By Ernie Palladino
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They might be recognized eventually, probably by some veterans committee.
But for now, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens remain outsiders as far as baseball’s Hall of Fame voters are concerned. And that will remain an injustice until an alternative committee rectifies the issue years down the road.
No one here is advocating that any in the 2018 class of Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman should be denied their rightful spots in favor of two PED cheats like Bonds and Clemens.
It’s impossible to argue with Jones’ dominance as the Braves’ third baseman for 19 years. Just ask the Mets, who provided Jones a veritable feast every time those teams met. Thome’s 612 homers, all hit without pharmaceutical enhancement, Guerrero’s steady shows of power and batting average, and the 601 saves that made Hoffman the National League version of next year’s first-ballot lock Mariano Rivera all prove their indisputable worthiness.
But what of baseball’s 762-home run king and the 354-game winner? The hardliners, spurred both by Joe Morgan’s published urgings to keep the cheats out and their own outrage over the sullying of the game, remained steadfast in keeping their ballots clean. As a result, Clemens netted just 57.3 percent of the vote, while Bonds went to 56.4.
That’s not even spitting distance of the 75 percent needed for election. And with just four years remaining before their 10-year eligibility runs out, it appears neither will get in with the Baseball Writers of America’s blessing.
That would be a shame. The older ones among the voting body saw Bonds and Clemens their whole career. They must know, even if they have to dig deep into their souls, that both were on the way to Cooperstown before the steroids issue ever exploded. Since the Hall represents a historical recounting of the sport, it is virtually impossible, if not unjust, to overlook them or the era in which they played.
To keep them out does a disservice to baseball and to the writers, themselves.
This space has never, ever advocated a favored-son mindset that would hide their steroids dirt under a rug. It shouldn’t be overlooked. It was bad stuff. Real bad. But neither paid an immediate price for it in terms of suspension. Even if they were, baseball would have let them back in with the other cheaters to continue building their statistics. After all, Manny Ramirez took not one, but two suspensions. Alex Rodriguez lied, lied, and lied about his usage before the evidence pile got so high that he couldn’t deny it anymore, but he came back after sitting out 2014.
This is not a Pete Rose situation. Rose bet on games while managing, violating baseball’s cardinal rule. He was thrown out entirely. The best hitter ever will never have a plaque, and that’s only right.
But Bonds and Clemens need a place, just as A-Rod will once he becomes eligible in 2021.
It’s a dilemma. The solution, though, is simple. A notation at the bottom, preceded by an asterisk, would mark these people forever as part of the “Steroids Era,” a sad interlude that Hall of Fame commissioner Bud Selig tacitly sanctioned.
It would amount to a smudge on the record. Let the fathers who fear their children might be swayed to dishonesty once they read the plaques explain that true greatness lies not in a syringe, but in hard work and dedication, both of which Bonds and Clemens possessed throughout their careers.
Make no mistake, eventually those two will have to make an induction speech. If the writers don’t put them in, the Modern Era committee probably will. If it put in Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell this year, certainly Bonds and Clemens would be easy choices.
Perhaps a special committee will be formed in a decade or so to handle all the Steroid Era greats. It could resemble the one for the Negro Leagues. Put in all the deserving ones, then close the door.
But it would be best if the writers did the deed themselves. They’ve made their case the last six years.
Now it’s time to recognize the clean parts of that duo’s careers. Those are far lengthier and the numbers far more imposing than the dirty interlude.
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