McGRATH: Bonds, Clemens, Sosa don’t belong in Hall of Fame
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media December 22, 2012 12:22AM
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. All have been tainted by whispers, if not shouts, of steroid use. | Getty Images
Updated: January 24, 2013 6:27AM
The document has been sitting on a table for a week now, taunting me as I walk past, reminding me of an agonizing task that has to be performed.
I’ve been mindful of the duty, but I’ve put off thinking about it since July 2011. I visited Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies that year in honor of my friend Roland Hemond, who received the Buck O’Neil Award for a lifetime of service to baseball. No sooner had Bert Blyleven and fellow inductee Roberto Alomar finished their speeches than attention shifted to upcoming elections, as it always does.
Barry Larkin, as predicted, was the Class of 2012 standard-bearer, and wouldn’t things get interesting come 2013, when Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa joined the ballot for a referendum on the Steroid Era?
That time has come. The ballot awaits a decision.
Mark McGwire (six times) and Rafael Palmeiro (twice) already have been denied Hall membership, their drug involvement superseding some purportedly magic numbers that pretty much guaranteed enshrinement before chemicals corrupted the statistical base.
I’ve been a Hall of Fame voter for more than 20 years, and I take the responsibility seriously. In weighing the merits of a candidate, my default position is this: Can a history of the game be written without a mention of this player? Bonds, Clemens and Sosa bring eight MVP awards, seven Cy Young Awards, a Bible-length list of records and more home runs than the entire National League hit in 1992 to the discussion. That’s a lot of history.
They also bring the stain of drug use. That’s history, too.
Bonds was the best all-around player in baseball for the first dozen years of his career, a dynamic blend of speed, power and smarts that evoked the first generation of black and Latin stars — Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente — who transformed the game.
Clemens had a 192-111 record (.634 winning percentage) with a 3.06 ERA, 2,590 strikeouts and three Cy Young Awards in his 12 seasons with the Red Sox. Sandy Koufax, by comparison, was
165-87 (.655) with a 2.76 ERA, 2,396 strikeouts and three Cy Young Awards in a 12-year career with the Dodgers that sent him to Cooperstown on the first ballot.
Bonds and Clemens would have been first-ballot Hall of Famers if they never had touched a needle. Though neither man has gone the McGwire route and admitted it, evidence suggests they did, pumping up their numbers along with their bodies. Whether that leaves them in Pete Rose-style exile is the ethical dilemma lurking over the ballot this year.
Conventional wisdom has Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza as the favorites for 2013 enshrinement, but who is to say with any certainty who was ‘‘clean’’? I’m guessing it’s Biggio’s 3,000 hits and three-position versatility that make him more worthy than longtime Astros teammate Jeff Bagwell, the third-place finisher (behind Larkin and Jack Morris) in the voting last year.
I’ll vote for Morris again on the same-guy theory: If Blyleven is in, Morris should be. Curt Schilling? Some great seasons and some Morris-like transcendence in big games, but the overall body of work isn’t quite Cooperstown-caliber.
The same is true of Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Larry Walker. I don’t object to any or all of them getting in, but they don’t quite pass the history test, though Raines comes close as an exceptional leadoff hitter.
The most glaring Hall omission is Alan Trammell, and he’s running out of chances. A two-way standout for the Tigers for 20 years, he was a precursor to the Derek Jeter class of offense-minded shortstops. I was among the voters who ushered Ozzie Smith in on the first ballot. His acrobatic flair at shortstop raised awareness of fielding and gave Ozzie a passing grade in the history test. But most people who were around the game during the ’80s would say Trammell was the better player.
‘‘Integrity’’ is one of the criteria Hall voters are told to consider, along with a player’s record, playing ability, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his team(s).
‘‘Record’’ refers to statistics, the underpinning of baseball. Stats are the language that links generations and teaches history — and stats achieved during the Steroid Era aren’t to be trusted.
Absent guidelines from the Hall on how the era is to be viewed, I’m voting no on Bonds, Clemens and Sosa. To do otherwise would be to endorse what they did. Or, at the very least, to condone it.
I can’t. They corrupted something I’ve loved all my life. I hope they never get in.