When David Ortiz was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — both in their 10th and final year on the ballot — were not, there was, as expected, an outcry from many fans and media members.
That was the only time he tested positive, and there was some doubt about those tests; it was later suggested by MLB that there might have been false positives, and Ortiz, given his track record outside of that one test, might have been among them.
I tend to be an absolutist when it comes to performance-enhancing drug users: If you are a cheat, you can’t be in the Hall of Fame. It’s also important to note that the Hall of Fame isn’t a court of law; you do not need to believe someone is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt not to vote for them. No one’s freedom is at stake.
So I’m honestly not sure whether I would have left Ortiz out based on one possibly defective test. (While I used to have a Hall of Fame vote, I no longer do; The Washington Post doesn’t allow its reporters to vote on such honors.)
But I would never vote for Bonds or Clemens, and I’m appalled that close to two-thirds of my colleagues who do vote chose to put aside the damage that duo and their blatant fellow users did to the game.
Two of my colleagues at The Post, Barry Svrluga and Candace Buckner, have written smart, eloquent columns on the subject. Barry’s premise: It’s understandable why Bonds and Clemens failed to receive the 75 percent of the vote needed for induction, but it’s a shame that baseball’s all-time home run leader and arguably its greatest right-handed pitcher aren’t in the Hall.
I disagree. Regardless of their spectacular talent and statistics, it isn’t a shame that two men who damaged the game aren’t being given the sport’s highest honor. They are, of course, not the only ones who cost themselves that chance. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who helped revive baseball with their home run chase in 1998, aren’t going in, either, because they both cheated, too.
Candace wrote that the 134 voters who left Bonds off their ballots were clinging to a romantic past that no longer exists. She referenced “Field of Dreams” without specifically mentioning the James Earl Jones speech on what baseball has meant to so many of us.
She’s absolutely right about that. That said, if I still had a vote, there would have been 135 of us hearing that speech in our heads while casting our ballots.
Baseball does have a character clause on its ballot — unlike, for example, the NFL. If MLB and the Baseball Hall of Fame wanted to remove that clause, they could, but they choose not to do so, for good reason. A Hall of Fame should be about more than numbers; it should be about what a player — or manager or owner or commissioner — meant to the history of the game.
There are those who will point out that there are already plenty of scoundrels in the Hall of Fame. They will note that Bud Selig, who spent years ignoring steroids as commissioner, is there, too. They aren’t wrong, but that doesn’t mean we just give up and say, “Heck with the character clause; show me the numbers.”
There’s also the argument that Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before they took steroids. Except they did take steroids. It’s like arguing that someone who started robbing banks at the age of 40 should be allowed to go free because he was a wonderful human being before that.
Years ago, I had an argument on this subject with ESPN’s Buster Olney, whose work I greatly respect. Buster said: “I can’t ignore the numbers. It’s not my job to make judgments that go beyond the numbers.”
My answer: It is exactly your job to do that. If not, Hall of Fame ballots should be handed out in ballparks with players’ stats on them. Then let all fans vote, just like for the All-Star Game. Hall of Fame voters are required to have covered the game for at least 10 consecutive years. Presumably, they know things about the game and its players that go beyond numbers. I voted for Steve Garvey on several occasions because, even though his regular season hitting stats were (at best) borderline, he was a Gold Glove first baseman, a great postseason player and a leader in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. I saw it firsthand. Fans looking at numbers didn’t have that opportunity.
Bonds claimed years ago that he was accused of using steroids by media members who didn’t like him. Oh, please. I liked Clemens, but he’s as guilty as Bonds. McGwire and Sosa were romanticized in books after the summer of 1998, but that doesn’t matter, either.
Almost no one in the media, on the other hand, liked Eddie Murray, who was consistently disdainful of those wearing press credentials. He got into the Hall the first year he was eligible. Most voters realized that if the worst thing he could be accused of was not liking the media, he had to be voted in based, yes, on his numbers — as well as the fact that everyone who played with him said he was a clubhouse leader and mentor to younger players.
A Hall of Fame — in any sport — is supposed to be about what is good in that game. It goes beyond numbers. If you insist that Bonds and Clemens should be included because of their performance, fine. Then the Hall should create a “Steroids Wing” and recognize those with stunning statistics who we know used steroids, even if they never tested positive.
Are many of us who oppose the inclusion of men such as Bonds and Clemens in the Hall of Fame hopeless romantics who still cry during the final scene of “Field of Dreams”? Absolutely.
But the steroid cheats damaged the game. Here’s the bottom line question: Whom should baseball honor as its all-time home run hitter: Bonds or Henry Aaron?