Wednesday’s announcement that no players were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame was hardly a surprise. It was expected that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and other suspected users of performance enhancing drugs would initially be left out of Cooperstown.
Many voters have said that they need more time to digest the facts of the Sterioid Era and new information gathered in the coming years could change opinions and vote totals. Some writers simply refuse to vote for any player suspected of PED use, and that’s just wrong.
To ignore an entire era of baseball history is irresponsible. Taking steroids did not make Bonds a Hall of Famer. It is impossible to compare players from different eras statistically. The only way to compare eras is to look at how each player did within his own era. Bonds was so dominant during his peak years that he can be compared only to Babe Ruth. In 1927, Ruth hit more home runs (60) than any other team in the league.
Many members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are standing on a moral soapbox and holding character in the highest regard. While that should not be completely discounted, the Hall is packed with great players of questionable character.
In May of 1912, Ty Cobb ran into the stands and began beating a handicapped fan who was heckling him. Cobb might be the dirtiest and most vicious man ever to don a baseball uniform, but he could hit. A .367 lifetime batting average earned him 98.2% of the votes in 1936, the highest percentage of all time. Ruth finished third in the voting that year at 95.1%. Why wasn’t character a bigger issue then? Because the Hall of Fame is about showcasing baseball’s best. Cobb fit that description in 1936. Bonds fits that description in 2013.
After the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis banned Buck Weaver, along with seven of his teammates, from the game. Weaver batted .324 in the World Series and never helped throw a game, nor did he receive any money for the fix. Weaver was banned for knowing about the fix and not ratting on his teammates. To Landis, not preventing the crime was equal to committing it.
By that standard, the writers who are now taking the moral high ground are guilty on some level. These are the same writers who spent significant time in clubhouses, had at least an inkling of what was going on, and ignored it. It is hypocritical for writers who knew about baseball’s PED culture and chose to look the other way to act like the complete authority on morality. The same can be said about folks in the league office.
Cheating has been pervasive in the game since its inception. In the nineteenth century, King Kelly used to run directly from first to third, skipping second base if the umpire wasn’t looking. Pitchers have tried gaining an advantage with a spitball, batters have played with corked bats, and countless players used amphetamines to give themselves an edge. This is what baseball is, so where do you draw the line?
It would be great if the Hall was a collection of men with the integrity and ethics of Christy Mathewson, but that would not be an accurate reflection of the game’s history. The museum is a shrine that showcases the best and worst since the New York Knickerbockers perfected the game on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, New Jersey in the 1840s.
Every Cooperstown voter has their own criteria. The standards keep changing and the debate will never cease, but one thing will always be true: Bonds is one of the greatest players in baseball history and that needs to be recognized in a small town in upstate New York.
Justin Bercovich is an associate producer with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and a self-proclaimed 'baseball historian.'