Barry Bonds

It’s lunacy to keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame

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There are 37 players on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. And, over the coming weeks, we will consider all of their candidacies in turn.  But there are two players making their debut on the ballot who tower above all of the others, and nothing useful can be said about the Hall of Fame class of 2013 without first considering those two. So let’s talk about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Bonds and Clemens are two players who, in a just world, would be unanimous selections for induction but who, for reasons discussed earlier today, will almost certainly not make the Hall.  Let’s first walk through their obvious baseball qualifications for the Hall — and bear with me, because I will assume in this first part that the performance enhancing drug issues don’t exist — and then deal with those pesky objections so many have to their candidacy.

The Baseball Bonafides

While it’s always hard to compare players between eras, it is not hyperbole to say that Bonds and Clemens would be finalists in a contest to name the greatest hitter and the greatest pitcher who ever lived. We all think we know how great they were because their careers just wound up five years ago, but even the most dedicated baseball fan can be shocked to take a look back over their stat sheets to see just how thoroughly they dominated their era.

I won’t go into hardcore statistics with you, but let’s just see where Barry Bonds resides on the leader board in various categories:

  • He’s the all-time home run king;
  • He’s the all-time walk king and the all-time intentional walk king
  • Third all-time in runs scored;
  • Third all-time in wins above replacement (WAR);
  • Sixth all-time in on-base percentage;
  • Sixth all-time in slugging percentage;
  • Fourth all-time in OPS (on-base plus slugging) and Third all-time in adjusted OPS (which weights for era and ballpark);
  • Second all-time in extra base hits;
  • Fourth all-time in total bases;
  • Fourth all-time in RBI;
  • Second all-time in total times on base; and
  • He’s the single-season record holder for home runs and base-on-balls (actually he holds the top three seasons in base-on-balls)

In addition, he has the record for most MVP awards (seven) and probably deserved to win the MVP a couple more times, most notably 1991. And he wasn’t all bat, either. He holds the all-time record for putouts by a left fielder, won eight Gold Gloves and stole 514 bases.

How about Roger Clemens?

  • Third all-time in strikeouts (4,672)
  • Ninth all-time in wins (354), but third among pitchers who didn’t spend the bulk of their career in the deadball era;
  • Sixteenth all-time in innings pitched, but ninth among non-deadballers;
  • Seventh all-time in games started;
  • Third all-time in WAR for pitchers;
  • Tenth all-time in adjusted ERA+ (which is analogous to OPS+ in that it weights for era); and
  • First in several other complex era-adjusting statistics such as runs saved, win probability and the like.

Like Bonds and his MVPs, Clemens has seven Cy Young Awards and arguments for more. He also has one MVP award of his own.

When you look merely at their production and their dominance, the number of hitters better than Barry Bonds and the number of pitchers better than Roger Clemens in all of baseball history can be counted on one hand. Comparing Bonds and Clemens to people like Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Walter Johnson is not just not hyperbole. It’s absolutely necessary, for their like has rarely if ever been seen in the game of baseball.  Put simply, they are immortals.

But their baseball exploits are not the end of the story, obviously.

source:  Bonds, Clemens and Performance Enhancing Drugs

While Clemens and (to some extent ) Bonds continue to either deny or play down their use of PEDs, and while the criminal prosecutions against them were either misguided, unsuccessful or both, it is simply obtuse to believe that they weren’t significant PED users. Bonds’ use was painstakingly documented in the 2007 book “Game of Shadows.” Clemens’ use is far less clear cut, but just because the Justice Department couldn’t convict him of lying about it under oath doesn’t mean that we have to assume he never did it. For our purposes here, let’s make the exceedingly safe assumption that he did.

Bonds and Clemens use of PEDs will, for many, disqualify them from Hall of Fame consideration out of hand.  The reason they won’t get 75% of the vote and induction on this year’s ballot is because far, far more than 25% of the Hall of Fame electorate believes that anyone who used PEDs should not be in the Hall of Fame, full stop. Many if not most fans feel this way too, as do no small amount of current and former major leaguers.

But should this be so? Absolutely not. And to explain why, I will take on the arguments commonly made against their induction one-by-one:

Argument: Bonds and Clemens may have amazing stats, but those stats were bogus due to their PED use.

Response: Sure, to some extent their statistics were inflated. But by how much? When did Bonds start using? When did Clemens start using? If, as is almost universally agreed-upon, it was during the middle-to-late years of their career, how were they so dominant early on as well? Bonds won three MVP awards before the “Game of Shadows” authors believed he began using. Clemens had an MVP, three Cy Young Awards and was generally considered the best pitcher in the game before his chief accuser, former trainer Brian McNamee, claims he began using PEDs. If you stopped their careers the day before they picked up their first syringes, they’d be first-ballot Hall of Famers.

But even taking their whole careers in, it is lunacy to suggest that, inflated or not, Bonds and Clemens weren’t vastly superior to their competition. Hundreds if not thousands of major leaguers took PEDs during the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. Many of them, by the way, were pitchers who faced Bonds and hitters who faced Clemens. But that aside, no one matched Bonds’ and Clemens’ performance. It’s obvious why: the E in PEDs stands for “enhancing,” not “creating,” and thus one cannot ignore the fact that Bonds and Clemens were unique and historic talents who, even if the final tallies on their stat sheets should be somewhat discounted, clearly would have been among the all-time greats without the juice.

Argument: You can’t just discount their stats. Bonds and Clemens cheated, cheating is wrong, and thus they should be excluded.

Response: Cheating is wrong, no question. But Hall of Fame voting is not a rule-enforcement mechanism or a court of law. That’s the job of the Joint Drug Program agreed upon between the league and the union. If someone breaks the drug rules and gets caught and gets punished, it’s up to the league to punish them, not baseball writers who comprise the electorate.

But that little technicality aside, the Hall of Fame has long welcomed cheaters with open arms, and no current rule says that a cheater, be he a drug cheater or otherwise, can’t be allowed in (I’ll get to the issue of character in a minute). Gaylord Perry threw a spitball. Don Sutton and Whitey Ford (and probably almost every other pitcher in history) scuffed or cut balls. Scores of batters corked their bats. The 1951 Giants won the pennant after rigging up an elaborate, electric sign-stealing mechanism. John McGraw, both as a player and a manager, invented and carried out more ways to break rules than anyone in history, ranging from umpire distracting and cutting the corners on bases and tripping or obstructing opposing runners. Ty Cobb sharpened his spikes in an effort to maim opposing players who would dare try to tag him out. While we single out the 1919 White Sox as a unique stain on the game, many players — including Hall of Famers — fixed baseball games prior to the Black Sox scandal.

While many have attempted to argue that using PEDs is different in kind than all of those other examples — examples which are often laughed off as quirky or colorful — the fact is that there are PED users in the Hall of Fame already. Only, instead of steroids, they used amphetamines or “greenies” as they were called. Players who have either admitted to or have been credibly accused of taking such things include Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. And this leaves out all of the drug and/or alcohol users who took things which hindered their performance, which also impacted the competitive nature of the game, albeit adversely to their team’s interests. And it also assumes that there are no steroid users already in the Hall of Fame, which I do not believe is a reasonable assumption.

The common thread here: all of these examples of baseball cheating involved players breaking rules in an effort to gain some sort of edge on the competition. Rule breaking that, in turn, put the competition in the unenviable position of having to decide if they too should break the rules to keep up.

The point here isn’t that two wrongs make a right. The point is that the Hall of Fame has never cared about wrongs in the first place.  Why it should start caring about them now is beyond me.

Argument: The Hall of Fame ballot has a character clause on it, and even if the past cheaters were let in, voters are nonetheless obligated to abide by the character clause now and keep Bonds and Clemens out.

Response:  Yes, the Hall of Fame ballot has a character clause. It reads like this:

“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.”

It should be noted, though, that this clause was not invented to keep bad seeds out. It was invented to let good eggs in, even if they weren’t quite up to Hall of Fame standards otherwise. It was designed to be a bonus, not a detriment. Specifically, as Bill James argued in his seminal book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame,” the clause was written by baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis in an effort to get a player named Eddie Grant inducted into the Hall on the basis of his heroism in World War I (Grant was killed in action in Lorraine, France).  The attempt to get Grant inducted never worked — he just wasn’t a good enough player — but the clause stuck.

It stuck despite the fact that character — like cheating — has never been true criteria for Hall of Fame induction. The Hall is filled with racists, segregationists, cheaters, drug users, criminals both convicted and merely accused, and depending on how you view Tom Yawkey’s treatment of former Red Sox trainer Donald J. Fitzpatrick, an argument can be made that an enabler of sexual abuse has a plaque in Cooperstown as well. Heck, as Joe Posnanski noted a few years ago, way back in the 1930s a guy who murdered his wife and children got a couple of Hall of Fame votes.

But the point here isn’t exactly the same “well, other bad seeds are in the Hall” point mentioned above.  It’s more about how irrelevant the clause is to one’s prowess or fame as a baseball player and, more to the point, how ill-equipped baseball writers are at judging a player’s character.  Indeed, the presence of all of those bad seeds shows how ill-equipped they are. The clause was always there, yet those guys got the votes. It’s possible this was the case because all of the writers accidentally forgot to apply the voting rules. It’s far more likely, however, that the writers, in their wisdom, realized that they were in no position to look into the hearts of men and judge their moral worth.  It’s something that some writers are now starting to realize about the PED crowd.  It’s something they all should do.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, I hope we can all agree that there is no baseball reason whatsoever to keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame. Their baseball accomplishments — both those which can be measured by statistics and those which cannot — are so far beyond sufficient for induction that it’s almost laughable to list them.  To oppose their candidacy, then, one must make a moral or ethical case based on their drug use and the voter’s opinion of their character. And that case will almost certainly be made from a great distance and with imperfect information.

You may feel comfortable doing such a thing.  I do not.  And I believe that any Hall of Fame that does not include two of the best players to ever swing a bat or throw a ball, no matter what their flaws, is an utter joke.

There will be Under Armour logos on the front of baseball uniforms

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Under Armour
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Yesterday’s announcement that Under Armour will be taking over the MLB uniform business brought with it an added bit of news: for the first time, beginning in 2020, baseball uniforms will feature the maker’s logo on the front of the jersey. From Paul Lukas of UniWatch:

While the Majestic logo has appeared on MLB sleeves, the Under Armour logo will be appearing on the upper-right chest area.

Lukas has a bunch of Photoshopped images of MLB players wearing uniforms with UA logos on it to give us a sense of how it will likely look.

It’s certainly weird and in some cases even a bit jarring. It would be my preference not to see baseball uniforms go this route as I think they’re aesthetically pleasing parts of the game in and of themselves. But it’s inevitable. If there is a chance for leagues and sponsors to make money and if it doesn’t cause them to lose fans (i.e. lose money) they will take it. You can say you’ll give up baseball if they put corporate logos — including paid advertisements, not just the logos of the companies which make the gear — but you’re lying to yourself about that. You and I will complain and grumble and then we’ll get used to it. At some point, after a couple of years, we’ll start talking about which ads look better and which ones look worse and applaud particularly savvy and pleasing looking logos.

As I wrote back in April when the NBA approved ads on uniforms, there may even be a bright side to all of this.

Sports teams have had it both ways for a long time. They’ve worked to make a buck off of anything that isn’t nailed down all the while pretending to be something greater than any other business. They play on our nostalgia and our loyalty in order to portray themselves as something akin to a public trust or institution, entitling themselves to perks no other businesses get and the avoidance of regulation. By turning players into walking billboards, perhaps the four major North American sports will inadvertently make some folks realize that they are just businesses and that they aren’t deserving of such special treatment.

I’m not holding my breath about that, but anything that takes away even a bit of the faux public trust luster that sports leagues and teams use to manipulate their fans is a good thing. Maybe it’ll make, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers look less venerable and sharp. But maybe it’ll remind people that they’re just business units of a $10 billion industry, not some fourth branch of government or whatever.

Bud Selig is still, laughably, pleading ignorance about the Steroid Era

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig speaks at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Yesterday I raked Bud Selig and the Hall of Fame over the coals. Selig for his considerable responsibility for the prevalence of performing enhancing drugs in baseball during his tenure and his failure to take responsibility for it, the Hall of Fame for inducting Selig while continuing to bar the door to players who used PEDs.

Later in the day yesterday a remarkable story was written by Jayson Stark of ESPN. It was based on a one-on-one with Selig in which his legacy with respect to steroids was discussed. It was framed by Selig talking about how the students in the baseball in history seminar he teaches at The University of Wisconsin recently grilled him about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs and what could have been done to stop the proliferation of the stuff in the game.

What makes it remarkable is that, until yesterday’s interview, Selig believed that he had done everything he possibly could have done to deal with PEDs. It took Jayson Stark telling him that, maybe, he could’ve done more:

“Now let me ask you a question,” he said. “And I’m being serious. If you had been me then, what would you have done?”

Frankly, I was amazed that he asked . . . So that, I told him, was what I thought he could have done. He was the commissioner. So the one thing he could have done, without needing a bargaining table to do it, was raise this issue, speak about it more, admit to it earlier and bring it to the forefront.

And Selig, as if he had never considered the notion, agreed:

“That’s fair,” Selig replied. “That’s very fair.”

A moment later, he looked me right in the eye again. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I should have said more.”

It’s incredible that a man as honored and lauded as Selig has been — a man who has been praised for his savvy and effectiveness as a leader and, eventually, a negotiator — had never considered using the bully pulpit to deal with what he has claimed to be his most vexing problem as commissioner before yesterday. And when I say “incredible” I do not mean “amazing.” I mean “literally not credible.” As in, I believe he is simply lying when he implies that the thought never occurred to him.

Rather, I believe that he had little if any interest in speaking out about steroids until, years later, he had no choice but to thanks to Jose Canseco and BALCO and all of the rest. Steroids served baseball admirably. They increased offense and made big stars out of marketable men and helped everyone forget that, just a few years before, Selig and his fellow owners drove baseball off a cliff and cancelled a World Series because of it. The men who employed Bud Selig, baseball’s owners, made a lot of money off of that juice and, as such, Bud Selig standing up in, say, 1998 and saying that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were cheaters and that PEDs were a scourge that must be addressed was simply never going to happen. Not because Selig was in the dark or at a loss, but because, as it was with the players who used the drugs, it was in Bud Selig’s own self-interest not to speak.

Selig’s mendacity in that interview yesterday was even more remarkable than that, actually. Indeed, in addition to claiming he had no idea how to act back then, he claimed that, back in 1998, he was totally in the dark about why Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were shattering Roger Maris’ home run record:

“I talked to the Cubs about Sammy,” Selig recalled. “The Cardinals were thrilled with McGwire. It was a big civic celebration.”

And no one on either team mentioned a word, he said, about what was really driving those two men toward the threshold of history. So Selig said he turned to his “baseball people” in the commissioner’s office.

He says he asked, “What’s causing this?” And they reeled off what we would now describe as the usual, everything-but-the-elephant-in-the-room, theories: Expansion. The dilution of pitching. Questions about whether there was something different about the baseball.

“They gave me a whole bunch of reasons,” Selig said. “And I kept asking about steroids.”

Why Selig was asking people about steroid use in 1998 is a mystery, because Selig knew damn well that Mark McGwire was using PEDS as early as 1993, several months after he took over from Fay Vincent and became acting commissioner.

We know this thanks to an interview with former FBI agent Greg Stejskal, who was extensively quoted about his investigations into steroids in the early 1990s. Investigations which revealed Mark McGwire’s drug use dating back to 1989, which Stejskal told Major League Baseball about:

Stejskal said federal authorities, through their undercover operation, learned of McGwire’s steroid usage by 1993. A year later, Stejskal recalled that he shared information from the investigation related to baseball players with Major League Baseball’s then security boss, Kevin Hallinan, though the sport had no drug testing program at the time.

That story was written nearly seven years ago, by the way. No one associated with Major League Baseball has ever explained how the league did not know that McGwire was using PEDs in 1998 as a result. They clearly knew for five years by then. Unless you think that an MLB security chief, when informed of player being caught up in an FBI drug probe, wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.

Despite all of this, Bud Selig is walking around the Winter Meetings this week, getting his attaboys for his Hall of Fame induction and spinning unadulterated bull crap about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs in baseball. He’s gotten away with doing so for so long, so why should he change course now?