Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (8/9) – Bonds and Clemens

Hall of Fame 2018: Voting Primer (8/9) – Bonds and Clemens

The Hall of Fame class of 2018 will be announced on January 24, 2018. In the meantime, I’m going to spend my Sundays going over the 33 players on this year’s ballot. I’ll include what the argument for inclusion is for each player and what the argument against their inclusion might be. I’ve tried to group the players together in the most reasonable manner. In the comment section, I’d love to hear if any of the players have your vote or you’re at least considering them. Thanks!

Barry Bonds
162.4 bWAR, 164.4 fWAR
6th Year on the Ballot
Roger Clemens
140.3 bWAR, 133.7 fWAR
6th Year on the Ballot

Consider this: Typically, I separate the arguments for and against inclusion for players, but we’re essentially arguing the same thing when it comes to this duo so that seems a bit redundant.

Barry Bonds is ranked, according to Baseball-Reference, fourth in Wins Above Replacement. He is behind Babe Ruth, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson. If you were going to build a baseball Mount Rushmore, that would be your four players according to B-Ref. Fangraphs separates hitters from pitchers, but again, the only hitter with more Wins Above Replacement is Babe Ruth. Nobody has more home runs (insert asterisk if desired), walks, or intentional walks. He is the only person to win more than three MVP’s – he actually won seven. He won eight Gold Gloves and is the only player in history to win more than ten Silver Sluggers (12 to be exact).

Bonds is sixth all-time in on-base percentage and retired with a 1.051 OPS. He scored the third most runs, finished with the fourth most total bases, and, oh, he stole 514 bases. Bonds hit .300 or better eleven times and, starting in 1992, he hit 30 or more home runs in thirteen consecutive seasons. He had one of the best chances to win the Triple Crown in the past 40 years, finishing fourth in batting average in 1993 while leading the NL in homers and RBI.

By Jerry Reuss [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
And he did all this while being walked unintentionally or intentionally in most meaningful opportunities for impact at-bats over the last several years of his career. That includes an asinine 120 intentional passes in 2004.

Meanwhile, Roger Clemens has the eighth most bWAR in history and no pitcher is better than him in fWAR. Only Johnson and Young are ahead of him in pitcher bWAR. He took home seven Cy Young awards, two more than Randy Johnson for the most in history. In 1986, he also won the MVP. Five times, he led the league in strikeouts, finishing with the third most in history. He also threw the 26th-most shutouts with 46 and is ninth in wins.

Unlike Bonds, Clemens faced a lull in his career. From his debut in 1986 until 1992, he was pitching royalty. However, over the next four years, he finished with a 3.77 ERA and 3.69 FIP over 110 starts – mediocre by his standards. It prompted the Red Sox to let him go. He would head to Toronto and excelled over two dominant years for them before landing in the Bronx for the next five years of his career. He’d win another Cy Young there and two rings as a member of the Yankees. Clemens headed to Houston next, winning his seventh-and-final ERA Title and Cy Young before finishing his career with one summer back in pinstripes.

It’s impossible to mention Clemens and not bring up his dual 20-K performances. 20 strikeouts in a single game has only happened six times and Clemens did it twice – with a decade between outings.

But there’s this: Let’s get the legitimate criticisms out of the way. Spoiler alert – they don’t matter.

Bonds did not shine in the playoffs outside of 2002, when he destroyed the Braves, Cardinals, and Angels. He was on his way to his first ring and a World Series MVP before Russ Ortiz and four relievers wasted a 5-0 lead in Game Six. However, he only hit .245 in the playoffs and hit just one home run in his six other trips to the playoffs. And that’s about it with any criticism about Bonds’ playing career.

Like Bonds, if we are going to ding anything about his career, Clemens wasn’t great in the postseason. He certainly had some very good individual outings, but in 35 games (all but one as a starter), Clemens finished with a 3.75 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 199 innings. Basically, a below-average year by his standards.

But bringing up their postseason performances is complete nit-picking two Hall of Fame careers. We all know this comes down to steroids.

Top (Jim Accordino via Wikipedia Commons) Bottom (guano via Wikipedia Commons) CC BY-SA 2.0

For Barry Bonds, the timeline is a bit murky, but it seems to really get going in 1998. That year, Bonds had one of his finest seasons – hitting .303/.438/.609 with 44 doubles, 37 home runs, and 28 steals. He was 33 years-old and the expectation was that we would soon see a decline – or at least a gradual one. That’s kind of what happens, right? Meanwhile, nobody seemed to care. At the same time that Bonds was having a Bonds-like year, in the midwest, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were chasing the single-season home run record. Bonds, who was more than just a home run hitter, finished just 8th in the MVP voting that season. Sosa and McGwire, who “saved baseball,” finished 1-2 in the voting.

According to the book “Game of Shadows,” Bonds wanted the public eye back on him. He began to work with his trainer, Greg Anderson, and the company BALCO, to turn from one of the game’s best all-around players into its elite power hitter. After all, if Sosa and McGwire could juice and become heroes, why couldn’t Bonds? In 1999, he showed up to spring training looking less like the speedy outfielder he had for most of his career and more like a speedy defensive end. In 2001, Bonds broke the single-season home run record. He was 36. He would win his first MVP since 1993 and win the next three after it, averaging about 45 home runs despite being increasingly walked.

To be clear – Barry Bonds has never admitted to knowingly using steroids nor did he ever pop positive in any test for it. Bonds did, however, admit to taking steroids only after he had been misled into thinking it was flaxseed oil and arthritis cream. Speaking of which, I need to take more flaxseed oil. During his perjury trial, Bonds was found guilty of one count – obstructing justice. There was not enough proof to convict him of perjury, though.

Roger Clemens’ steroid usage is a bit more…weird. Both Jose Canseco and Jason Grimsley outed him as a steroid user. He also played a starring role in the Mitchell Report. Meanwhile, Clemens vehemently denied steroid use and filed a defamation lawsuit. Later, he appeared before Congress and denied his use. That led to his own perjury trial. Initially, a mistrial was declared before a second trial commenced a year later. In it, he was found not guilty of lying to Congress about steroid use.

If Clemens did use steroids, when he may have begun isn’t quite as clear as it was with Bonds. If you believe Jose Canseco, it happened between 1995 and the end of 1998. In three of those four years, first with Boston and later with Toronto, Canseco was a teammate of Clemens. 1998 is also the year that the Blue Jays brought in Brian McNamee as their strength coach. When Clemens was traded, McNamee left to become Clemens’ personal trainer. According to McNamee, it was Clemens who pushed for his trainer to inject him to begin with.

The playing results aren’t as cut-and-dry with Clemens like they are with Bonds. He struggled in his first two years in the Bronx, but did win the 2001 and 2004 Cy Young awards. While his ERA was 4.01 during his six years with New York, it was just 2.40 in his three year sabbatical in Houston.

There is no concrete proof that Clemens took steroids. However, there is enough in the court of public opinion to convict him. The fact that two other players McNamee named, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, more-or-less confirm McNamee’s allegations against them darkens the cloud over Clemens. Both players only started to work with McNamee because of Clemens’ recommendation.

It can be said that the cases against Bonds and Clemens aren’t always strictly related to steroids. And no, their playoff performances are never used against them.

To say Bonds was rough around the edges is an understatement. He was reportedly verbally abusive, angry with the world, and always felt disrespected even when he was recognized universally as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. The perceived slights likely led to any steroid use as he tried to make the world see that, at any given moment, he was better than any other player in baseball. Bonds was difficult with the media and often with his own teammates.

Meanwhile, Clemens was a serial adulterer – most notably with country music star Mindy McCready. There was some debate whether the relationship with McCready began when she was underage, but McCready clarified that they met when she was a teenager. It wouldn’t be until her 20’s that they would begin a sexual relationship that only ended because Clemens wouldn’t leave his wife. Debbie Clemens, the aforementioned wife, has stood by him through each controversy.

The cases of Bonds and Clemens doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. With 179 public ballots released so far, both players appeared on 120 of them. Amusingly, some voters voted for one and not the other. First-time voters have been pretty consistent with both. Of those nine ballots, Clemens appears on all nine while Bonds appears on eight. However, their cases seem to be fairly settled with the returning voters. Both players have lost a vote and both players have gained three while other players like Edgar Martinez and Larry Walker have seen bigger gains. Right now, Clemens and Bonds have nearly 66% of the vote and need to get to 75% to join the Hall.

Theoretically, both have a shot to be enshrined but don’t count on it. Last year, both had a similar percentage of the vote before the Class of 2017 was announced and other ballots went public. When the class was announced, each lost 10% of their share, finishing with around 54% of the vote. That did mark the second consecutive year in which the players gained about 10% of the vote. If they continue that trajectory, they should be at roughly 63%-65% this season with a legitimate shot of induction the following year. However, private ballots are much more conservative both in the number of players they select and the idea that PED-users should be in the Hall.

There is zero doubt that both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were great players. There is no doubt that they were Hall of Fame players even before their suspected steroid use began. And they are both great examples of what a win-at-all-costs mentality can lead to. There are mega-highs with it, but also a lasting low. The two greatest stars of a generation will likely miss out on Cooperstown for a sixth consecutive year.

What do you think? Have the two players paid their dues and deserve to be in the Hall finally? Or should their suspected use of steroids keep them out indefinitely?

Previous Primers

  1. Position Players With Little Chance
  2. The Closers
  3. Starters Who Will Fall Short
  4. The Returning Sluggers
  5. The Borderline Cases
  6. The Offensive Powerhouses
  7. The First Time Shoe-Ins

9 Comments

I have to be totally honest and say that I am not bothered AT ALL with players using steroids/HGH! I’m a fan who wants to be entertained…period.

If a woman can get FAKE TITS/Angelina Jolie-like lips with injections/FAKE ASS PLANTS..if male actors can get hair implants..if both men and women can take botox to look younger/rid themselves of wrinkles….then I see NO PROBLEM with an athlete who wants to improve their athletic performance by taking PEDs!

I REFUSE to sit in moral judgment of those who make decisions to improve their athletic abilities. These guys still have to train/work hard to improve their performance…UNLIKE women who get FAKE tits/lips/asses/hair/botox/etc! Do any of you refuse to watch porn…if the female actress isnt all ‘natural’? Or if the male actor takes Viagra/Cialis in order to perform? Of course not!

When I watch sports….all I care about is how well an athlete performs on the field…PERIOD. Baseball was much more entertaining when Sosa and McGwire were CHASING the home run record! Just look at how much attention Judge and Stanton got….and they didnt even hit 60 homers?

I say let all these guys shoot up with all the HGH they want!

I agree steroids should be allowed. But they weren’t. Therefore Bonds, Clemens etc were cheating and cheaters should be kept out of HoF.

The use of PEDs sully the records of players that played clean. Should Mickey Mantle’s playing history be diminished because Bonds hit more homers? Mantle played clean and still holds the record for longest home run. He just couldn’t play as long as Bonds because of the natural decline due to age.
Should Sandy Koufax be considered a lesser player because age related decline led him to retire in his thirties? Clemens pitched into his forties without a decline.
Sometimes it isn’t about the accomplishments, it’s about how they were accomplished. If you let Bonds, Clemens or any other cheater in the HOF, maybe you should induct John Coppolella as well.

Bob Long…..the players of the past did use a lot of amphetamines to help ‘pump’ them up! You cant tell me that ‘loaded’ coffee didnt help the performance of players in the distant past (especially those who played a lot of day games…in addition to players like Mantle who got DRUNK a lot/stayed out partying all night).-

I’m sick and tired of people having this ‘false myth’ about how ‘the players of yesterday’/about how much they miss ‘the good old days’ in America.

The reality is that today’s players are WAY BETTER than the players of the past…and unless if you were a straight, religious, rich White Male Plantation Owner from way back, times were HELLA SHITTY for you! I’d rather live today than at any point in history (in the past, you were subject to the cruelty of some corrupt Boss Hogg-type local if you werent ‘connected’/rich)…and I’d rather watch today’s athletes amaze me with their performances (I could care less about how they ‘obtain’ their abilities). ..just as I’d rather watch today’s porn than the porn of yesterday. About the only thing I like from the past rather than today..is music (music from the 70’s and 80s, to me, is much better than the shit that comes out today, lol).

It is exactly the attitude that Paul expresses that emphasizes why people like Bonds and Clemons can never be enshrined. Along with Joe Jackson who was never actually incriminated or convicted and had a perfectly clean career on the field (i.e. no cheating) and yet is not in the HOF. Pete Rose, too. If these guys can be “rehabilitated” by time then there’s no reason to have any integrity at all. The fact the younger HOF voters are including them more on their ballots is an indictment of the generation not of people won’t support this kind of cheating. Why not let Brady deflate a few footballs if it means winning more. Let’s turn baseball into a game of who can take the best drugs and most effectively use them. Any reason to believe Bonds’ anger and sullenness with the media might be a product of ‘roid rage? How long would it have been before baseball experienced a few murders and a few more domestic violence incidents with universal steroid use? There are REASONS this behavior is unacceptable, illegal, and illegitimate not to mention immoral.

Roger….players COMMONLY CHEATED way before the steroid era began! Some either were better than others at getting away with it…OR they kissed the right ass (reporters) and had better press coverage.

If anything, today’s players have it MUCH HARDER when it comes to cheating. I find it ironic that many of the same sports fans who are into HEAVILY REGULATING player behavior…are the same voters who support LESS REGULATIONS when it comes to the ability of Big Business/Corporate America/Rich People to SCREW The Masses over! That’s right….the same people who bitch and complain about how powerful sports unions are…are the same people who support cop unions who do use every trick they can to make sure that cops who bully/beat up/murder unarmed people get away with it.

What is it…with many of you who would rather see The Owners of sports teams make OBSCENE AMOUNTS of profits….while bitching and moaning about how much the very players who you spend HOURS AND HOURS watching/following/reading up on/playing fantasy sports on..end up making? Personally, I’d rather see the players make the money…because of THE PLEASURE that watching them has given me in my life. Now sure, there are individual players who may be overpaid because of a lack of performance after they sign a big contract. However, many of you conveniently forget that especially in baseball….many young players are GROSSLY underpaid.

I dont dogg players who do whatever they can to get an extra edge…just as I didnt dogg Coppy for doing what he could to improve The Braves (sure he got fired/banned from MLB…however as a Braves fan, we’re going to benefit from his skills drafting/trading for gems. Even in the trades that didnt exactly become home runs for The Braves…Coppy still managed to get pieces that could turn out to be gratefully beneficial to The Braves..like getting the pick that became Joey Wentz in The Oliveria Trade with The Dodgers…as well as getting a pick that became Austin Riley in The Craig Kimbrel Trade to San Diego, two trades that Coppy critics like to bash him about).

Romanticizing the past (when it’s pretty much been a DOG EAT DOG world since The Big Bang first occurred) basically caters to weak minded people who take comfort in demonizing the changes (many of them positive/steps in the right direction) that have occurred in the world/society today.

Bonds and Clemens should go into the HoF, in my opinion. They might’ve used steroids, sure- but the fact is they’ve never tested positive on a drug test. It’s a slippery slope when you start punishing guys based on allegations and/or suspicion.

I look at it this way- anyone who fails a drug test AFTER the testing policy was instituted should be disqualified from HoF eligibility. There’s a rule in place, you broke it, and it’s as simple as that. I can’t see how it’s fair to punish guys who “might have”, or even “probably” used steroids before there was a testing policy in place, though.

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