January 23rd was a sad day for baseball fans everywhere as the game lost an all-time great in Ernie Banks. Banks, or “Mr.Cub,” as he was known, passed away at 83.He was a 2-time all-star, 2-time National League MVP, and a first ballot Hall-of-Famer during a career that spanned 18 years (1953-1971), all on Chicago’s north side.
I’m definitely a baseball fan, but since I’m from a younger generation of fans, I admittedly knew almost nothing about Banks when news of his passing began to circulate. I looked into his career and found a player who, based on numbers alone, was certainly worthy of his Hall of Fame status.
I certainly don’t plan to spend an entire post eulogizing someone I know almost nothing about. I bring up Banks because while yes, he is an all-time great and deserves recognition, he also represents a “simpler” era of baseball that was not as plagued and stigmatized as the generation to come. Banks’ was the generation that also featured the likes of Hank Aaron, the man many baseball fans regard as the “true” home run king. This era was obviously not immune to controversies, but they were not as wide-spread. Because of the pervasiveness of the steroid epidemic in the late ‘80’s through the mid-2000’s—a time many refer to as the “steroid era”—many players who are now becoming eligible for Hall of Fame induction are getting left out because of the ubiquity of steroid use during this time.
About three weeks ago, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) released the results for the 2015 baseball Hall of Fame induction class. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz went in on their first ballot. Craig Biggio was also elected on his third ballot. All had incredible careers. All deserve to be there.
However, among those not elected were two players who every baseball fan loves to hate: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
Bonds and Clemens are linked perhaps more than any other two players to the steroid era. They’ll deny it to hell and back, but they did it. They won’t admit it, but it’s pretty much common knowledge at this point.
They were juicing.
There’s no way around it.
That being said, they still need to be enshrined. I know it sounds insane on its face, but due to the convoluted and longwinded process that is baseball Hall of Fame election and Major League Baseball Policy toward “steroid era” players like Bonds and Clemens, they need to be there.
Let’s first look at their individual numbers and then examine the process that wrongly denies them entry to Cooperstown:
Barry Bonds is most notably baseball’s home run king. At 762, he sits 7 ahead of the aforementioned Aaron (755). Bonds was also a 12-time Silver Slugger award winner, 7-time National League MVP, and was an 8-time Gold Glover. Compare his stats to nearly anyone inducted into the Hall in recent memory and he’s got them beat.
Roger Clemens, or “the rocket,” is a 7-time Cy Young award winner. Clemens' has been awarded the than anyone else. He’s also an 11-time all-star, American League MVP, and is 9th in wins and 3rd in strikeouts all time, respectively. Like Bonds, it’s impossible to say that, in terms of performance, Clemens wasn’t as good as the likes of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, or anyone else.
Bonds received 36.8% of the vote. Clemens was just ahead of him at 37.5%.
You need 75% to get in.
Based on numbers, it’s an absolute no-brainer that they should be inducted. However, numbers aren’t the only thing that BBWAA writers look at when it comes time to vote. The ballots instruct the following:
“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.”
Clearly, Bonds and Clemens aren’t very highly valued in terms of sportsmanship and character, and rightfully so. They cheated their way to the top, and it’s not fair to have them enshrined next to players who played the game “the right way,” or so says the BBWAA.
This all seems very moral of the BBWAA, but here’s the problem: Due to the fragmented nature of the process, by which I mean that MLB, the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the BBWAA are all separate entities, there is conflict over who should be considered “valuable” in terms of the history of the game.
If you go online right now and look up the official record books of Major League Baseball, you’ll find Barry Bonds at the top of the all-time and single-season homerun list, while Roger Clemens tops the list of most Cy Young’s. According to MLB, Bonds and Clemens own their records, Bonds’ being perhaps the most important of them all, despite their steroid use.
The Baseball Hall of Fame, which is a separate entity, says nothing other than the fact that their mission is “preserving history, honoring excellence, and connecting generations.” They do this in a variety of ways, one of which is choosing the Hall of Fame election process (they don’t actually vote themselves). Instead, they farm it out to the BBWAA, who takes it upon themselves to institute voting guidelines about integrity. By turning over the responsibility of voting to the BBWAA, the Hall of Fame seems to be in violation of their mission. Rather than preserving history, they are ignoring it. Rather than honoring excellence (on the field, at least), they are pretending it didn’t happen. Rather than connecting generations, they are pushing away fans who grew up on Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, among others. I was one of those who grew up toward the end of the power-hitter era, and some of my best memories of the game are of players like Bonds and Sosa. Why must they shaft this generation of fans by ignoring the “idols” who are perfectly legitimate according to MLB?
I’m not saying that Bonds, Clemens, and others should be there. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t make sense for them not to be. If Major League Baseball is going to legitimize them, how on God’s earth can you not have the man with the most important record in the game enshrined!? It seems to me that the BBWAA (and the H.O.F., by association) are overly pretentious by ignoring what’s in the books. Integrity is important, but I don’t see it as their job to judge that. I know that they see that it is; I just disagree.
If we want to talk about integrity, how about we talk to MLB about taking away their records? That’s integrity. If their records are taken off the books, then they aren’t H.O.F. worthy, end of story. However, as long as their records are still standing, it’s utter insanity that they shouldn’t be enshrined with the all-time best.
Ultimately, separate entities or not, MLB, the Hall of Fame, and the BBWAA need to get their acts together in terms of defining how a player is valued. The system as it stands is clearly broken, and one way or another, something has to (but probably won’t) happen to change that.