Shutout in Cooperstown
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were not voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday. The rejection was hardly surprising but is still a stunning thing. Two of baseball’s all-time best — Bonds, the home-run king, and Clemens, the pitcher with the most Cy Young awards — were shunned by baseball writers in what Tyler Kepner of The Times called “the most resounding referendum yet on the legacy of steroids in baseball.”
Players need 75 percent of the writers’ votes to be chosen. Bonds got 36.2 percent; Clemens, 37.6. They will likely remain eligible for induction for several years to come, but with first-year numbers like that, and reputations so stained by suspicions of steroid use, they may never get in.
The Hall of Fame is not a Hall of Virtue, not with all the lowlifes, boozers and bigots whose faces are on many of the bronze plaques lining the oaken walls of Cooperstown. Nor is it a Hall of Statistics. If it were, induction would be a relatively straightforward matter of tallying hits, runs, errors and other numbers and comparing them among sets of peers. That is a job for spreadsheet makers, not for the keepers of a baseball shrine. As long as professional integrity counts, too, and a player’s misdeeds are measured by the damage they do to the game, then it seems right to be wary of including any players who might have cynically warped the playing field through the secret use of muscle-building chemicals.
The harm done to baseball by steroids was more than statistical. Think of the clean players whose excellence was unfairly dimmed by the bulked-up competition. The journeymen and minor-leaguers who risked and ruined their health to play at the impossible level set by cheaters. Or players whose otherwise clean reputations are stained by innuendo, like Mike Piazza, the former Mets catcher, who also failed in this year’s ballot and feels robbed.
It will take a while for baseball to escape the shadow of the steroid era. The transition will be faster if that taint is kept out of the Hall of Fame.