Love him or hate him, the news that Roger Clemens is being (it is hard to even type it out) indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs is down-right depressing.
There was a time when the baseball viewing public was being forced to ask themselves:
"Could Roger Clemens be ready to surpass Walter Johnson as the greatest pitcher of all time?"
As we watch Roger's reputation and celebrity get flushed down the toilet, perhaps the biggest question surrounding Roger now is:
"Could Roger Clemens be ready to surpass Pete Rose as the greatest fall from grace in baseball history?"
Or perhaps even:
"Is Roger Clemens now officially the biggest star who has no chance of going into the Hall of Fame?"
Let's have a look.
You know, you don't just have to gamble or do steroids to turn an otherwise Hall of Fame caliber career into something you'll find in the scrap-heap.
You can also be an aloof jerk-face who plays for some of the most fickle fans in baseball.
Meet Dick Allen. The first name says it all.
Not that Hall of Fame voters pay attention to such things, but in 15 major league seasons Allen led the league in OPS four times, OPS+ three times, and on-base percentage twice. His .912 OPS is good for 55th all time and ranks him ahead of a couple of guys named Schmidt and Griffey, and he has the same OPS+ as Frank Thomas.
He did pretty well in the conventional stats as well, hitting 351 career home runs when that meant something–Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner hit 369–and going to seven All-Star Games and winning the Rookie of the Year and an MVP.
In his last full season, at the age of 32, Allen led the AL in home runs and OPS in only 128 games.
In 1988, Jose Canseco was the elite Major League Baseball player. In his first three seasons for the Oakland Athletics, he won the 1986 AL Rookie of the Year, the 1988 AL Most Valuable Player, and became the first player ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases.
He hit 462 home runs and collected over 1,400 RBI despite never really seeming to try very hard, and never being particularly healthy after the age of 26 years old.
And thanks to his undying defense of performance enhancing drugs and absolutely buffoonish behavior during and after his career, he will never ever come close to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
It would be surprising if the Hall of Fame would sell him admission for one.
Thanks to his little finger-wagging display in front of Congress a few years ago, combined with his subsequent positive test for performance enhancing drugs, Rafael Palmeiro is now going to be the Lone Exception for every Hall of Fame milestone test.
"Hey, does every player with 3,000 hits get into the Hall of Fame?"
"Well, generally yes, but not in the case of Rafael Palmeiro."
"Oh, weird. Well, what about 500 home runs?"
"Again, usually, but not with Palmeiro."
"That's odd. And 1,600 runs scored?"
"Uhhh . . . ."
I was still innocent in June of 1998, and it was one of the great months of my life.
For the record:
27 games, 121 plate appearances, 20 home runs, 40 RBI, .298/.331/.842/1.173.
I'd pay money to try to convince myself that Sammy's career didn't revolve around performance enhancing drugs. Can't do it.
By the way, here's a point about Sosa that usually goes unmentioned:
For a guy with 609 home runs and three of the top-10 home run seasons of all time, his career numbers are simply terrible.
Sosa has more home runs than Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle or Frank Robinson and yet he has the same OPS+ as Moises Alou and Tim Salmon, the same WAR as Dave Winfield, and fewer batting runs than Jim Edmonds.
I'm not completely sure his numbers are Hall of Fame caliber even if you assume he didn't use steroids.
It is no exaggeration to say that, steroids aside, this was one of the two greatest pure power hitters we've ever seen. Thanks to a disillusioned fan base and a traditionally prickly group of baseball writers, Mark McGwire is nowhere near going into the Hall of Fame, luke-warm heart-warming confession or no.
You broke our hearts, Mark, and Cooperstown is where the heart of baseball lives.
You're not going to be allowed anywhere close to the Hall of Fame.
One of the most aloof and silly superstars in baseball history, Manny Ramirez did not need any help pissing off the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Despite being one of the greatest right-hand hitters of all time, Manny already had two strikes against him because of all of his "Manny Being Manny" bee-ess.
The combination of actually testing positive for female fertility drugs and being exposed as one of the players who tested positive in the 2003 steroids testing sealed his fate.
All that needs to be said about Shoeless Joe has been said, in songs, books, movies, anecdotes, ...the whole nine yards.
One of the greatest all around players in baseball history, on par with Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker in their primes, Joe was banned from baseball and from the Hall.
As much as we like to sentimentalize the Black Sox, and posit whether the Steroid Era poses more of a threat to the game than gambling ever did, here's one point to always keep in mind:
At the end of the day, the villains of the Steroid Era were all cheating in order to win, whereas the Black Sox were cheating in order to lose.
On the field, Pete Rose represented everything we want baseball to be about: he hustled, he never quit, he never gave up, and he made the most of his meager God-given talents.
Off the field, has there ever been a more classless horse's ass associated with the game of baseball?
Seriously, if Rose had done anything to portray himself in a slightly more sympathetic light than Osama bin Laden or the Unabomber, he would probably be in the Hall of Fame by now.
At this point, Pete only has himself to blame.
At this point, there is a simple fact that most of the baseball viewing public has come to accept in regard to performance enhancing drugs:
Face up to what you've done, and come clean with the American public, and you live to fight another day.
It's the path that Jason Giambi originally trail-blazed, and it is a path subsequently followed by Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and Alex Rodriguez in hopes of absolution (you'll note A-Rod did not make this list). Mark McGwire has wandered his way back to this road as well.
There is, of course, the path more often taken, which involves quiet denial and/or excuse-making.
From "I didn't know what it was" and "I have no idea how I tested positive" to simply saying nothing at all, some players hope no one will ever put their feet to the fire.
Clemens, sadly, as chosen the rare third option:
Make a complete jack-ass out of yourself, get yourself into way more trouble than you would have been for simply testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, and put yourself into a situation where even your own wife wants nothing to do with you.
The ironic thing is, Clemens is probably the player who could have come through the storm the best if he'd just admitted what he did and moved on. It's not like he was a marginal Hall of Famer before the accusations against him came out; he was one of the three or four top pitchers of all time.
That is going to be a helluva thing to live with when he fails to get elected to the Hall in his final year of eligibility.
I love Barry Bonds. I always have. He was a rookie the year I started collecting baseball cards, and he started winning Most Valuable Player Awards around the time I was truly beginning to understand baseball.
If he had never used performance enhancing drugs, starting in 1999, and had faded out naturally in 2002 or 2003, we would remember him as one of the top 10 baseball players of all time. As far as I am concerned, even taking the performance enhancing drugs into account, I consider him to be one of the top five hitters of all time.
That said, I also had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
The ceremony is an extraordinarily long affair in part because each living Hall of Famer in attendance is introduced to the crowd one-by-one by am emcee, followed by the honorees and then the inductees.
At this year's ceremony, Andre Dawson, the sole player being inducted, received a raucous ovation from the Cubs and Expos fans in attendance. Whitey Herzog, who had been elected as a manager, received a rather substantial ovation from the Cardinals fans in attendance.
But both of those ovations paled in comparison to the immediate and protracted standing ovation that greeted Hank Aaron when his name was announced. Aaron was almost embarrassed by the attention, and had to motion for the crowd to settle down which, after more than a few moments had passed, we finally did.
Just seeing Hank Aaron on that stage against that Hall of Fame backdrop reminded us of everything that was good about the game of baseball, both on the field and off it.
It was at that moment that I knew that Barry Lamar Bonds would never ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.