Softening PED Stance in 2017 Hall of Fame Vote Bodes Well for Bonds, Clemens

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 15:  Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants watches batting practice before the spring training game against the Oakland Athletics at Scottsdale Stadium on March 15, 2014 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brace yourselves, steroid hard-liners: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are going to the Hall of Fame.

Not this year. According to results released Wednesday by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Bonds got 238 votes, or 53.9 percent, and Clemens got 239, or 54.1 percent. (As a side note, anyone who voted for Clemens but not Bonds or vice versa should have their voting privileges immediately revoked.)

The threshold for induction is 75 percent, a bar that was cleared by three players: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.

We can glean two things from this. First, Bonds and Clemens are gaining momentum. Their vote totals have trended northward each year. Now, in year five, they've edged over 50 percent for the first time.

That could be due to the shifting demographics of the BBWAA voting block. It could also be the enshrinement of former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who oversaw the steroid era and was put in the Hall in early December by the 16-person Today's Game Era committee.

In some cases, we know Selig tipped the scales.

"As I continued to think about this and go back and forth, the thing that sealed my vote [for Bonds and Clemens] was when Bud Selig was voted in," BBWAA voting member Tom D'Angelo said, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.

Mostly, though, it's clear the relationship between the HOF and performance-enhancing drugs is evolving. Voters are softening. The floodgates could be about to open. 

Roger Clemens, like Barry Bonds, surpassed 50 percent of the vote for the first time on this year's HOF ballot.
Roger Clemens, like Barry Bonds, surpassed 50 percent of the vote for the first time on this year's HOF ballot.Bob Levey/Getty Images

It's not just the increasing support for Bonds and Clemens, whose Hall of Fame cases would define "open-and-shut" without the cloud of steroid suspicion. 

Look at who got in this year. Bagwell languished on the ballot for seven years, presumably because he was a big, strapping guy who compiled his stats during the steroid era and acknowledged using at-the-time legal enhancers, including androstenedione. 

Then there's Rodriguez. Controversial steroid whistleblower Jose Canseco connected Pudge to PEDs in his book, Juiced. Rodriguez has never admitted to steroid use, but when asked if his name would appear on a list of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003, he replied, "Only God knows," per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

Not exactly a vehement denial.

Mike Piazza, another slam-dunk Hall of Fame catcher by the numbers, had to wait four years for his call to Cooperstown, despite never testing positive or appearing in any reports.

Like Bagwell, Piazza copped to using "andro," as USA Today's Bob Nightengale noted. The closest thing to a banned-PED smoking gun was the fact sportswriters noticed acne on his back, however.

Now we have Pudge, against whom the circumstantial evidence is arguably stronger, slipping through with 76 percent on the first ballot. 

Despite PED suspicion, Ivan Rodriguez earned induction on his first ballot.
Despite PED suspicion, Ivan Rodriguez earned induction on his first ballot.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

None of this is to say the tug of war between suspected PED users, BBWAA voters and the Hall is settled. Even when (or, fine, if) Bonds and Clemens eventually get in, there will be the matter of Manny Ramirez, who was actually suspended under MLB's testing policy and got just 23.8 percent in his first year of eligibility.

Or what about Sammy Sosa, who clung to the bottom of the ballot with 8.6 percent? Or Mark McGwire, who has already fallen off the ballot and is now at the mercy of the veterans committee?

Baltimore Orioles reporter Rich Dubroff of PressBoxonline.com floated the curious case of Rafael Palmeiro. To paraphrase Game of Thrones, Alex Rodriguez is coming. On and on it goes.

Things will get messier before they get cleaner, if they ever get cleaner. Debates will rage.

The winds are shifting, however. Whether you enjoy the breeze depends on how you view the Hall of Fame.

If you see it as a reward for good behavior and lean on the so-called character clause, this is doubtless giving you fits.

If, like me, you see the Hall as a museum where we commemorate the best players of all timefrom the cads to the upright citizensthis is long overdue.

"I don't have any doubts that I'll get there in time," Bonds said of the Hall in 2015, per MLB.com's Barry M. Bloom. "I'm bothered about it, but I don't sit here going, 'I'm not going to make it.' I don't see how it stays the way it's going. In my mind, in my head, I'm a lot more positive about it than I am negative. I think eventually they'll do the right thing."

Right or wrong, it's happening. Maybe not next year, maybe not even the year after. Sometime soon, though, Bonds and Clemens will get their busts. Others will follow.

Brace yourselves.

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