.
I mean, come on.
Clemens beat the rap in a perjury case stemming from denying steroid use in post-career congressional testimony. Yet, at trial, the government presented cotton balls and syringes it claimed tested positive for Clemens’ DNA, steroids and human growth hormone. And somehow, he was a better pitcher at 42 in New York than he was at 32 in Boston?
Just come on.
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All of that and this:
It’s a different way to make a point, but follow me, please.
Imagine poker player Antonio Esfandiari, who’s won three World Series of Poker bracelets, is perhaps the most decorated poker player not yet inducted in the Poker Hall of Fame, who’s near certain to be inducted any time now, finding a way to mark every ace and king in every deck, in every event he enters during the WSOP’s annual six-week Vegas run, and imagine he enters 16 different events and wins eight, including the $10,000 buy-in main event, the most prestigious of the bunch.
Imagine, after he did it, there were two sides being drawn as the guardians of the game considered his Hall of Fame induction.
One side would make the point that He was Hall of Fame worthy already. Yeah, he cheated, but marking only eight cards should have him winning two or three of the 16 events he entered, not eight; eight is unthinkably amazing, more than anybody’s ever won in a year by five.
And after he won the first six, everybody got out of his way, folding every hand to him, letting him accumulate chips slowly rather than all at once. They intentionally didn’t want to mess with him and that’s never happened before.
He broke the game.
He just broke it and you have to honor it.
He marked the cards, and that’s unfortunate, but that should not have made him this dominant, allowed him to win so much, allowed him to collect all the money, set every record, do what’s never been done and never will be again.
The other side, a minority, but sizable enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, says only one three words.
Are you crazy.
And they’re right.
That’s Bonds and Clemens, who cheated and committed fraud upon the game so profoundly and viscerally as to make it all a joke, all for themselves, at our expense, because they could.
That’s why they don’t belong.
They will not be inducted.