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Hall of Fame 2018 Class: No Bonds, No Clemens

The newest members elected to the Hall of Fame did not include home run king Barry Bonds nor 7-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens. Both players have seen their voting percentages increase each year since 2015, yet each has a long way to go to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Major League Baseball announced that Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman were elected as the 2018 Hall of Fame class. Each has his own lists of achievements, but none can boast the personal accolades of Bonds or Clemens. To be fair, Hoffman was strictly a closer and never started a game, but he makes the HOF having thrown only 1089 innings compared to Clemens who threw 4916 innings.

Hall of Fame 2018 Class Roger Clemens Barry BondsHoffman would have had a hard go around getting elected if Mariano Rivera were on the ballot at the same time. Both players deserve to be in, but that just speaks to the limited credibility of relievers and closers by voters. If they can only pick one, they are always going to pick Rivera. This also does not bode well for Billy Wagner in next year’s class.

Getting back to Clemens, the Rocket has obviously been scarred by his involvement with BALCO and steroid usage from his playing days. According to published polls leading up to the official voting, Clemens and Bonds both were said to have been trending up. However, that was not the case unfortunately when the final numbers were released. Their percentages did rise in due part because there were a lesser number of voters overall; they were not winning over any leftover voters.

The Hall of Fame debate for Clemens is tainted solely by his involvement in the prolonging steroid scandal. Based on numbers and accolades alone, he is a first ballot selection. 11 All-Star games. 7 Cy Youngs. 1 MVP. Numerous times leading the league in strikeouts, complete games, shutouts, ERA, WHIP, and so on. We’ve seen the numbers for years and heard the praise for his on-field performance, at least up until the early 2000s when BALCO became the taboo topic for players to discuss in interviews.

Hall of Fame 2018 Class Roger Clemens Barry BondsBarry Bonds was a Hall of Fame candidate way before he passed Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list, and even before he passed Mark McGwire as the single season home run champ. (McGwire and Sammy Sosa are a separate argument, but they were not in the same echelon as Bonds and Clemens.) 61 may still be what some people consider the single season home run record, but that is outdated and a narrow mindset for reality.

The case against Bonds is undoubtedly the steroid issue. I agree that steroids should not be allowed in baseball. But here is the bigger issue: Major League Baseball allowed him and others to use whatever it is they used up until the larger outcry from the media.

Baseball, and all sports, is about gaining an edge over your opponent. It can be mentally, physically, a home-field advantage, or anything else deemed to give a player the upper hand. Bonds already had the upper hand as an elite athlete; he simply tried to make the advantage even greater within the confines of the rules at the time.

Nobody worries about the players involved in the BALCO case that didn’t play better. There is an abundance of players who were not as good as Bonds before or after taking HGH, steroids, or whatever else they got their hands on. Nobody cares because the players weren’t good enough to warrant Hall of Fame consideration right? Here are some names listed in the Mitchell Report: Marvin Bernard, Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios, Randy Velarde, Ryan Franklin, Glenallen Hill, Daniel Naulty, Greg Zaun, Jerry Hariston Jr.

There are other more prominent names mentioned in the Mitchell Report that garner Hall of Fame discussion, but Bonds and Clemens are two of the most renowned not because they used more or were bigger offenders, but because they were the best of the best. As comes with such success, there are people who want to see them fail and be brought down.

Hall of Fame 2018 Class Roger Clemens Barry BondsDo steroids increase muscle mass? Of course. Clemens did not end up throwing 110 mph or having a curve ball that could break ten feet. If anything, he was able to prolong his career and give baseball exactly what it wanted in a dominant aging power pitcher not seen since the days of Nolan Ryan. Bonds may have gained bat speed from added body weight, but his hand-eye coordination was always exceptional. The only time he had over 100 strikeouts in a season was his rookie year in 1986 with 102. There were only three more seasons over his 22-year career in which he had more than 90 strikeouts. Bonds could always see the ball well, and he made a trade-off of speed for power later in his career.

I can give you all the arguments for and against Bonds and Clemens being elected into the Hall of Fame. There are more ‘fors’ than there are ‘againsts’. It is a matter of how much you weigh each criterion. The 1918 Black Sox fixed games and were banned for life. Pete Rose bet on baseball and was banned for life. Bonds and Clemens were competitors who tried to be the best at what they did and were the best at what they did.

If ‘steroids’ is your only argument against letting two Hall of Fame caliber players into the Hall of Fame, that is not sufficient. And that is the only argument presented against them. Baseball wanted stars and scoring and action and big plays in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. That is exactly what it got. It came at the hands of athletes wanting to play everyday and wanting to win.

Voters can’t say they didn’t enjoy watching these two players on the field. If Clemens pitched, there was a sellout at the park. If Bonds was up to hit, nobody was getting up for a beer run. It is unfortunate that a legacy can be tainted and denying admission to the shrine that is Cooperstown. Hopefully, voters forget the off field criticism and use the on field memories to elect two of baseball’s finest.

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