To paraphrase late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when dealing with a famous case on what constituted the obscene: When it comes to what’s a Baseball Hall of Famer, I know it when I see it. I know that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens belong in the Hall of Fame.
Bonds and Clemens deserve entree into Cooperstown, and they’re going to get in. It’s probably just going to be in their 10th and final seasons of eligibility. That wait will be their performance-enhancing drug penance. This was Year 8 for both. Clemens garnered 61 percent of the vote, a minor uptick from the 59.5 percent he got in 2019. Bonds crept up from 59.1 percent to 60.7.
There is a sentimentality factor, a human element, that figures into the voting. Colorado Rockies star and Coors Field creation Larry Walker was elected this year in his 10th and final year of eligibility, joining Derek Jeter in the class of 2020.
In 2015, Walker got 11.8 percent of the vote. Two years ago, he was on only 34.1 percent of the ballots. He jumped from 54.6 in 2019 to 76.6 this year to cross the 75 percent threshold needed for election. Did time render him a better player? Was more evidence of his Hall worthiness uncovered? Nope.
At this point, it’s just silly and sanctimonious that Bonds and Clemens aren’t in the Hall. I for one don’t want to go to a Hall of Fame that has Craig Biggio and Walker enshrined but omits Bonds and Clemens.
Giving them their rightful place among the game’s greats is not the same as condoning or absolving any cheating. If the Houston Astros aren’t going to be stripped of their 2017 World Series title for impermissible sign-stealing, then why are we still barring Bonds and Clemens, who played during an era when PED use was rampant, from Cooperstown?
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood tweeted that he “would rather face a player on steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.”
Clemens ranks third all time in Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement for pitchers at 138.7, trailing only Cy Young and Walter Johnson. Every pitcher in Clemens’s similarity scores on Baseball-Reference is in the Hall of Fame.
Bonds ranks fourth all time in bWAR (162.8), trailing only Babe Ruth among position players. He was a 400 home run, 400 stolen base player with three MVP awards before the book “Game of Shadows” established the accepted timeline of his PED use, starting in 1999.
There’s no question their numbers were inflated by PED use, proven in Bonds’s case and strongly alleged and universally suspected in the case of Clemens. Bonds’s record-breaking 73-home run season is a baseball abomination. His ownership of the career home run mark (762) is a gross PED perversion of a sacred mark. Clemens won two of his seven Cy Young Awards after his 39th birthday. It’s the baseball equivalent of 56-year-old Brad Pitt still magically looking like he’s 35.
But the careers Bonds and Clemens forged can’t be completely negated either. You can’t undo history. It happened. These were two of the greatest players of their generation before there was any whiff of PED suspicion during MLB’s lawless epoch of better baseball through chemistry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They’re products of their era, and it would be an error to omit them from the Hall.
■ It’s sad, but not surprising, that Dustin Pedroia has endured another setback with his balky left knee. After playing just nine games the last two seasons trying to return from microfracture knee surgery, it feels like the lights have gone out for the Laser Show. The diminutive second baseman was a sublime defender who punched above his weight at the plate. But Terry Francona’s old cribbage partner is not a Hall of Famer. Sorry. He belongs in the Hall of Very Good.
Pedey was victimized by his relentless style of play and a questionable slide by Manny Machado. After 2011, he had one season with an OPS above .800. If personality and dedication were criteria in Hall voting, Pedroia would be a shoo-in.
■ Time is running out for the Sox if they want to deal Mookie Betts and attach the contract of David Price or Nathan Eovaldi as the hefty tariff, as reported by ESPN. Another potential trade destination appears to be off the board after the Atlanta Braves signed free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.
This is what the Sox are up against. They want a team to give up premium prospects to rent Betts at a cost of $27 million and take on the remaining money of the albatross contracts of either Price (three years, $96 million) or Eovaldi (three years, $51 million). Betts is a transcendent talent, but, when weighing the acquisition cost, taking the route the Braves did is a no-brainer.
Making such a trade is only going to get harder. If teams aren’t willing to pay that freight for a full season of Betts, why would they be willing to do it in June or July? Most clubs like to give their teams the first two months of the season to gauge how offseason plans panned out before making major alterations. The clock is ticking for the Sox.
■ The real reason Major League Baseball refrained from punishing the players at the heart of the Houston Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal was that it couldn’t. The Wall Street Journal first reported that MLB and the Players Association struck an agreement granting players immunity in exchange for their cooperation, an agreement that MLB kept secret until now.
Ironically, the whole point of the investigation into electronic sign-stealing was to restore credibility, confidence, and integrity to baseball. But the report outlining MLB’s efforts to do so contained a glaring lie of omission and a spurious justification for the lack of player discipline in a scandal commissioner Rob Manfred identified as “player-driven and player-executed” save for then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora.
Manfred wrote, “Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical.
It is difficult because virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable, or their relative degree of culpability.”
It turns out that was baseball bunk. MLB had pardoned the players completely in an investigation that had wide-ranging fallout, including Cora losing his job as Sox manager.
MLB’s failure to acknowledge that it provided the players amnesty shakes the faith in its presentation of the facts. If Manfred and MLB omitted the quite germane fact it gave players immunity, then what else did they conveniently elide? Manfred had an obligation to be truthful and transparent with the baseball public about the reasons for no player punishment.
■ MLB is prepared to use a camera system to measure balls and strikes in nine spring training games, according to ESPN.
However, the test will not replace traditional, old-fashioned, faulty human umpiring. It will just run in the background, like an app on your phone.
Too bad. Bring on automated umpiring. It’s time. We have the technology.