With Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, And Roger Clemens On The HOF Ballot, Cooperstown And The Steroids Era Are Headed Towards Inevitable Clash

  • Jordan Rabinowitz

With alleged (and proved) steroid users like Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro having been on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for a few years now, the storm between baseball writers and the Steroid Era has been brewing considerably. But with Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens now on the ballot, the eye of that storm has arrived.

Bonds, Sosa, and Clemens’ presence on the ballot presents baseball writers with a decision with transcendental bearing, though it’s not necessarily one they’ll have make this year: Should we slight the most notorious faces of the Steroid Era, first-ballot Hall-of-Fame worthy as their careers were, because they “cheated?” Or do we, now or in due time, reward these players with a plaque in Cooperstown because, regardless of the drugs they may or may not have taken, they were some of the finest ballplayers of all-time?

The writers will make a strong statement this year by presumably snubbing the three aforementioned players. No matter which side of the argument you fall on, there is no conceivable way Bonds, Sosa, or Clemens are first-ballot Hall-of-Famers — not under these circumstances. If it’s any indication, McGwire has been getting between 30 and 40 percent of the vote since he arrived on the ballot, well short of the 75 percent necessary to gain enshrinement. If the writers haven’t yet warmed up to McGwire, there’s no telling if and when they could get comfortable with voting in guys like Bonds and Clemens, whose legal follies have been arguably more damaging and damning than McGwire’s.

There is the question of time. Will history forgive these players before their 15 years are up? For this discourse to proceed properly, remember how good these players were, at least Bonds and Clemens, before the Steroid Era. Bonds was a svelte five-tool player with Pittsburgh, and won an MVP as far back as 1990. Clemens was the Red Sox ace as soon as he came into the league in the mid-80s, still a good decade before steroids pervaded.  Put simply, if Bonds and “The Rocket” retired in 1997, they would’ve had resumes strong enough to earn more votes in 2002 than they’ll probably get here in 2012. The case for Sosa is less convincing. There are too many valleys and not enough peaks in the off-steroids years of Sosa’s career, where the spike in his power during the heart of the Steroids Era is evidence too damning to deny. But arguably, Bonds and Clemens enjoyed enough individual success before “taking” steroids to enter the Hall.

So a few years down the road, it’s quite likely the writers start warming up to them. There might always be that contingent who believes the whole onion has been tainted by just one rotten part — that onion being Bonds’ and Clemens’ careers, that rot being the last 10 years of them and the subsequent public firestorm — and for all we know, that contingent will sway the vote. It’s hard to imagine the baseball world ever coming to the consensus that steroid users, alleged or proven, in the Hall of Fame would not severely damage the sanctity of Hall-of-Fame status. But hindsight is a funny thing, folks. The jury is not yet out on these players, and we have a decade and half before it has to be. Give history time to percolate, and we’ll see what kind of ceasefire Cooperstown and the Steroid Era have arrived at in 2027.