There was never a chance that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were going to be elected to the Hall of Fame today. Their performance enhancing drug associations too strong, their infamy too great to sway a great many voters. But they did see significant improvement in the vote totals this year, suggesting that their path to Cooperstown — once considered impassable — has gotten somewhat easier.
Bonds received 44.3% of the vote. Clemens: 45.2% Compare that to Bonds’ 36.8% and Clemens’ 37.5% a year ago. A nice little jump for them, but still a long way to go for the required 75%.
Why did they see the uptick? A couple of reasons. The largest is likely the Hall of Fame culling its voter rolls, removing roughly 130 voters who had not covered baseball in the past 10 years. It is thought that the older and the more out-of-touch a Hall of Fame voter was, the less likely they were to vote for players with PED associations, and with many of them gone, players like Bonds and Clemens were sure to benefit. The benefit was modest, but real. In the past three years on the ballot Bonds’ totals has stayed static, between 34-36%. Clemens: in the 35-37% range. Going up 7-8 percentage points is a pretty big deal for these two.
Another reason: changing minds. As we have been arguing ever since Bonds and Clemens first appeared on the ballot in the fall of 2012, PEDs or not, both are worthy of Cooperstown. As time has gone on, voters have very slowly begun to come around to our way of looking at things, including influential voters such as Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman, each of whom have changed their voting habits with respect to Bonds and/or Clemens recently. Over time PED moralizing has become less popular and, over time, the case for Bonds and Clemens has thus become more compelling.
Not compelling enough. At least not yet. They still have yet to reach the magical 50% threshold, which has ensured eventual election for everyone except Gil Hodges, Jack Morris and, so far, Lee Smith. There’s no escaping the fact that Bonds and Clemens each have a long way to go.
But, as of today, they don’t have anywhere as near as far as they had to go before.