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  • Writer's picturemjdietz17

Baseball Hall of Fame Passes GOAT Ban

Ship sails on Bonds, Clemens as Ortiz's election lays bare issues with a hypocritical voting bloc.

A GOAT grazing on a tasty fastball
GOATs remain persona non grata in Cooperstown as media-friendly players waltz right in

The 2022 MLB Hall of Fame vote has come and gone, as have the candidacies of two of professional baseball’s best players: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds is baseball’s 4th best player all-time in career bWAR. Clemens checks in slightly behind him at number eight. Bonds led his league in WAR a record tying 11 times. Clemens did so in seven seasons, one off the mark for most ever (Lefty Grove, 8). I could continue to add to these on-field accolades for paragraphs, but I won’t.

I’ll simply say that there isn’t a viable argument that these two men are not deserving of election into Cooperstown based on on-field accomplishments alone.

Of course, with Bonds and Clemens there is a viable argument against their cases in the form of Performance Enhancing Drugs. And the stigma of being two of the most high-profile suspected users of baseball’s “Steroid Era” has stuck to them like glue and doomed their chances of selection under the conventional voting process.

And that brings up to 2022’s lone selection, David Ortiz. A post-season hero in Boston and one of the more dangerous hitters of his era, Ortiz’s career pales in comparison to either Bonds or Clemens. He was strictly a DH who averaged fewer starts per season in the field (13.25) than Bonds and Clemens combined for MVP and Cy Young awards (14). And of course, Ortiz had his own PED suspicions dating back to having his name turn up in the Mitchell Report as one of the players who failed a test during the supposedly anonymous testing that took place in 2003 that led to MLB finally instituting a testing policy.

Now, I want to be clear about a few things with Ortiz before I move forward because I feel most of what I am about to say will come across as bashing him specifically. My issue is not with David Ortiz as I believe he is a very good baseball player and someone who probably did have a Hall of Fame career so long as you recognize the DH as an official position (which I do). No, my issue is with the voting process that elected David Ortiz on the first ballot, when others who bore either stigma of steroids or being primarily a DH were made to wait and cost some any shot at ever being elected. Ortiz had both and waltzed right in on a ballot where he owned the 16th best career WAR of the 30 players eligible on this year’s ballot.

Defenders of Ortiz, one of them being current MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, have indicated that because the 2003 testing was supposed to be completely anonymous and that Big Papi never tested positive again after MLB went to a strict testing procedure starting in 2004 that people shouldn’t hold his being named in that report against him.

Here’s Manfred’s exact quote from 2016, for context:

“I think whatever judgment writers decide to make with respect to players who have tested positive or otherwise been adjudicated under our program, that’s up to them… That’s a policy decision. They’ve got to look into their conscience and decide how they evaluate that against the Hall of Fame criteria. What I do feel is unfair is in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that that is unfair to the players. I think that would be wrong.”

I have several problems with people holding up Manfred’s words as any cover to vote for Ortiz, here. First, while Manfred was discussing Ortiz specifically at the time, his comments here are speaking broadly. He doesn’t say ‘Ortiz’ specifically. He says ‘players’ who are the subject of leaks, rumor innuendo, etc. The phrase “not confirmed positive test results” stands out to me because we need to remember, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens never tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Bonds and Clemens were both on the 2003 list along with Ortiz. So too were Roberto Alomar, Pedro Martinez and Ivan Rodriguez who have already been elected to the Hall. Also appearing were fellow 2022 ballot members Sammy Sosa, Todd Helton, Bobby Abreu, Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez.

Like Ortiz, players like Bonds and Clemens (and Sosa, Sheffield, Helton and Abreu) never tested positive in 2004 after testing began. Bonds actually won the NL MVP in 2004 with testing in place. Clemens won the NL Cy Young too. And both Bonds and Clemens would go on to play through the 2007 season and never failed an MLB test. Also notable, Clemens won on all six counts in his perjury/obstruction of justice trial claiming that he lied to Congress in denying PED use and Bonds skirted all perjury charges in his trial, only picking up an obstruction of justice charge linked to not being cooperative enough with investigators.

In that 2008 appearance before Congress, Clemens said, “no matter what we discuss here today, I'm never going to have my name restored." and those words have been proven prescient. There’s enough wiggle room in all three of these PED cases if one really wants to open the door to letting someone with “suspicion” in, but it appears that kind of leeway has only been applied to one member of this trio.

There’s a ton of hypocrisy in holding up Manfred’s 2016 statements to defend Ortiz but conveniently ignore what he said when it comes to Bonds and Clemens. You will hear many voters say MLB has never given them clear direction regarding the steroid era guys. But the commissioner’s words seemed clear enough to those wanting to vote for Ortiz.

Furthermore, Major League Baseball itself has never stripped any player in the steroid era of their stats, records or accomplishments. They never placed any player on the Ineligible List like they did with Pete Rose, preventing them from participating in the game or having their resumes considered by the BBWAA. Bonds and McGwire were even both employed in MLB again as coaches. Heck, even Alex Rodriguez is now MLB Network’s posterchild for their in-season coverage and is front and center for all of MLB’s big event broadcasts.

Sure, MLB never came out with an official statement saying that voters should do X, Y and Z regarding the Hall of Fame re: PEDs, but why would they? Isn’t that putting the finger on the scale a little too much and the very reason that the BBWAA vote on this instead of league employees in the first place?

I don’t think it’s very difficult to see the fact that Ortiz’s affable nature, big personality and rapport with the media at large is a big part of the reason he was elected as a first ballot selection despite the hurdles that have held back so many others. I think its fair to wonder if a significant number of voters have simply been using PEDs as a shield to justify not voting for players they had an axe to grind – Bonds, Clemens, Sheffield – but looking the other way when it came to a player they happened to feel more amiable towards.

Because the hypocrisy on the part of the voters is so evident in this case, a valid question is who has ended up looking worse now that Bonds and Clemens have failed to get it: the spurned players or the Hall?

Watching and reading a lot of coverage these last 24 hours leads me to believe that the decision not to select arguably the two greatest players of the past 100 years of professional baseball leaves the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum looking worse and have helped cement Bonds and Clemens as martyrs.

And let’s be honest, all these guys did PEDs. I wouldn’t be shocked if over 75% of the league was juicing. Fans were chanting “Steroids” at Jose Canseco in 1988 and MLB didn’t step in and do anything until 2003/04. They needed the Home Run chase after the ’94 strike and cancelled World Series. They needed ESPN breaking in at every McGwire or Sosa at bad in ’98. It wasn’t until notable media villain Bonds started tearing up the record books that anyone was moved into action.

Now, because of a quick change of heart and some pressure from Congress, a handful of players have paid the price while many more players, managers and league office types have skirted and some directly implicated in the PED era have seen their names enshrined into Cooperstown.

But the conversations I’ve heard from people who deeply care about baseball mostly speak to how broken the voting process is now, how the inability to recognize the players of the steroid era within the Hall has been a failure at every level and how foolish it is to have a “Hall of Fame” without players of the quality of Bonds and Clemens (and sure, I’ve heard a fair bit about Curt Schilling, Pete Rose, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa too) earning plaques even though their presence in the ‘museum’ section is unavoidable.

In their zeal to preserve the sanctity of the “integrity” clause of the Hall’s selection process, the voters have punched a meteor-sized hole into the narrative that the Hall is a collection of the best baseball players of all-time. When it was McGwire or Palmeiro, there were legitimate concerns over their on-field resumes that the PED factor could justifiably be used as a “tie-breaker” to look somewhere else. McGwire was a .263 career hitter who never won a league MVP. Palmeiro never led his league in a triple-crown category or finished higher than 5th in MVP voting.

But Bonds and Clemens are so clearly Hall of Famers who the story of baseball in the 90s and early 2000s can simply not be told without, the decision to not include them for ten straight years makes them too notable in their absence for a supposed shrine to the best players ever.

So, what happens next?

This is no doubt a watershed moment for the Hall of Fame. Do the members of this “exclusive” club really want the Hall to be a glorified Prom Court with members elected in no small part based on their popularity among the voting block or do they want to be a museum to celebrate baseball greatness?

It’s a critical distinction and one that should be in the mind of every current living member. When a father takes his kids to Cooperstown, there is a difference in pointing to a player’s plaque and saying, ‘this guy was the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen in my life’ vs ‘this guy was a pretty good player with a world class smile who went on to be the face of MLB’s post game coverage.’

No other sport has this issue. Did anyone think Kobe Bryant would not hear his name called for induction to the Naismith HoF because of his off-court issues in Colorado in 2003? Was there even a discussion? What about Brett Favre and his unsolicited pictures to cheerleaders or painkiller addiction? How about Tom Brady or Bill Belichick with Deflategate? Is there ANY chance Brady gets penalized for actually being suspended for cheating in that incident or Belichick for Spygate?

Of course not.

Those kind of discussions don't even happen in other sports. Because HoF voters in the NFL, NBA and NHL figured out long ago that there’s no perfect person in their Hall of Fame or on their ballot and unless the league itself stands in the way of a player’s candidacy, you don’t weigh the 'outside the lines' stuff more than exemplary play. Being a Hall of Famer isn't a humanitarian award and sometimes the best pro athletes are total jerks with questionable ethics. See Jordan, Michael...

Bonds and Clemens aren’t officially locked out of election just yet.

Later this year, their names will be on the 16-member Game Era Committee which meets twice every five years to review the cases of players who fall short of the writer’s ballot threshold. In 2019, the Game Era Committee selected Lee Smith and Harold Baines.

Anyone selected this way need 75% (12 out of the 16 votes) just like they do on the regular ballot and the PED schism is likely to carry over – as it has with players like McGwire and Palmeiro. Anyone talking about this route with a high probability of success is blowing smoke. Traditionally, this committee has elected players who flew under the radar or were underappreciated for one reason or another – something Bonds and Clemens most certainly were NOT.

The committee needs to buck tradition and pull together and select Bonds and Clemens UNANIMOUSLY for the sake of the future of the Hall of Fame or risk the honor meaning significantly less and less as voters continue to pass over players for this reason or that without properly weighing their on-field accomplishments.

Baseball looks backwards to its history much more than its contemporaries like the NBA and NFL. Every Baseball Reference page carries "player comparisons" for every current or player for every year they played. Records carry more meaning - yeah, even the HR records. Big, round numbers like hitting .300 or 50 HRs are still sexy AF to baseball fans young and old.

But if baseball continues to pretend that certain history doesn't exist and fails to provide context, they're just undercutting a huge part of what makes the sport great. There was a reason MLB reversed the decision to finally recognize Roger Maris' 61 HRs as the official single-season record - because it was the right thing to do and you can't have alternate versions of history in THIS sport.

This winter will be baseball's last chance to reconcile with the fact that Bonds and Clemens were two of the greatest players of all-time and certainly the best in the eras they played in. It's long past time to give these guys their due and put them in their rightful place among baseball's best.

It's never too late to do the right thing, MLB. Get it done.

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