Sammy Sosa

SIPA (Photo by TB)

HOF Voters cannot only reward some PED users

Tim Kelly
December 20, 2018 - 1:09 pm

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are two of the 10 most accomplished players in baseball history. Statistically, both would have been locks to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. But because of credible connections to performance-enhancing drugs, both are in their seventh years on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot having peaked at 56.4 percent (Bonds) 57.3 percent (Clemens) in 2018.

This article isn’t about whether Bonds and Clemens will ever reach the necessary 75 percent to gain election to the most prestigious museum in sports. Frankly, while I lean towards not wanting to reward cheating, both sides present legitimate arguments. Even if both were trending towards being Hall of Famers before they are believed to have started using PEDs, they cheated. If you cheat on one test, it will be a tough sell to a professor not to kick you out of the class, even if you didn’t cheat on all your tests that semester. At the same time, Bonds is a seven-time MVP that, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, is the Home Run King. Clemens, meanwhile, is a seven-time Cy Young Award winner that won over 300 games in his career. There’s at least part of me that understands the argument that the league chose to look the other way on rampant PED use during the Steroid Era and there’s not much point to having a museum dedicated to a sport if you aren’t going to include two of the most accomplished players ever to play said sport.

However, as the squeeze is put on voters during the home stretch of Bonds and Clemens’ time on the ballot, a sense of reality has to hit voters that plan to support the two: you can’t pick winners and losers among those believed to have used PEDs.

For example, if you support Bonds and Clemens’ Hall of Fame case, what justification could there be for not voting for Sammy Sosa? Sosa is the only player in baseball history to hit 60 home runs three different times in his career and is one of nine players in baseball history with over 600 home runs.

We have a pretty good idea that Sosa used PEDs to help to to where he got to. In fact, he reportedly tested positive when the league did drug testing that was supposed to be confidential in 2003, with hopes of getting an understanding of how common steroid usage was in the league. That list didn’t stay confidential, as we’ve since learned that Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez also were among those not to pass the test.

Sosa’s case isn’t exactly the same as Bonds and Clemens, who we have a fairly clear timetable of when they are believed to have started using PEDs. Perhaps Bonds and Clemens put up Hall of Fame production before ever using PEDs and Sosa’s entire body of work was aided by the drugs. But we don’t really know that. And like Bonds and Clemens, he was never suspended by the league for using PEDs.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Ramirez is entering his third year on the ballot. (Never mind that he got almost 15 percent more than Sosa in 2018, which makes absolutely no sense.) The argument used against Ramirez - which figures to also work against A-Rod in the future - is that he actually failed two league sanctioned tests, not counting the exploratory 2003 one, and was twice suspended by the league. But he was a 12-time All-Star that finished his career with a .312 batting average and 555 home runs. You can’t tell the story of baseball’s history without Ramirez, so if you’re going to vote for Bonds and Clemens, leaving Ramirez off your ballot doesn’t make any sense.

Sure, Bonds and Clemens never failed a league-sanctioned drug test and were never suspended by the league for PED use. But Bonds ballooned in size and hit 258 home runs between his age-35 and age-39 seasons. A failed test registered to Bonds in November of 2000 was seized from BALCO. Clemens, along with long-time teammate and friend Andy Pettitte, was cited 82 times in the infamous 2007 Mitchell Report. Pettitte, under oath, said Clemens had admitted to using HGH to him.

The other misconception is about when baseball banned steroid use. It’s true that testing didn’t start until 2003. But baseball banned “steroids” in 1991. That came long before Bonds or Clemens is believed to have used PEDs. It’s mental gymnastics to say that Ramirez should be kept out of the Hall of Fame for using PEDs in 2009 but Bonds shouldn’t because steroids weren’t yet banned in 2001. It’s also simply not true.

“Steroids” is perhaps vague phrasing, and there’s no doubt that in not testing until 2003, baseball basically gave a wink-and-a-nod to players like Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro etc. Eventually though, the worst-kept-secret in sports became public knowledge, and it’s drastically altered how we look at the stars from the so-called Steroid Era.

If you aren’t on-board with throwing out that entire era and having to sift through which players cheated and to what degree, fine, vote for Bonds and Clemens. But be sure to put a check mark next to the names of Ramirez, Sosa and Gary Sheffield as well. Each of that trio has numbers that are unquestionably worthy of induction to Cooperstown, and if you’re going to overlook some PED allegations and failed tests, you have to be consistent.