After snubbing everyone last year to send a misguided signal about performance enhancing drugs, the voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America this year elected three players to the Hall of Fame.
Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and Frank Thomas all got in. Notably absent, for a second straight year: Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
The steroid era has put voters in a tricky position. Some of baseball's all-time greats played in the past few decades, and many of them have been accused of or admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs.
For better or worse, the Hall of Fame's criteria includes a so-called character clause: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
As a result, the voters have taken great pride in spurning suspected or admitted juicers, including Clemens and Bonds. Worse, they have shied away from arguably deserving candidates whose links to PEDs are sourced to baseless rumors and the fact that they had thick arms (Jeff Bagwell) or bacne (Mike Piazza).
Calling the Hall a mockery because of its asinine voting process is a well-worn subject. To appreciate its absurdity, look no further than the fact that a vote has been bestowed to professional troll Dan Shaughnessy, whose lazy ballot includes someone "because I can't stand him" but not others who just "don’t look right."
The Clemens and Bonds snubs, though, are simply too much ignore. Yes, both almost certainly cheated, and they'd probably be the game's most heinous villains were it not for Alex Rodriguez. But they still absolutely deserve to be in the Hall.
For one, they're not borderline cases, but irrefutably two of the best players in the history of the game. Bonds is a smidge behind only Babe Ruth on the all-time WAR (wins above replacement) list, and sits at or near the top in virtually every offensive metric, both traditional and newfangled. Clemens is third among pitchers in career strikeouts and WAR. They won seven MVP and Cy Young awards, respectively — both records.
Sure, they probably juiced — though neither ever failed a drug test nor was suspended. I'm with USA Today's Bob Nightengale on this one. "Do I still believe they cheated?," he writes. "Absolutely. Do I have proof? No."
And even without whatever edge they may have obtained from creams and pills and shots, they would still be among the game's greatest.
That gets at another problem, which is identifying what qualifies as a "performance enhancing" substance. Players have been taking all sorts of crazy supplements — think testosterone culled from monkey testicles — since the 19th century in hopes of getting a boost. More recently, amphetamines were rampant among players looking for a buzzy edge. Even Hank Aaron admitted to taking some greenies during his career.
In other words, the Hall is already stocked with esoteric PED users.
Then there's the character clause itself. I understand why some voters consider PED use or suspicion of use a strong enough offense to fail that character test. The problem, though, is that plenty of other inductees should then fail it as well.
Ty Cobb was a notorious racist who allegedly filed his spikes to pierce opposing players. He and Tris Speaker left the game under suspicion of having bet on baseball. Mickey Mantle was a terrible alcoholic and carouser. And so on. They were A-Rods before A-Rod. Imagine if they had played in the age of digital and social media, with all their flaws magnified a thousand-fold.
If you're going to adhere to that pearl-clutching interpretation of the voting criteria, then you should be in favor of booting infamous racists and reprobates from the Hall. And if you want to ban anyone who ever took a shady performance enhancer, then you should want all the greenie-poppers and distilled monkey testicle–quaffers out, too. Just be consistent about it.
Unfortunately, the consistency and fortitude the voters demand of inductees are attributes they don't always demand of themselves.
Clemens and Bonds may eventually get in — voters are gradually warming to them — but not before a little more wailing and self-congratulatory back-patting from the Hall's sanctimonious defenders.