Steroid-Era Stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa Denied Hall of Fame
The anticipation kept building for the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame announcement on Wednesday. Then it came crashing down in spectacular fashion when the BBWAA failed to elect anyone for the first time since 1996.
Under ordinary circumstances, meaning a soft ballot, that would not be noteworthy. But this class, particularly the first-year eligible players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Roger Clemens, was anything but ordinary.
This was one of the deepest Hall of Fame-eligible classes in a long time, yet because of extenuating circumstances, not one player, especially historically great figures like Bonds and Clemens, will be in Cooperstown on July 28, 2013.
Clemens took to Twitter to let the world know how frustrated he was by the whole voting process after the results were announced.
This -----------> twitter.com/rogerclemens/s…— Roger Clemens (@rogerclemens) January 9, 2013
For the record, Clemens and Bonds garnered nearly the same level of support. Clemens was named on 37.6 percent of the ballots, while Bonds was on 36.2 percent. Sosa received just 12.5 percent (via BBWAA.com).
Here is where the steroids and performance-enhancing drug questions take center stage. On merit, a Baseball Hall of Fame without Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens is a joke. You can't tell the full story of Major League Baseball without their presence in the book. (Or in this case, the Hall.)
Some baseball writers have made it their personal missions to take over the story of Hall of Fame voting, rather than let the players' performance and character be the deciding factor in what makes a Hall of Famer.
Three writers, who have the honor to vote for who gets in the Hall of Fame, made it their personal missions this year to tell the world that they are the gatekeepers for this whole thing.
As for bias, that part is correct. We have the responsibility as to who gets in, so that gives us a natural bias toward doing it correctly. We stand by the door like a nightclub bouncer behind the velvet rope. We check IDs. We check authenticity. We compare those already in to those standing on the doorstep.
For better or worse, we are to ones who approve the credentials. Yea or nay. That job has been entrusted to us and our bias tends to bend toward merit, not whim.
Which Player Is Most Likely To Get In The Baseball Hall of Fame?
No, that's not what this vote is supposed to be about. It is supposed to be about recognizing players who, for better or worse, were representative of the best that baseball has to offer.
There is no way that you can say that Clemens and Bonds especially were not Hall of Famers when they played the game.
On numbers and performance, Bonds and Clemens are no-doubt locks to get in the Hall of Fame. Sosa's case is a little harder to see, but you can make a strong case for him.
If you want to factor in importance to the game when someone was playing, Sosa belongs in that Clemens and Bonds category. Along with Mark McGwire in 1998, he helped move the needle for baseball at a time when the sport was still working its way back from the 1994 strike.
But let's look at what the stats say about these three incredible talents, as well as how they stack up against the best baseball has to offer.
Player stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
8-Time Gold Glove Winner, 7-Time NL MVP
What Bonds was able to do during his 22-year career is incredible. He was the best player (hitter and fielder) on the planet at his peak.
He had a peak from 1990 to 2004, when he had 14 seasons with at least 30 home runs and an on-base percentage over .400 (his lone season under .400 was .389 in 1999) and nine seasons with at least 28 stolen bases.
If you like WAR, which I do, as a single measure of what a player added to his team, Bonds had six seasons with a WAR of at least 10.1 (via Fangraphs). For perspective, Mike Trout would have to do a little more than what he did in 2012 five more times to match Bonds.
Bonds' combination of power and speed was unique during his time, when everything was all about the home run. He could launch the ball with the best of them, but he was such a great athlete that he could do more than just hit the ball really far.
1998 NL MVP, Finished in Top 10 of MVP voting seven times (including 1998)
Sosa was never the best player in baseball, due in part to the fact he played in an era when Barry Bonds was at his peak. He also didn't have a long, sustained peak that most Hall of Famers do.
So it really becomes a question of how much stock you put into his performance from 1998 to 2003, when he hit more than 40 home runs each year, posted on-base percentages ranging from .367 to .437 and slugged over .600 four times.
If you want to give extra credit to Sosa because of the publicity that his home-run chase against Mark McGwire in 1998 brought baseball, that's fine. I do think that becomes a bit of a grey area, since we are talking more about the fame of a person than his performance on the field.
For instance, Tim Tebow is probably the most famous NFL player, but no one will put him in the Hall of Fame based on his body of work. Sosa's resume is much better than Tebow's, though his .344 career on-base percentage does bring him down a bit.
When you are playing in one of the most prolific offensive eras in history, not to mention putting up ridiculous power numbers, you should have an on-base percentage better than simply what a good player would.
7-Time Cy Young winner, 1986 AL MVP
Clemens is the greatest right-handed pitcher of the last 30 years. His numbers and performance support that. He is third all time in strikeouts, ninth in wins and 16th in innings pitched.
He is also the most-decorated pitcher in history. His seven Cy Young awards are two more than anyone else in baseball history. His career went through three different peaks, as he dominated in his stint with Boston, then moved to Toronto and New York where he resurrected his career.
To close out his career, Clemens moved to the National League with the Houston Astros and won his final Cy Young award. He also went back to New York in 2007 for a final hurrah, but only pitched 99 innings that year.
Using the Baseball-Reference.com player-rating system, Clemens is seventh in history among pitchers, trailing only Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Pete Alexander, Lefty Grove, Greg Maddux and Christy Mathewson.
What the voters are telling us is that they believe steroids and performance-enhancing drugs played a significant role in what Clemens, Bonds and Sosa did on the field.
They are doing this despite having no concrete proof that these men, and the many others being slighted from inclusion, actually took anything.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Bonds has had many things written about him and his connection to steroids, namely Victor Conte and BALCO, but he has never been convicted in a court of law of actually using steroids. He also never failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball.
Clemens was found to be not guilty when he was on trial for lying to Congress about performance-enhancing drugs. Like Bonds, he never failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball.
In 2009, the New York Times reported that Sosa was on the list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. That has never been confirmed by anyone in Major League Baseball.
All of this anti-steroid bias is based not on actual proof that people have, but suspicion that someone may have done something. These voters are acting like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, trying to stop criminals before they have actually done anything.
Yet another problem, as I see it, with the anti-steroid and performance-enhancing drug regime is that they have provided no evidence that these drugs actually do anything to, you know, help performance on the field.
Everyone wants to point to Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGwire, who is the only one to admit to taking steroids, as positive proof that they do help. Yet no one looks at the list of players who have actually been suspended under Major League Baseball's drug program.
What happened to Freddy Galvis, Yasmani Grandal and Guillermo Mota in 2012? Galvis hit .226/.254/.363. Grandal hit eight home runs and slugged .469. Mota had an ERA of 5.23 and his fastball velocity decreased from 92.8 mph in 2011 to 91.8 (via Fangraphs).
Do you want to point to Melky Cabrera? I can tell you that his spike in average and on-base percentage can be directly attributed to a fluky .379 batting average on balls in play that isn't sustainable because nothing else about his approach changed.
For his career, Cabrera has had a walk rate of 7.3 percent and a strikeout rate of 12.1 percent. In 2012, before he was suspended for 50 games, his walk rate was 7.2 percent and his strikeout rate was 12.6 percent. His line-drive percentage was higher, which helped his BABIP, but is going to come back down to earth.
With no real proof, let alone no hard evidence that these drugs actually make athletes better baseball players, seeing Bonds, Sosa and Clemens receive so little respect from the voters is a joke.
But these voters who make a spectacle out of their vote get what they want. The greatest position player that we probably will ever see and arguably the greatest right-handed pitcher of this generation have a steep mountain to climb in order to take their rightful place in Cooperstown.
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