Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve their plaques in Cooperstown.
While we’re at it, so does Pete Rose.
Bonds’ criminal conviction stemming from baseball’s shameful steroids era was thrown out this week, Clemens was never convicted of anything, and the sport’s new commissioner gave a green light for Rose to take part in festivities surrounding the All-Star Game in his hometown of Cincinnati.
All of which makes it a good time to revisit the exclusion of these three — undoubtedly among the greatest ever to play the game — from their well-earned spots in the Hall of Fame.
Bonds and Clemens have each been passed over three times already by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, presumably for taking performance-enhancing drugs. Rose never came up for a vote, his eligibility revoked after he was caught gambling on baseball as a manager during the 1980s.
Well, the national pastime and those who cover it should move past these two ugly epochs in the game’s history.
Let’s start with Bonds and Clemens.
They’re the easier cases to sort out, actually.
“They deserve to be in, even with all the allegations,” Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said Friday. “You still had to perform, and they performed.”
Sure, it’s very likely their astronomical numbers were chemically enhanced. Bonds’ head and body ballooned to almost comical proportions late in his career, as he passed Hank Aaron’s home run record. Clemens was still throwing near 100 mph well into his 40s.
In Bonds’ case, there was another thing the voters could hang their hats on when denying entry into the Hall — a dubious federal conviction for obstruction of justice at a trial related to infamous BALCO lab. An appeals court took care of that Wednesday, rightfully overturning a decision that never made much sense.
Clemens, of course, didn’t have to worry about an appeal. Three years ago, he was acquitted of all charges that he lied during his testimony before Congress, when he adamantly if somewhat clumsily denied ever used PEDs. Nevertheless, he was lumped in with Bonds when they both went on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2013, the voters finding two convenient targets to take the brunt of their steroids wrath.
The problem is, no one knows exactly how many players doped. Steroids weren’t even banned by baseball until 2003, as those who ran the sport and benefited financially from the latest feats of strength giddily looked the other way. There very well could be someone in the Hall who was did exactly the same thing as Bonds and Clemens, neither of whom was ever penalized by baseball for a failed drug test.
“There are plenty of people who did it,” Jones said.
Bonds was already one of the game’s best players before there’s any indication he may have used PEDs. He won three of his seven MVP awards while still in his 20s. He led the National League in homers in 1993, long before he bulked up. Now that he’s no longer a felon, there’s no reason to keep him out of the Hall. Sure, he was a surly, miserable person, but so was Ty Cobb.
Much like Bonds, Clemens was already Hall-worthy before there’s any hint of him skirting the ethical line. He captured three Cy Young Awards while in his 20s and was within sight of 300 wins before he allegedly found the fountain of youth in a syringe.
“These guys were Hall of Famers before they did that,” said longtime Orioles star Jim Palmer, who was inducted at Cooperstown in 1990. “I think you really need to ask Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, ‘Why did you think you had to break the rules? Why did you have to ... cheat?’
As for Rose, the issue is a bit more complicated.
Faced with overwhelming evidence, he copped to betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds and agreed to a lifetime ban, though he’s spent a good part of the last 25 years lobbying to be reinstated.
“We’re not talking apples to apples here,” Palmer said. “Pete Rose never used performance-enhancing drugs. He violated (the rule on gambling), which if you talk to a lot of guys, they’re adamant about. Because from A ball to the big leagues, every day you walk into a locker room, it’s around: No gambling.”
MLB’s stance on Rose may be softening.
When Rob Manfred took over from longtime commissioner Bud Selig in January, Rose applied again to get back in the game. Manfred hasn’t ruled on that request, but he did say Thursday that Rose would be allowed to participate in some activities at the All-Star Game this summer in Cincinnati. Also, there was no squawking from MLB when he was hired as a Fox studio analyst.
Rose hasn’t shown much contrition, and his continued ties to Las Vegas and affinity for gambling will make it difficult for the career hits leader to win a full pardon. But maybe Manfred can come up with some sort of compromise, where the lifetime ban is lifted but Rose must take further steps before he can be hired by any team.
That way, he would be eligible for the Hall in 2016, the next opportunity to be considered by a committee that votes on bypassed candidates from the so-called expansion era. Even if the ban is lifted, Rose is no longer eligible to be considered in the BBWAA’s regular vote each year, according to Brad Horn, the Hall’s vice president of communication and education.
Whatever it takes.
All three should be in Cooperstown.