Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens’ Baseball Hall of Fame snubs a rebuke of ‘Steroid Era’

For the 10th time, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were denied entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Roger Clemens has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame for a 10th time. Picture: Otto Greule Jr/Allsport/Getty Images.
Roger Clemens has been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame for a 10th time. Picture: Otto Greule Jr/Allsport/Getty Images.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were denied entry to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in their final appearance on the ballot, as voters decided for a 10th time that they would not overlook the superstars’ connection to performance-enhancing drugs.

Their failure to win enshrinement to Cooperstown serves as a powerful rebuke of the faces of the sport’s Steroid Era.

Just one player received enough support from participating members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to enter the Hall this year: longtime Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, a newly eligible slugger whose name was checked on 77.9% of the 394 ballots cast, barely squeaking past the necessary 75%.

Ortiz’s induction comes a year after the writers sent no one to Cooperstown from a ballot filled with players tied to PEDs. He will be honored at a ceremony in July along with Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Buck O’Neil and Tony Oliva, who were previously chosen by various committees that evaluate people other than recently retired players.

While Ortiz can begin preparing his speech, Bonds and Clemens must reckon with the reality that their chances of ever joining him are slimmer than ever, despite their otherworldly performances on the field.

Barry Bonds owns the record for the most home runs in a career but his hopes of entering the Hall of Fame look all but over. Picture: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images.
Barry Bonds owns the record for the most home runs in a career but his hopes of entering the Hall of Fame look all but over. Picture: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images.

Bonds, a superstar outfielder for the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, owns the records for the most home runs in a career (762) and a season (73 in 2001), while winning a record seven Most Valuable Player awards. Clemens, an ace pitcher known as “Rocket,” earned seven Cy Young honors, the most ever.

In the end, they didn’t come that close, their reputations tarnished by their alleged use of PEDs during their careers. Bonds and Clemens received 66% and 65.2% of the vote, respectively—their best results yet, but still not nearly enough. A committee made up of current Hall of Famers, baseball executives and select media members could still pick them in the future, but there’s no reason to believe that group will view Bonds and Clemens any more favorably.

“I would like to thank those who took the time to look at the facts and vote for me,” Clemens posted on Twitter on Tuesday. “Hopefully everyone can now close this book and keep their eyes forward focusing on what is really important in life.”

Bonds and Clemens being held out of Cooperstown, coupled with the selection of Ortiz, only further demonstrates the challenge of trying to reckon with players linked to PEDs.

In 2009, the New York Times reported that Ortiz was one of 103 players to have tested positive for PEDs in survey testing conducted in 2003 that was supposed to have remained anonymous. Ortiz never tested positive again once Major League Baseball began penalizing players for PEDs in 2005, and commissioner Rob Manfred has publicly questioned the scientific validity of the 2003 positive. Voters ultimately determined Ortiz’s alleged transgression wasn’t enough to deny him in the wake of his 541 homers and legendary World Series heroics.

“I am grateful to the baseball writers who considered my career in its totality, not just on the statistics, but also on my contributions to the Red Sox, the City of Boston, and all of Red Sox Nation,” Ortiz said in a statement.

David Ortiz has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.
David Ortiz has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images.

Others have been judged far more harshly. It’s clear at this point that players who were punished for using PEDs have virtually no chance of ever getting in via the writers. Alex Rodriguez debuted at 34.3% on Tuesday, indicating that his PED suspension matters more than his 696 home runs. Sammy Sosa netted 18.5% of the vote in his last year of eligibility. Manny Ramirez came in at 28.9%. These were dominant players, but their drug suspensions were seen as disqualifying factors.

Bonds and Clemens are in a different position. They never tested positive and played nearly their entire career before baseball tested for PEDs at all. They have nonetheless emerged as the poster children of the Steroid Era, generating intense emotion and inspiring ferocious debate. Allegations against Bonds and Clemens both appeared in former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell’s 2007 report regarding PEDs in baseball, amid many other accusations. Neither Bonds nor Clemens has ever admitted to knowingly using PEDs.

Bonds in particular put up numbers that all but defied belief, resulting in four straight MVPs from 2001 through 2004, seasons in which he posted a .349 batting average, averaged 52 homers and compiled an absurd .559 on-base percentage.

The Hall of Fame has never officially taken a position on the candidacies of Bonds and Clemens or provided clarity on how voters should approach PEDs. In 2014, however, the Hall shortened the window of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot from 15 years to 10, a move widely seen as one that hurt Bonds and Clemens. In 2017, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan sent an email to all voters saying, “Steroid users don’t belong here.”

Given how prevalent steroids once were in baseball, it’s impossible to imagine that players who used PEDs aren’t in the Hall of Fame already. Bonds and Clemens won’t be there with them.

- Wall Street Journal

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