MLB: Survey says Bonds, Clemens, Sosa don't deserve Hall of Fame this year
Want to pick a fight?
Just walk into any bar and proclaim that Barry Bonds deserves to be in baseball's Hall of Fame.
Or, proclaim that he doesn't.
Either way, about half of the crowd will be ready to engage you in vigorous debate. Or invite you to step outside.
Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader, and 36 other players are eligible for induction into Cooperstown in 2013. We'll find out if he was so honored at noon MT ET Wednesday, when the results of this year's balloting are announced.
To earn induction, a player must be selected on 75 percent of the ballots submitted. The voting is conducted among nearly 600 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Each voter can choose up to 10 players. Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Curt Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Mike Piazza are other top names who could be elected.
There is heightened interest around this year's voting outcome, because the first-time eligibles include Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa players who, statistically, are no-brainers, but whose careers concluded under a cloud of performance-enhancing drug suspicion.
Most straw polls, including our own survey of 19 BBWAA members who work for Digital First Media properties a group of 75 newspapers including The Salt Lake Tribune indicate that Bonds, Clemens and Sosa will not earn induction. Not this year, at least.
Of 19 Hall of Fame voters for Digital First Media properties who reported their ballots, nine voted for Bonds (47 percent), eight voted for Clemens (42 percent) and only two voted for Sosa (11 percent).
While this is a small sampling, it does run roughly in synch with larger surveys. The Associated Press surveyed 112 members of the BBWAA and Bonds received 45 percent support, Clemens 43 percent and Sosa 18 percent. The New York Times survey of 92 voters had Bonds and Clemens at 47 percent, Sosa at 12 percent. And the Baseball Think Factory blog, which had the votes of 125 Hall of Fame voters nationwide as of Tuesday morning, showed Bonds and Clemens both at 45 percent and Sosa at 15 percent. (Last year, BBTF correctly forecasted Barry Larkin as the only inductee, based on a sample of 148 ballots.)
The lack of support is traceable to uncertainty over the trio's association, proven or not, with PEDs. And voters can cite the Hall's character clause as a reason to withhold their judgment, at least for now. Players can remain on the ballot for up to 15 years as long as they continue to receive at least 5 percent of the vote.
The character clause says, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played."
Bonds played 22 years for the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, breaking Hank Aaron's career home run record and finishing with 762. On other all-time leaderboards, Bonds is first in walks (2,558), third in runs scored (2,227), fourth in RBIs (1,996), sixth in on-base percentage (.444) and sixth in slugging (.607).
Clemens and Sosa also have their names in lights on baseball's most treasured lists. Clemens, who pitched 24 years for Boston, Toronto, Houston and the New York Yankees, won seven Cy Young Awards, is ninth all-time in wins (354) and third all-time in strikeouts (4,672). Sosa, who spent most of his 18-year career with the Chicago Cubs, is eighth all-time in homers with 609 and is the only major leaguer ever to have three 60-homer seasons.
But their careers were tarnished in the eyes of many by connections to performance-enhancing drugs that may have given them a competitive advantage.
Bonds said he never knowingly took steroids. He admitted taking substances he says he knew as "the cream" and "the clear," but testified to a U.S. grand jury that his trainer told him they were flaxseed oil and an arthritis pain-reliever.
A former strength and conditioning coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, Brian McNamee, testified before a congressional subcommittee that he injected steroids into Clemens' buttocks during the 1998 season. Clemens denied this and was acquitted on charges of lying to Congress about not taking steroids or human growth hormones.
Sosa was one of 104 players who failed baseball's 2003 drug test, according to The New York Times. But through his lawyer, he testified to a congressional committee in 2005 that he never took illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
Still, for many voters, that's more than enough smoke.
"To me, it is not just smoke, but a raging fire, which set the integrity of the game ablaze," wrote columnist Pat Caputo of the Oakland (Mich.) Press, who said he won't vote for Bonds or Clemens unless they make a full confession. " The truth is often revealed over time. There is a possibility 10 years from now we'll know a lot more than presently. In the meantime, there is no need to hurry to induct players who are under a cloud of possible PED use. If there is an error, it should be on the side of caution, not under the guise of a blind eye, which was a major factor in enabling the 'steroids era' initially."
"I find granting Bonds a pass for his behavior impossible, for now," wrote Denver Post columnist Troy E. Renck. "Perhaps, after tabling it another year, my stance will change. But he was a cheat. As was Roger Clemens, according to eyewitness testimony of his trainer, as well as his former best friend, Andy Pettitte. Understand, Joe DiMaggio wasn't a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I am not banishing Bonds and Clemens from my ballot forever assuming they don't make it this year but deferring for perspective."
"Bonds and Clemens have stood trial in federal court after being charged with lying about their use of PEDs," wrote columnist Jay Dunn of The Trentonian, a voter for 31 years. "In Bonds' case, the government's key witness chose to go to jail himself rather than testify at the trial. The case against Clemens collapsed when a former teammate changed his story and said on the witness stand he might have 'misremembered' the facts.
"Legally both are innocent men. But the baseball Hall of Fame vote is not a court of law and legal standards do not apply. The standards will be what every voter thinks they ought to be."
"I'm not voting for any of the steroid social club or whatever you want to call the group that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa until I have as complete a picture as possible of the Major League Baseball landscape during that time period," wrote columnist Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News. " We still don't know the full story. Fortunately, the Hall of Fame voting process allows for us to be patient and wait for the full story."
If the voters' handling of Mark McGwire is any indication, it's possible Bonds/Clemens/Sosa won't be admitted to the Hall any time soon. McGwire clubbed 583 homers but admitted to using steroids in 2010. He is on the ballot for the seventh time. In his first try, he received just 23.5% of the vote. Last year, he pulled only 19.5% of the vote.
And yet, the "steroid era" players do have supporters, many of whom base their case purely on the statistics, saying it is impossible to determine whose numbers may have been artificially enhanced and whose were not or whether it's even their job to judge.
"If baseball itself can't decide how to judge the players who dominated the steroid era, why are they dumping this heavy Hall of Fame issue in my lap?" wrote Carl Steward of the Oakland Tribune. "I'm not the commissioner. I'm not the president of the Hall of Fame. I'm just a baseball writer, not a Supreme Court judge.
"I value my Hall of Fame vote, but this situation about which alleged steroid users are Cooperstown-worthy shouldn't be decided by me. So I'm passing the buck. I'm voting for all of the players I deem worthy candidates above and beyond their inflated statistics (which, according to Bud Selig, still count). Yes, that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and others. If they get in, then the Hall of Fame can decide how to frame them for history."
Chaz Scoggins of the Lowell (Mass.) Sun has a harsh rebuke for his peers who would keep superstars out of the Hall of Fame based on unproven allegations.
"Whether or not these candidates actually used performance-enhancing drugs is immaterial to a substantial bloc of voters; they're all tainted, every single one of them, and therefore to be shunned," wrote Scoggins. "Not even the fact that Clemens fought the PED charges against him in a court of law and was acquitted is likely to save his candidacy.
"While not everyone who played in the Steroids Era is guilty, and the voters know it, many of them fear their own reputations will suffer if they elect someone who is later discovered to have used PEDs. But this is America, where you're innocent until proven guilty, and you don't prejudge."
But Jon Becker of the Bay Area News Group isn't one of those worried about his own reputation. "By voting for them, I'm not condoning their actions. I'm just saying they belong among baseball's all-time elite," he wrote. "And isn't that what the Hall of Fame is about?"
And so the debate over Bonds/Clemens/Sosa will continue. And with their Hall of Fame election this year looking doubtful, the debate is sure to rage again next year. And probably the year after that. And the year after that
The 2013 class of the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced Wednesday at noon in Cooperstown, N.Y.