Authors on the verge of a Hall of Fame ban by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens


At 5pm Tuesday afternoon, 10 years of hand-wringing, hedging and holier-than-dew declarations will culminate. Two of baseball’s greatest players are likely to be denied entry to the sport’s most sacred sites. The debate as to whether they will ever attain it will never end.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will not be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame when the results are announced on the MLB Network unless there is a stunning reversal of a nine-year trend. A second year in a row without a BBWAA-elected Hall of Famer is feasible.

Candidates receive 10-year eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have exhausted it. Their fate will fall to the Hall of Fame’s Era Committees, a panel of reporters, former executives, gamers and front-office officials tasked with solving a mystery the BBWAA has struggled over for 10 years.

Bonds has the most home runs in baseball history. No modern starting pitcher is more decorated than Clemens, the near-lifetime Texan who spent three seasons with the Astros.

According to the Baseball Reference, Bonds was worth 162.7 wins over substitutes. Only Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Cy Young were worth more. Among pitchers, only Johnson and Young have been worth more than Clemens’ 139.2 bWAR in baseball history.

Speculation about steroids overshadows all of this, throwing an unmistakable smear on two faces of the game’s generations for much of the voters of the Hall of Fame, a collection of more than 400 baseball authors with sweeping theories and thoughts on the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs.

Neither Clemens nor Bonds have gotten more than 61 percent on the ballot in the past nine years. Seventy-five percent of the votes are required for election. As of Friday afternoon, Hall of Fame tracker Ryan Thibodaux had received 175 ballots from voters. Bonds appeared on 136 — 77.7 percent. Clemens received 134 votes for 76.6 percent.

Thibodaux estimated 392 ballots will be cast, so more than half are missing from his tracker. The fact that Clemens and Bonds each only won three new votes from the 175 publicly available ballot papers in the Thibodaux tracker does not bode well.

Although both are currently above 75 percent in public elections, the numbers are a mirage. Last year, for example, Bonds was 73.7 percent and Clemens was 73.2 percent in the ballot tracker. After the full results were announced, neither eclipsed 62 percent of the overall vote.

Both Bonds and Clemens were named in the Mitchell report. Each denied ever taking any performance-enhancing drugs at a time when it seemed like everyone else was doing it. Major League Baseball instituted its joint drug prevention and treatment program in 2006.

Bonds and Clemens both ended their careers in 2007 without a suspension or proven positive test from Major League Baseball. Bonds body transformation informs some voters Both he and Clemens were charged with perjury for lying under oath about steroid use. Clemens was acquitted. The perjury charge against Bonds was dropped and a conviction for obstruction of justice was overturned.

come up short

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are on their senior year ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame and are likely to fall short again. A look at how support has grown for both, but likely won’t reach the required 75 percent.

Year Barry Bonds Roger Clemens

votes/percent votes/percent

2013 206/36.2 pct. 214/37.6 percent.

2014 198/34.7 percent. 202/35.4 percent.

2015 202/36.8 percent. 206/37.5 percent.

2016 195/44.3 percent. 199/45.2 percent.

2017 238/53.8 percent. 239/54.1 percent.

2018 238/56.4 percent. 242/57.3 percent.

2019 251/59.1 percent. 253/59.5 percent.

2020 241/60.7 percent. 242/61.0 percent.

2021 248/61.8 percent. 247/61.6 percent.


The lack of a rigorous testing and punishment policy during Bonds and Clemens’ heyday still leaves unanswered questions and forcing voters to form their own opinions about the legitimacy of their legacy. Some accept the proliferation of PEDs in this era, assume that Cooperstown already had players who used steroids, and judge Bonds and Clemens for their on-field exploits.

Others take a tougher approach. 14 voters cast a blank ballot last year, more than in any election in history. Thibodaux’s pursuer has four blank ballots this year, one that could show a more concrete direction for voters thanks to two first-time candidates.

David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez represent the stark difference some voters are looking for. Rodriguez is a proven steroid abuser. Speculation abounds about Ortiz’s colorful career, but there has never been any proof.

In 2009, Rodriguez admitted to using steroids with the Texas Rangers in the early 2000s. Major League Baseball subsequently suspended Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.

Rodriguez’s admission and suspension should diminish his chances, perhaps even more than Bonds and Clemens. Manny Ramirez’s candidacy offers a perfect parallel. Ramirez’s Hall of Fame credentials are compelling. He made 12 All-Star teams and won nine Silver Sluggers with a career OPS of .996. Ramirez’s 69.3 career bWAR is higher than Hall of Famer outfielders Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield.

Ramirez also served two suspensions after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He has never gotten more than 28.2 percent on the ballot in the past five years. Ramirez received 66 votes in Thibodaux’s tracker — 37.7 percent of the 175 ballots revealed. Rodriguez has 71 votes and 40.6 percent. Both men are mathematically eliminated from the competition this year.

Ortiz was never suspended for testing positive. The New York Times reported that he tested positive in 2003 as part of an anonymous sport-wide screening process. Ortiz vehemently denied any wrongdoing. At no point in his 20-year career has he failed a drug test. In 2016, Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed false positives within the group of anonymous tests that reportedly included Ortiz.

“Even if your name was on that (anonymous) list,” Manfred told reporters in 2016, “it’s entirely possible that you weren’t positive.

“I don’t think anyone understands very well what that list was.”

More voters may be hesitant about Ortiz’s position. The election of Frank Thomas in 2014 paved the way for designated hitters in Cooperstown. Edgar Martinez promoted it in 2019 after surviving the 10 years required for his election.

Both Thomas (73.8) and Martinez (68.4) were worth more wins over substitutes during their careers than Ortiz’s 55.3. Ortiz has postseason prowess — .947 OPS in 85 games and the 2013 World Series MVP — and an oversized personality in a massive media market. Neither Thomas nor Martinez can claim that.

Ortiz leads all votes after 175 public votes cast. He received 147 votes and, according to Thibodaux’s calculations, needs another 147 for introduction. If Ortiz is not elected Tuesday, his poll obviously bodes well for future elections.

Rodriguez faces a more daunting rise. Bonds received 36.2 percent of the vote in his first election year. Clemens came up with 37.6 percent. None climbed over 61 percent.

Rodriguez’s re-emergence as a television personality on Fox and ESPN could be part of a ploy to cater to a newer generation. BBWAA members must serve 10 years with the organization before being elected to the Hall of Fame.

Generalizations are dangerous, but the wave of younger voters — many of whom grew up in the steroid era, accepting its prevalence and knowing nothing else — might be more amenable to the era’s biggest players. Twenty-six first-time voters have publicly announced their ballots in 2021 and 2022. Twenty-two of them voted for both Bonds and Clemens. Eight of the 13 publicly known first-time voters in 2022 voted for Rodriguez.

The trend could favor Rodriguez. It’s too late for Bonds and Clemens, but both could run again in 2022. The Today’s Era Committee will meet at the winter 2022 meetings to vote on the members of the Hall of Fame class of 2023.

Harold Baines and Lee Smith were chosen by the 2019 Era Committee from the 10-strong Today’s Era vote. Lou Piniella missed by one vote. Others not chosen included hitters Albert Belle and Joe Carter, managers Charlie Manuel and Davey Johnson, and — perhaps most notably — longtime New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Whether Bonds and Clemens will be in the next Today’s Era election is a mystery. If this is the case, the 16-strong committee must grapple with a dilemma that refuses to die.

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