Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Why Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer (and Roger Clemens is not easily one)
I've long said that I would vote for Barry Bonds into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Now that he's on the ballot, it's about to be time to see if he, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and others did enough to prove they were HOF worthy minus the stain of steroids.
First a disclaimer. My policy on steroids has been that I don't support it and that the discussion on it was always way too simple. I never believed roids or PED's improved natural gifts but they enhanced muscle recovery and improved power. They couldn't help bat speed, hand-eye coordination, IQ or anything else that comes from hard work.
At the same time, the moral hand-wringing over steroids is funny because baseball has long benefited from some type of cheating or advantage. Whether it be banning Black and Latino players until 1947, using greenies or amphetamines to get through the drain of a long season, stealing signs, spitballs and other tricks of the trade, the game has never been pure. It was pure because of storytelling and mythmaking and a slew of other factors. But it was never 100% clean and wholesome.
That said, here's why my vote goes to Barry Bonds. He was already a Hall of Famer before he allegedly started taking steroids. Here's the breakdown that I've believed in for a few years.
"Game of Shadows" alleged Bonds starting taking steroids in 1999. Here are his stats leading up to that season. A few highlights: 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases, 403 doubles, 3 MVP awards and 8 Gold Gloves. For good measure, let's thrown in Bonds' 1999 season since his numbers weren't all that. That increases the totals I mentioned to 445 home runs, 460 stolen bases, 423 doubles.
At age 34, it's conceivable to assume that Bonds would've gotten close to the 500 HR/500 SB club on his own power and if he didn't get 500 stolen bases, he would've gotten 500 home runs. Assumptions aside, let's strip away all of Bonds' totals from 2000-2007.
He was already the charter member of the 400 HR/400SB club. The Sporting News ranked him No. 34 in their 100 Greatest Players of all time in 1999 - based on stats through 1997. He and Ken Griffey Jr. were the best players of the 1990's and as much as I love Junior, Bonds was a better hitter for average.
The first 12 years of Bonds' career says that he was on his way to a Hall of Fame plaque. He used steroids out of jealousy towards Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting more attention and knowing they weren't legit. He didn't cheat because he was inferior, he did it because he felt unappreciated and wanted to show everybody who the best player was.
Flawed logic or not, it's made me a vocal supporter that Bonds should be a Hall of Famer. Prove to me that he wasn't an all-time great without the PED's and I'll ask you to re-read that evidence I just showed you.
Now Roger Clemens is a lot trickier. He has the same clean sample as Bonds - 12 years - and was named heavily in the Mitchell Report as using PED's in Toronto, New York and Houston. Unlike Bonds, Clemens' career was heading downward at age 34 before 1997 started.
Here's his stats through 1996. He has 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP after one of the best pitching seasons of the decade, 192 wins, 2,590 strikeouts, 2 games of striking out 20 batters. Let's break down his pre-steroid career a bit.
1984-86: Struggling young pitcher
1986-1992: In the conversation as the best American League pitcher where he did most of his work.
1993-1996: Struggling pitcher. No All-Star appearances. 40-39 with a 3.77 ERA. Shipped out of Boston because he was over the hill.
You can say that because Clemens had 3 Cy Youngs he warranted HOF consideration. But chances are if he kept deteriorating, he would've maybe been Jack Morris or Curt Schilling minus the playoff heroics. He'd get close to 300 wins. Had he pitched 3-4 years, you'd probably would've needed to be reminded of what he did from 86-92 (sort of like Mark McGwire before he roided up).
That's why I don't cast my vote for Clemens so confidently. He saved his career with steroids, not just prolonged it. I don't believe he'd be a slam-dunk HOFer like Bonds was. He's the pitching version of McGwire and became even more legendary after steroids. But since he's not one-dimensional as McGwire, he's still a Hall of Famer by virtue of those Cy Youngs. Just not in the same class as his peers Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine or Pedro Martinez.
I might take a chance writing on some other guys soon. But I've been waiting to speak on Bonds/Clemens for years. The whole steroids era is weird because I grew up in it yet I don't believe in punishing guys strictly for cheating. My rule is simple. Were you a great without them? How much did they clearly impact your career?
Barry Bonds deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens might go in there but I have no problem leaving him out.