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.


  1. Boy did you miss the point in all this...whether or not he had the numbers to be in the hall, isn't what is in question here. That is being the bottomline of did he use steroids and other drugs and the answer to that is yes. So what if he wasn't using until Mark hit te 63 homers,he stil used them to keep his performance up and that is wrong on all levels. Drug use of this type should not be rewarded and going into the hall is a reward not a right. Bonds sucks his father is rolling over in hiis grave and the only thing good about that is he wasn't alive to listen and read all the stuff about his son. My only question is why did he do it besides he was afraid that Mcquire and Sosa were having bigger games and seasons then he until he started using the steroids and HGH....

  2. Couple of points. Never said PED use was okay. I said strike Bonds' totals from when we assume he used PED's. I'm strictly judging Bonds/Clemens as knowingly clean users. And you can't tell me that from Bonds' 1st 12 years, he's not a HOF.

    Go back and look at Bonds' 1998 and 1999 stats that I linked up. Bonds wasn't in decline and had no need to keep his performance up. He was an All-Star in 1998. So that logic goes out the window. Like I said, he took PED's out of jealousy, not because he was sucking like Clemens, McGwire and others. He told this to Ken Griffey Jr. as Game of Shadows reported.

    It's safe to assume Bonds had some insecurities like most folks who have famous relatives or deal with the pressures of fame. But to suggest he did it cause he was declining when he was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 1998 is just stupid.

  3. I think this is a solid argument. Bonds WAS a Hall of Fame player. If you don't admit him because of PED use, all you're doing is proving his flawed logic. In Bonds' mind, no one cared about how great he was pre-PEDs. To deny him entry into the Hall of Fame because of PED is to essentially say, "sorry, you were never good enough to be HOF", which is simply not true, and quite frankly, a bit hypocritical. Let's be real here, PED's aren't the reason everyone wants to deny Bonds entry into the HOF. It really feels as if there's a vendetta against him because even after he became Bonds the HR machine, he never pandered to the media or smiled and waved his hat at our cheering adoration like McGwire and Sosa did. Bonds EXPECTED people to be his fans because in his mind, he was REAL talent, and not just a juiced up slugger. Truth be told, Bonds was a bit of a jerk. But he was also an extremely talented player who lived up to his potential pre-PEDs. Denying him entry because of his later choices seems unfair.