While some websites tinker with scientific calculations of how Bonds’ or Clemens’ careers could have ended up if they did not take steroids, I’m only going to deal with their statistics through the 1997 season to determine whether either of them are Hall of Fame worthy.
I choose year this because the consensus around baseball is that both of them started abusing steroids during 1998.
Now let’s examine whether or not Clemens would have been a Hall of Famer due to his numbers up through 1997. Clemens’ trainer Brian McNamee said in the Mitchell Report that it was not until the 1998 season that he injected Clemens with Winstrol, which is the street name for Stanozolol.
Many people use this steroid because it causes strength increase without excessive weight gain, something that would be very helpful to Clemens as he grew older.
Clemens' stats through 1997 include 213 wins against 118 losses, a winning percentage of .644. He had an astounding 2.97 ERA through his first 14 seasons while tallying 2,882 strikeouts.
Even though his 2.97 ERA would only place him tied for 157thon the all-time list, the only current major leaguer with a lower ERA is Pedro Martinez, who has a 2.86 ERA.
Most of the players in front of him on the ERA list played in a time when there was a lot less scoring than there is now. Many of these players played in the early 20th century. Some even played before baseball’s modern era began in 1900.
I need something concrete to put the Rocket’s stats up against, so I will compare Clemens to Bob Feller, because as the National Baseball Hall of Fame website says, “Bob Feller's blazing fastball set the standard against which all of his successors have been judged.” It only seems fair that Clemens be measured up against a power pitcher like himself.
Feller spent 18 years with the Indians, four years more than Roger’s steroid-free career. During that time, he was victorious 266 times while compiling 2,581 strikeouts.
While Feller did have more wins with the help of those four extra seasons, Roger averaged more wins per season, 15.2 to 14.8. Roger had 301 more strikeouts while also possessing a better winning percentage then Rapid Robert, .644 to .621.
Clemens also had a lower ERA then Feller, 2.97 to 3.25. One thing that we cannot forget is that Feller lost four years of his prime serving his country during World War II.
One thing we must never forget is that many of the men who played baseball during our grandparents' era were actual heroes. An immeasurable statistic of Feller’s that I have to add is that he was decorated with five campaign ribbons studded with eight battle stars.
Now onto Barr-oid Bonds.
According to the book Game of Shadows, Bonds also began “taking injections of Winstrol in the buttocks beginning in 1998, and it is also said that he took a wide array of performance-enhancing drugs over at least five seasons in a massive doping regime that grew more and more sophisticated as the years went on.”
This man is the poster boy for what steroids can do for you; he broke the single season home run record in 2001, at the age of 36, and then won the National League batting title at the age of 37!
Bonds' stats prior to the 1998 season include a .288 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. He had 1,750 hits, which included 321 doubles, 56 triples, and 374 round trippers. He drove in 1,094 runs, while crossing the plate 1,244 times himself.
He did all that while also walking 1,227 times. Bonds was not only a threat at the plate, but once he got on base, he stole 417 times. He did all this while only striking out 958 times.
In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was written just before the 2001 season during which Bonds hit 73 home runs, he calls Bonds “the most un-appreciated superstar of his lifetime.” That is one reason for Bonds' desire to use steroids, according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows.
In the section of the Abstract where James ranks his 100 best players at each position of all time, James ranks Bonds the third best left fielder ever, only behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial.
James also calls Bonds “probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder. Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player.”
The astounding part about this is that James wrote this before Ken Griffey Jr. started getting hurt, so he could still vividly remember Griffey gliding around centerfield, robbing home runs, stealing bases, and that beautiful swing.
On the next page, James then went on to list his 10 best players of the 1990s; Bonds leads that list, with Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros coming in second, the 10th player on that list is Greg Maddux. I say this because James goes on to say, “the No. 2 man, Biggio, is closer in value to the No. 10 man than he is to Bonds.”
We tend to forget how good Bonds was, even before he went on this steroid-aided home run tear of recent years sometimes.
I can’t compare his 12-year career statistics with any one player because his ability to do everything does not allow that. Instead, I’ll use a few different Hall of Famers to nail home the point.
His .288 average is higher than both Rickey Henderson’s .282 and Carl Yastrzemski’s .285.
He hit 101 fewer home runs then Stan Musial in about eight less seasons and also hit 13 more home runs than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.
His on-base percentage was one point lower then Manny Ramirez’s current .409 career mark, and it tied Jackie Robinson’s career OBP.
Listen carefully to this next statistic, with his 12-year all-natural career, Bonds’ career slugging percentage of .551 would be eight points lower than Musial’s, six points lower than his godfather Willie Mays’, five points lower than Mickey Mantle’s, and only three points lower than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s.
Bonds had 15 less career runs scored than HOF centerfielder Duke Snider.
He finished with 29 less hits than HOF infielder Lou Boudreau.
Kirby Puckett’s 1,085 RBIs were nine less than Bonds’ sum. His 321 doubles tied Yogi Berra’s.
Bonds’ 1,227 base on balls are still more than future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez’s current totals. He even had more than walk machine Jason Giambi, and he did it in only 12 seasons.
Bonds’ 417 stolen bases put him in the top 65 all-time.
Another testament to his incredible combination of speed and power is that he is one of only four players in the 40/40 Club (home runs and steals). He actually did it during 1996 when he was clean.
The other three members of that club are fellow abuser Jose Canseco who did it in 1988, Alex Rodriguez who did it in 1998 when he was still with the Mariners, and Alfonso Soriano who did it in 2006.
After only 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, Barry Bonds was unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Here’s an idea I’ve had bouncing around my head for years. How about instead of putting their career numbers up for their election to the Hall through 2007, we instead let the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) decide whether or not their career numbers through 1997 are Hall of Fame worthy?
I also say that the only way we even think of granting them this opportunity is if they can at least have the guts to admit to their poor decision choices, like a player such as Jason Giambi has so fearlessly done.
And if, the BBWAA decides they are worthy enough to have their plaques in the same room as the untainted greats such as Aaron, Mays, Ruth, Feller and Ford, only the stats accumulated through ’97 are displayed on those plaques.
Maybe they still at least deserve a shot at the Hall. Although they lied and cheated the game of baseball, they may at least deserve some recognition for what they did during the first 12 and 14 years of their careers respectively.
All of this makes me wonder what kind of person would risk everything that these two men obviously had going for them. Two of the best players of their time, felt the need to use performance enhancing drugs, for what?
Game of Shadows explains that Bonds was upset because as the 1998 season was coming to a close Bonds’ elite status had slipped, as fans were less interested in the player who was the complete package like he was and the emphasis was shifting to guys who were pure sluggers.
He realized that players like Mark McGwire, guys who he saw as inferior to him, would be the guys who would be getting the biggest contracts and all the glory and adulation of fans now.
“To Bonds it was a joke. He had been around enough gyms to recognize that McGwire was a juicer. Bonds himself had never used anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake from the health-food store. But as the 1998 season unfolded, and as he watched Mark McGwire take over the game—his game—Barry Bonds decided that he, too, would begin using what he called ‘the stuff.’”
—Game of Shadows
So yeah, maybe it was jealousy, maybe it was the feeling of getting older and not wanting to let time catch up to them, which is definitely something that every middle-aged American can relate to.
Bonds was turning 34 the year he started, and Clemens was 36. These guys wanted to beat Father Time, and at the time what they were doing was not completely illegal, unethical, but not illegal.
Although they were destroying the integrity of baseball and definitely do not deserve everything they have earned the last ten years, what they did was not illegal in 1998.
Well, they're the ones who get to live with the shame of lying to us and getting caught, for the rest of their lives.
They also probably face five to 10 in the slammer with a bunch of angry convicts who probably won't take too kindly to two guys who had it all, but still had to cheat.
Neither of these men deserve the credit of having 354 wins or 762 home runs, but they do at least deserve credit for the ballplayers they were prior to their terrible decisions.