Voting for Roger Clemens but not Barry Bonds — or vice-versa — remains perplexing

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Looking at the downballot Hall of Fame results from last night reveals that one of the oddest bits of voter behavior continues for the sixth straight year: voting for Roger Clemens and not voting for Barry Bonds, and vice-versa.

Clemens received four more votes than Bonds did. I am aware that some voters — such as Peter Gammons — voted for Bonds but not Clemens, so there are more than just four guys making a distinction between the two. However it nets out, there are a handful of voters who do think there is some relevant difference between the Hall of Fame cases of Bonds and The Rocket.

I continue, however, to have no earthly idea of how such a distinction makes any logical sense.

As I and many others have argued time and again, purely on the baseball merits, both Clemens and Bonds are among the greatest of all time and, absent the non-baseball merits (discussed below) they’d each be first-ballot inductees. They would not be mere inner circle Hall of Famers, either. They’d be sitting on leather lounge chairs at the middle of that inner circle, with lesser inner circle inductees asking if they needed their drinks refreshed from time to time. They’re such locks, again on the basic baseball merits, that it’s ludicrous to even set forth the statistical cases in the service of making a distinction. They’re so far past the line that the line can only be viewed with the Hubble space telescope. So, no, these voters cannot be making the distinction solely on baseball terms. If they are, they’ve got a screw loose.

Bonds and Clemens are not being kept out of the Hall on purely baseball terms, of course. They’re being kept out based on their PED rap sheet. Their respective rap sheets, however, do not provide that much better of a basis for distinction.

Both Bonds and Clemens have had credible PED accusations lodged against them. Entire books were written about them in which their drug use was detailed. Yes, Bonds has denied knowingly taking PEDs and yes Clemens continues to deny taking PEDs of any kind, but even a staunch defender of PED users like me has to stretch the bounds of reality to make a straight-faced claim that either of these dudes were clean. For my part, I have the benefit of not really caring about their drug use when it comes to the Hall of Fame. For those who do care about it, how they see a clear difference on this topic is a mystery to me. The vast weight of the public evidence against the two strongly suggests that they used PEDs for a portion of their career, and both players are recognized as guys who, even if they never took PEDs, would have been Hall of Famers anyway.

In the past, some voters who voted for one and not the other have said they see a difference, though. Some say “Clemens denies and Bonds only sorta denies, so I can vote for Clemens.” Is that really a standard, though? Since when do we take self-interested denials at face value when there is other information available? Others have pointed out the legal proceedings against the two, noting that Clemens was acquitted at trial and Bonds was convicted, only to have his conviction overturned after a lengthy appeal. Again, I’m not sure how that is compelling given all we know about those proceedings (they were a farce) and how divorced from the actual facts surrounding their drug use they actually were (they were both based on very narrow, cherry-picked statements made under oath, not full-fledged referendums on their drug use). It just doesn’t wash.

If the baseball merits and the drug use doesn’t provide us with a reasonable amount of daylight, what else might?

Bonds was prickly to the press when he played and didn’t get along with some of his teammates. Clemens, while never an easy customer to deal with, was reportedly more accommodating to the media, but he had his fair share of run-ins with other players as well and was not widely liked. Bonds was credibly accused of domestic violence. Clemens was revealed to have what was, at best, an extraordinarily problematic relationship with a young country singer. Not all voters consider such things in Hall of Fame voting, but for those who do, I’m not sure where significant daylight can be found between the two, even if such things are deemed disqualifying in and of themselves. Neither of these two make the Character Hall of Fame.

Finally, there are the petty and irrational considerations. Maybe a voter just does not like one of those guys and likes the other. Maybe there’s a racial component. Maybe it’s something super personal. I have no idea, but such factors are, by definition, unreasonable, right? They are not the stuff that can properly justify one’s Hall of Fame choices, are they?

All of that leaves us where we began: with little to reasonably distinguish Bonds and Clemens as candidates.

If you are a voter who takes PEDs seriously in your voting, it makes perfect sense to leave both Bonds and Clemens off of your ballot. If you are a voter who does not take PEDs as seriously or who attempts to calculate which PED users would have or would not have been Hall of Fame-worthy if they did not use, reason would still seem to compel you to vote for Both Bonds and Clemens. How any voter can say yes to one and no to the other, though, remains utterly mysterious to me.

Got any ideas?