Barry Bonds, baseball’s career leader in home runs, and Roger Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, were not inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in last week’s voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Apparently the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply to baseball. Bonds and Clemens, long suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, have never tested positive for drugs in regular testing and have never been found guilty of using foreign substances, but nonetheless the BBWAA decided to blackball them by their association with the scandal.
The Hall of Fame Board of Directors has long supported five essentials for qualification since its inception in 1936: playing ability, contributions to the team and baseball in general, integrity, character and sportsmanship.
This is where it gets confusing. Character. Why, yes, the Hall of Fame is filled with characters. Sportsmanship, I doubt it. Just ask Ty Cobb, who sharpened his spikes to literally maim his opponents. Playing ability and contributions to the team are obvious criteria standards.
Then we come to the most glaring anomaly on the list. Integrity in baseball? I don’t think so. Baseball lost all its integrity the day Andy Messersmith put his autograph on a three-year, $1 million contract with the Braves in 1976. He compiled a 16-15 record in two seasons before Atlanta sold him to the Yankees. A year later the pitcher was out of baseball and America’s game never learned its lesson.
Nolan Ryan became the first million-dollar man, signing a four-year, $4.5 million deal with Houston in 1979. To Ryan’s credit he did stick around another 14 years but he was, as they say, one in a million.
The integrity of baseball began to slip through everyone’s money-hungry fingers with the first baseball strike in 1972. We’ve seen five stoppages in all, the last taking place in 1994.
So the bottom line is this: Bonds and Clemens are being excluded from baseball’s most prestigious club because in some folks’ eyes they cheated. All right, I can accept those stringent principles. But hold on just a minute. Are they are telling us that there are no cheaters in the Hall of Fame.
Well, what about Gaylord Perry, a Hall-of-Fame pitcher who wrote a book about Vaseline on the brim of his cap and sandpaper tucked into his glove? That’s OK, but using PEDs is cheating?
Let’s take a closer look at that accusation. A baseball is 9 inches in circumference and a bat is 2 ¾ inches around at its widest girth. A 100 mph fastball travels at 146 feet per second, meaning it literally takes just 0.412 seconds to reach the plate, which is 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound.
Let me give you a further physics lesson. I don’t care how many PEDs you take; you still need to make contact. When Mark McGwire hit his record 70 home runs in 1998 he still struck out 155 times in 509 at-bats for a .299 average. He failed to reach base safely 71 percent of the time. So now what is the big advantage of PEDs?
The BBWAA is on a witch hunt and needs to elect all those eligible based on the stats. Cheaters? The Hall of Fame is full of them.
Ken Morse is a contributing writer for the Citizen’s News.