Barry Bonds, who has the most home runs in Major League Baseball history, was not voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his final year on the ballot, the Hall announced Tuesday night. Roger Clemens, whose seven Cy Young Awards are two more than any other pitcher, did not receive enough votes in his final year, either.
Arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of the steroid-tainted 1990s and early 2000s will have to rely on a veteran committee as their last chance to reach the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine because, even though the majority of voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America believed they should be Hall of Famers, enough of them decided the stars’ ties to performance-enhancing drugs disqualified them from that aspect of baseball immortality. Players need to receive 75 percent of the vote to be elected. On Tuesday, Bonds received 66 percent, and Clemens got 65.2 percent.
The writers did elect former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz (77.9 percent) in his first year on the ballot, making him the fourth Dominican-born player elected to the Hall of Fame and the first player elected by the writers since 2020. The gregarious slugger is one of the most beloved players in Red Sox history and a quantifiably clutch performer in the postseason, and he’s one of the best designated hitters of all time.
“I learned how difficult it is to get in first ballot. It’s a wonderful honor to get in on my first rodeo,” Ortiz said. “It’s something very special to me.”
Because this was the last year Bonds, Clemens and Sammy Sosa (18.5 percent), co-star of the 1998 home run chase, were on the writers’ ballot, the election was the latest referendum on the steroid era — a chance for voters to declare whether those who are thought to have used illegal substances or violated MLB’s then-nascent drug-testing policy voided their chance at reaching Cooperstown. (These voters do not include eligible Washington Post journalists, who are not permitted to cast ballots for the Hall of Fame.)
But referendums imply clarity, and this year’s voting did not draw hard lines.
Ortiz’s candidacy was no less complicated than those of Bonds and Clemens. Ortiz spent most of his career as a DH, meaning he rarely played the field. Among Hall of Famers, only Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas can say the same. Ortiz hit more home runs (541) than any of them, and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.931) is just two points lower than Martinez’s.
Ortiz’s name was on a list of players who came up positive for performance-enhancing drugs when MLB tested players, supposedly anonymously, before implementing a drug policy a year later. Ortiz never tested positive afterward, and he spent the next decade taking some of the most memorable and meaningful swings in Red Sox history.
“You don’t know what anybody tested positive for,” Ortiz said when asked about that test. “… I never failed a drug test [after the testing policy was put in place in 2004]. What does that tell you?”
Cooperstown is calling! pic.twitter.com/de1K5bHxlZ— Red Sox (@RedSox) January 25, 2022
Clemens also has denied using performance-enhancing drugs. In a statement issued via his Twitter page Tuesday, Clemens said: “My family and I put the HOF in the rear view mirror ten years ago. I didn’t play baseball to get into the HOF.
“I gave it all I had, the right way, for my family and for the fans who supported me. I am grateful for that support,” he continued. “I would like to thank those who took the time to look at the facts and vote for me. Hopefully everyone can now close this book and keep their eyes forward focusing on what is really important in life.”
Alex Rodriguez, one of the best shortstops of all time and who accumulated 113.7 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs, did not come close to reaching 75 percent in his first year on the ballot, finishing with 34.3. Rodriguez tested positive for steroids and was suspended for 162 games in 2014.
Gary Sheffield, the hard-hitting outfielder who compiled 62.1 WAR, finished with 40.6 percent. Sheffield admitted to using steroids during the 2002 season, but he claimed he did so unknowingly.
Pitcher Curt Schilling, in his final year on the ballot, earned 58.6 percent of the vote. Third baseman Scott Rolen (63.2 percent, fifth), first baseman Todd Helton (52 percent, fourth year) and pitcher Billy Wagner (51 percent, seventh) also topped 50 percent but will need much more support to get elected.
So it was Ortiz, with his 51 WAR, who joined the ranks of baseball’s most storied club — a remarkable end to a late-blooming career that didn’t take off until he was 27, then left him as one of the most beloved players of a generation.
“I really never dreamed of [making the Hall of Fame],” Ortiz said Tuesday night. “All I was looking for was the opportunity to be an everyday player. … Thank God it came through when I came to the Red Sox. The rest is history.”
Bonds was never beloved as Ortiz was, but baseball hadn’t seen anyone like him, either. Even before his muscles grew and home runs became the focus, Bonds was a once-in-a-lifetime star. He remains the only player with at least 400 home runs and 400 steals — a club he founded in 1998, the season Sosa and Mark McGwire dominated with home run explosions since tied to PEDs, before Bonds was suspected of using banned substances.
But the number for which he is best known — 762 home runs — is also the one that seems likely to hold him back, the stat most tainted by his ties to since-disgraced PED lab BALCO, the stat he seems unlikely to have reached on his own. In the past 100 years, only three players have finished with a higher on-base percentage than Bonds’s .444: Ted Williams (.482), Babe Ruth (.474) and Lou Gehrig (.447). Only Ruth (168.4) accumulated more WAR than Bonds’s 164.4. It has been decades since any other hitter finished with more than 120 WAR.
“When I see [Bonds and Clemens], to be honest with you, I don’t even compare myself to them because I saw so many times those guys performing and it was something that was very special,” Ortiz said. “… Not having them join me at this time is something that is hard for me to believe.”
Bonds congratulated Ortiz on Instagram, writing: “CONGRATULATIONS Big Papi on your induction into the Hall of Fame! Well deserved…I love you my brother.”
Bonds may yet find himself in the Hall of Fame. The committee of veteran players, executives and writers tasked with reviewing his era for those left out could decide he belongs in Cooperstown. If it doesn’t, baseball’s all-time home run leader will go the way of its all-time hit leader, Pete Rose: without a spot in the Hall of Fame.
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