Last week, the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealed 2018 voting results. Four players will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, each of them reaching 75% of the vote, which is the threshold needed to get in: former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (97.2%), Anaheim Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero (92.9%), first baseman Jim Thome (89.8%), who spent most of his career with the Cleveland Indians, and San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman (79.9%).
For the sixth consecutive year, two of the greatest players in MLB history, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, fell well short of the 75% marker (56.4% and 57.3%, respectively), due in large part to their suspected use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
The MLB dodged the issue of PED use for years. Though steroids became a banned substance in 1991, drug testing for players didn’t begin until 2003, raising many questions about why the MLB turned a blind eye to cheating in its sport for so long.
Buster Olney, a longtime ESPN baseball writer and one of the 422 voters for the Hall of Fame, has voted for both Bonds and Clemens for the last six years. Olney wrote on his blog, “any drug use came in the context of a time when the institution of baseball effectively condoned the use of PEDs with inaction.”
By the mid-late 2000s, when Bonds and Clemens were at the tail end of their careers, the MLB finally began taking the issue of PED use seriously. In 2006, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig asked former Senator George Mitchell to launch an investigation into the use of steroids in baseball. In December 2007, after both Bonds and Clemens had retired, the 409-page Mitchell Report was released to the public. Mitchell had listed 89 players in the report, including Bonds and Clemens, who had both been long suspected of steroid use.
What the Mitchell Report, as well as subsequent investigations into clinics providing steroids illegally, revealed was the degree to which steroids had infested the game of baseball.
The Steroid Era, which references the 1990s and early 2000s, cannot be erased from MLB history. It was an exciting time for the average baseball fan, and produced dozens of superstar athletes, such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, that became role models for many.
Bonds, who spent most of his career with the San Francisco Giants, broke Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007, retiring after the season with 762 long balls, a record that still stands to this day. Not only did Bonds hit for power, but he was also consistent at the plate, finishing his career with an impressive .298 batting average. He is also in third place on the all-time list in both RBIs (1,996) and runs scored (2,227).
Roger Clemens, meanwhile, was a stellar pitcher, spending most of his playing days with both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Clemens’ 354 wins are ninth on the all-time list, his 4,672 strikeouts are the third best in league history and his durability is impressive as well, coming in at seventh all-time in games started (707).
Bonds and Clemens, had it not been for their suspected steroid use, would have probably received between 95% and 100% of the vote on their first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, given their legendary status. Even outside of the legends and hall of famers, hundreds of former players have admitted to using PEDs. Some of them, including Andy Pettitte and Jose Canseco, were exciting to watch, and would have likely been Hall of Famers had they played the game clean. Others were below average players who wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame either way. But none of them were at the same level as Bonds and Clemens, who were viewed as the two greatest players during the Steroid Era.
The MLB can continue down the path of denying those suspected of PED use entry into the Hall of Fame. But to do so would be attempting to erase a decades-long, MLB-condoned era in league history, which isn’t realistic. As Barry Svrluga so eloquently pointed out in the Washington Post, “a Hall of Fame without either of those two (Bonds and Clemens) is a Hall of Fame that doesn’t tell the full story of the game. The Steroid Era, that’s part of it. Maybe that’s too bad. But it’s the truth. Why shouldn’t Cooperstown include all of it?”
Bonds and Clemens’ inductions into the Hall of Fame are long overdue.