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!
162.4 bWAR, 164.4 fWAR
6th Year on the Ballot
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.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.
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?