Bob Costas, appearing Wednesday on the MLB Network, called it Hall of Fame purgatory.
Maybe they can set aside a place in the vestibule of the Cooperstown shrine for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, unquestionably two of the greatest players ever to play baseball.
They could even put them on the floor, so people can wipe their feet on the game's recent history. Isn't that what the Baseball Writers Association of America is doing?
Neither Bonds nor Clemens will be making the trip to Cooperstown this summer—a hearty congratulations, by the way, to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas, who all made the Hall in their first year on the ballot—leaving the BBWAA riding a collective high horse away from the time in the game's history they like to call The Steroid Era.
Part of me thinks Frank Thomas was a first-ballot selection not just for his numbers but because he is the anti-Bonds. Thomas was vociferous in his disdain for performance-enhancing drugs, making his Hall of Fame-worthy statistics even more valid in the eyes of some voters, thanks to the supposition The Big Hurt did it clean.
Can anyone prove Thomas was clean? He never got suspended. Well, neither did Bonds. Thomas never failed an MLB test, either, that we know of. Clemens never did either of those things in his career, did he?
Of course, Clemens and Bonds were both embroiled in scandals surrounding performance-enhancing drugs, accused under oath to have cheated and—with the likes of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero and a number of other borderline Hall of Famer-caliber players who testified about their involvement in the Steroid Era of baseball—convicted in the court of public opinion to be cheaters.
The Steroid Era is a confusing time, made even more difficult to move past because many Hall of Fame writers feel it is their baseball responsibility to keep the cheaters out of their illustrious club.
Only, they each define cheating their own way.
Jon Heyman, a longtime baseball writer who now works for both CBS Sports and the MLB Network, wrote that on this year's ballot he refused to vote for a player he felt wasn't "clearly clean." Via CBSSports.com:
Next year, I will reconsider them all. But I'm not close to being ready to squeeze a clean guy off the ballot so I can put a steroid guy onto the ballot, as it appears many others are. The result is a ballot I can be proud of (even if it's a ballot sure to draw Internet ridicule). Admittedly, mine is not a ballot with the 10 most accomplished, or even, quite likely, the 10 best players. But it's a ballot with 10 great players who I believe would honor Cooperstown if elected.
Heyman admitted he didn't even vote for the best players on the ballot. Well, hell, what if Mike Timlin would have really honored Cooperstown? Should he have made it? Jacques Jones seems like an honorable guy. Let's put him in before Bonds and Clemens, too. (Note: Jones got one vote this year, along with Kenny Rogers and Armando Benitez. J.T. Snow and Eric Gagne each got two.)
Heyman had the sheer audacity to write that he went back to the words used by Cooperstown's founders to aid in his player selection this year.
Integrity. Sportsmanship. Character. They still count. At least they do here.
This is the same organization that inducted Ty Cobb in its first class, right? The same organization that includes racists, drunks, cheats and drug users of all generations.
In Heyman's own article on whom he selected this year, he admitted to picking Tim Raines, a worthy candidate in his own right who admitted to not only using cocaine during his career, but carrying the drug in his pocket during games.
For anyone who has tried cocaine even once, there is no denying the potential performance-enhancing capabilities of an otherwise recreational drug. To suggest otherwise is naive and woefully uninformed.
And yet regardless of what you think about the performance-enhancing effects of recreational drugs—many of my Twitter followers were quick to point out that more players suffered ill effects from recreational drug abuse than, say, the average PED users did—the use of cocaine during games probably doesn't fall under the umbrella of integrity or character or, for that matter, sportsmanship.
The worst part about the process is that voters like Heyman think of the Baseball Hall of Fame vote as a process. Heyman wrote that he didn't vote for the players he felt weren't clean, but suggested he may choose to vote for them next year when the ballot may not be as full of worthy candidates.
Costas routinely looks at the trends of the voting to determine if a player will eventually make the trip to Cooperstown, because the honor has somehow developed into a multi-year selection process.
The numbers this year don't look good for Bonds or Clemens, at least not according to the trends of Costas, as he discussed them on the MLB Network.
Of the 571 voters who participated in the Hall of Fame selection process this season, 202 voted for Clemens and 198 voted for Bonds. That's 12 less than voted for Clemens last year and eight less than voted for Bonds. If nothing else, the voters are sheep. Dumb, wooly sheep.
Some voters watch the reaction a player gets from other votes before selecting them, as evidenced by some recent inductees who gained hundreds of votes over the years, from the first time they were on the ballot to the time they were elected.
Members notoriously withhold their votes so a player specifically does not get in on the first ballot, as if the honor within the honor of being inducted means more to people. Others refuse to vote for a sure-fire inductee because they feel no one should have a unanimous induction if their favorite player of all time didn't.
Maddux received 555 votes this year.
There are 16 people who either don't think Maddux is a Hall of Famer or were too stupid or disrespectful to the process to actually care enough to fill out their ballot. Take Ken Gurnick, an MLB.com writer who voted for Jack Morris and nobody else this year.
His logic: "As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won't vote for any of them."
He didn't write that he suspected Maddux or Glavine or even Craig Biggio or Mike Piazza, for that matter, of taking steroids. It's just that, well, the blanket falls over everyone.
Even Jack Morris, really. Morris played in the Steroid Era, retiring after the 1994 season. The last seven years of Morris's career were played during what is universally seen as the start of the Steroid Era. That, by the way, was the time in baseball when there was no testing and nobody got suspended for PEDs.
And that's what's hard about this, and what makes the Hall of Fame vote such a joke: if you took the career numbers for Bonds from his first year in 1986 through the 1994 season, he still would have been a Hall of Famer. Bonds won three MVP awards, five Gold Gloves and five Silver Slugger awards before 1995.
If you take the career numbers for Bonds and split them into two players, Clean Barry and Dirty Barry, both have the credentials to warrant being in Cooperstown.
Some voters are either too stupid or too stubborn to realize that.
Bonds has the fourth highest Wins Above Replacement in baseball history, according to Baseball Reference, behind only Babe Ruth, Cy Young and Walter Johnson. Clemens, by the way, is eighth. For whatever it's worth, Maddux is 25th, Glavine is 59th and Frank Thomas is 81st.
Oh, but the steroids made him do it! Yeah, that's what it was. The steroids did everything. For everyone. Good thing that era is over now.
It's over now, right? The Steroid Era in baseball? The same BBWAA members who were charged with covering the game during that time and now vote (or don't vote) for those players to make the Hall of Fame are presiding over a much cleaner product, right?
We can go back to watching a game we can be proud to watch? A game in which a player can be suspended for 25 games for taking a prescription drug without authority of a doctor, see MLB reclassify said drug as a performance enhancer to increase the penalty to 50 games because so many players were taking it and then have that previously suspended player begin taking it again because he legally obtained a prescription, all in the same year?
Good thing we have those morally upstanding baseball writers keeping all the cheaters out of the Hall of Fame. We wouldn't want to spoil the game's integrity.