These guys all cheated. It’s impossible to honestly and rationally deny that. They took substances that, in Bonds’ and Sosa’s cases, made them superhuman. At least bonds and Clemens would have been good enough to make it into the Hall on their own laurels had they been able to keep their noses clean.
But they didn’t. They got caught, and now they’ll pay the price when the baseball writers deny them their plaques. The question for us is if that’s justified or not.
I hope to have one of these ballots myself many years from now, and I think these three names will still be up for consideration by then. And if I had one today, I’d put them all in. (You could possibly talk me out of checking Sammy’s box.)
My reasoning doesn’t spawn from a desire to justify what they did. They cheated on a level that makes their achievements (in the cases of Bonds and Sosa) incomparable to those of the past. But as a Hall voter, I wouldn’t see it as my job to punish them. They’ve already been punished. Everyone sees them for what they really are. No one hears the names of Bonds, Clemens and Sosa and thinks of great baseball achievements. They think of how those achievements were accomplished.
So when they go into the Hall, it won’t be the same as when the guys who did it the right way get in. There will be no joy in Mudville when Barry Bonds, half the size he was during his playing days, collects his plaque and delivers his speech as a wrinkled Hank Aaron looks on among the other pre-steroids Hall-of-Famers sitting behind him. There will be applause for Bonds and for Clemens and maybe even for Sosa, but all who hear it will know it for the hollow partisanship that it really is.
Truth is, I’d love to prevent this spectacle from commencing outside Baseball’s greatest monument. But the fact is that the Hall of Fame is not the ideologically pure establishment we’ve romanticized it to be. Many a baseball writer will sleep soundly leaving off the names of the players who they know are guilty of PED use, but what’s the use if they continue to vote in the best players from a league that conservative estimates have at 50% steroid use?
Why do we assume that we’ve caught everyone? That the cat’s out of the bag? Because it isn’t. When Alex Rodriguez was busted in 2009, we learned that his name was leaked from a list of failed 2003 drug tests 104 names long–fifteen more than the original bean-spilling Mitchell Report from 2007. And as we know, even today MLB can’t keep up with players’ masking agents. There were way more than a hundred users throughout the eighties, nineties and 2000s that will never be caught. (Heck, even if you still believe that somehow the Hall is still without a PED user, I point you to Mickey Mantle.)
Truth is, the Hall of Fame was a wreck before Bonds or Clemens were ever even in the picture. Frankie Frisch manipulated a massively broken Veterans’ Committee system to induct a large number of his buddies into the Hall in spite of highly questionable credentials. Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, two of the very greatest hitters ever, are not allowed in because of gambling allegations that did not affect their playing careers in any way. Anyone on the ’27 Yankees–the most propped-up team in baseball media history–who had a decent career got in. Look at the names of the players in the hall and see how many you can recognize. You’ll learn about guys you should have known about, but you’ll also see there are many who have no business being there and were obviously overrated at the time of enshrinement.
Which is why I wouldn’t lament putting Bonds, Clemens and maybe Sosa in. Doing so would be a far cry from letting armed gangsters into a perfect little town since Cooperstown is anything but.