Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have yet to break 50% in the Hall of Fame vote in their four years on the ballot. In this, their fifth year, however, they are likely to see their vote totals go up substantially. That’s if the public ballots compiled by Ryan Thibodaux are any indication.
To be sure, Thibodaux does not project or predict who will or won’t be inducted. He merely keeps a tally of support on ballots which are released by the voters. Historically, the public ballots show support for candidates at higher rates than that which is ultimately reflected in the final vote tally. Still, one can compare the preliminary support Bonds and Clemens have received over the years and current support and surmise that each will gain substantially this year. Jeff Passan, based on Thibodaux’s data, believes both will rocket over 50% this year and, maybe not this near and maybe not next, but soon, will be inducted to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
I think he’s right about that. I’m not sure I agree 100% on the reason given, however. The given reason: the Bud Selig effect.
The Bud Selig effect is the idea that since Selig was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Committee, what basis is there for keeping Bonds and Clemens out? The latter may have used PEDs to elevate their games, but the former turned a blind eye to and, along with the rest of baseball’s establishment, reaped the rewards of PEDs. If the man who did nothing about steroids in baseball until forced to by bad p.r. is in the Hall of Fame, why should the players be barred? The Bud Selig effect holds that Hall of Fame voters have been asking themselves that question for the past two weeks and, finding no suitable answer for it, have been changing their votes against Bonds and Clemens into votes in their favor.
It’s an appealing line of reasoning. It has been evidenced by a lot of voters saying as much on Twitter or in columns in the past two weeks. And, as I have argued ad nauseam, Bonds and Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame in their own right. But it also seems a bit too pat for me.
Was it hard to predict, a year ago, that Selig would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame? Two years ago? More to the point, was it ever, in the past decade, hard to see how a double standard with respect to Selig on the one hand and players on the other existed when it came to PEDs and their stain on the game? Of course not. It was always clear that Selig held his own share of responsibilities for PEDs in the game and that the game was always, always going to revere him all the same. I’m not sure why the vote of the Today’s Game Committee, which was inevitable from the moment Selig announced his retirement, changed any of that.
While it’s possible that some Hall of Fame voters were truly shocked by Selig’s election and that, as a result, they have been spontaneously compelled to change their votes on Clemens and Bonds, I suspect that something else is going on. I suspect that, while four or five years ago there was a genuinely-felt need on the part of many voters to keep PED users out of the Hall of Fame, the passage of time has made that stance seem pretty empty. I imagine there are a number of voters who have watched Bonds, Clemens, Mark McGwire and others welcomed by their former big league clubs in their retirement. Who have seen them take jobs in Major League Baseball. Who have watched them still be embraced by fans. All of that has happened, no one has died and baseball has chugged on just fine despite their having taken drugs while they played.
As a result of all of this, I think a lot of voters have lost their once powerful anti-PED fervor of a few years back. I think they have come to accept that it seems silly now to treat these men as pariahs when, in reality, they were merely men of their era, just as amphetamine users, spitballers and those who played in a segregated environment were men of their eras. Maybe you give them a bit of a discount for their actions, but even at clearance sale prices, Bonds and Clemens are Hall of Famers.
Yet I also believe that, despite their gradual realization that neither Bonds nor Clemens was the Antichrist, they needed an excuse to change their vote. And with Selig’s election, they got one.
It’s hard to convince someone to change their mind about anything, but when it’s a position imbued with moral convictions — when it’s a position for which one has argued passionately over the years and for which one has taken a good deal of crticism — it’s harder still. It’s a lot easier to change one’s mind due to the facts on the ground changing than it is to admit one was wrong in the first place. I believe that a good many voters came to realize that the anti-PED stance when it comes to the Hall of Fame was less compelling than they first thought a good while ago, but were loathe to change their mind without the cover of some changing facts on the ground to which they could point. They now point to Selig’s election and have the cover to do so.
In effect, this is of no real consequence. If the patterns hold and if Bonds and Clemens are inducted in the coming years, the right result will have been reached and, ultimately, that’s all that matters. But I am still loathe to nod along with the idea that putting them in the Hall of Fame was made possible only by some shocking act of hypocrisy on the part of the Hall of Fame or the Today’s Game committee. I am loathe to accept a framing that goes “well, since they are willing to drop the standards for Cooperstown we voters have no choice but to do so too.” I think that lets voters off the hook for their mishandling of PED associated and PED suspected candidates of the past several years.
More importantly, I think it would be better for our understanding of baseball and baseball history to treat Bonds and Clemens being inducted one day to be an act of historical appreciation, just like any other player’s induction is, as opposed to one of procedural spite.