Baseball writers pitch a Hall of Fame shutout
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. –- Barry Bonds was baseball’s home run king, winning a record seven most-valuable-player awards. Roger Clemens’ blazing fastball earned him a nickname, “The Rocket,” and a record seven Cy Young Awards as the top pitcher in his league.
None of that mattered Wednesday.
Two of the most decorated players in the sport’s history, perhaps the best in a generation, were roundly rejected from their sport’s Hall of Fame.
In their first year on the ballot, the celebrated — and vilified — stars were turned away in an election that was a referendum on the game’s steroid era. For only the second time in 43 years, the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America did not select a player for the game’s highest honor.
Clemens was named on 37.6% of the 569 ballots; Bonds on 36.2%. A player must achieve 75% approval — writers can vote for as many as 10 on a ballot — for induction.
Craig Biggio, who starred as a catcher and second baseman with the Houston Astros, led all candidates with 68.2% of the vote. The only other player to get even 60% of the vote was former Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris, at 67.7%.
Former Dodger Mike Piazza was fourth in the voting, receiving 57.8% in his first year on the ballot. Piazza hit 427 home runs and his offensive production was better than any other catcher in the Hall of Fame. But his legacy has been hurt by rumors of performance-enhancing drug use, even though he has never been implicated in an investigation.
Commissioner Bud Selig, who does not vote, said the Hall of Fame is a properly exclusive club and said he had no concerns about the voting process or result.
“The idea that this somehow diminishes the Hall of Fame or baseball is ridiculous,” Selig said at the owners’ meetings here.
Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players’ union, called the election results “unfortunate, if not sad” and said the Hall should include “the best players to have ever played the game.”
“To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify,” he said in a statement.
Bonds and Clemens are famous not only for their on-field accomplishments but for an era tainted by the widespread use of performance-enhancing substances.
A federal jury two years ago convicted Bonds of obstruction of justice but cleared him of charges he lied to a grand jury when he testified he had not knowingly used steroids. Bonds is appealing the conviction.
Clemens testified before Congress that he did not use steroids and later avoided prison time by successfully defending himself in court against perjury charges.
“After what has been written and said over the last few years, I’m not overly surprised,” Clemens said via Twitter after the vote was announced. He added: “To those who did take the time to look at the facts … we very much appreciate it.”
Bonds had no immediate comment, but Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, the player’s longtime agent, told the Associated Press that it was “unimaginable that the best player to ever play the game would not be a unanimous first-ballot selection.”
Their links to alleged steroid use turned Clemens and Bonds from first-ballot locks into also-rans, with voters sharply divided among those who deny any player with ties to performance-enhancing drugs, those who prefer to wait and see what further information might emerge about those players, and those who vote for the most dominant players whatever their era.
Players become eligible for Hall of Fame consideration five years after they retire and remain on the ballot for 15 years, provided they receive at least 5% of the vote. (Times reporters are prohibited by ethics guidelines from voting for sports rankings and awards.)
“A snapshot in time isn’t one year,” Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. “It’s 15.”
Even so, the voting trends do not look favorable for Bonds or Clemens. Mark McGwire, who received 19.5% to 23.7% in each of his first six years on the ballot, fell to 16.9% this year.
McGwire, the newly hired Dodgers hitting coach, has admitted to steroid use. Bonds ranks first on the all-time home run list with 762, with Sammy Sosa eighth at 609 and McGwire 10th at 583.
Sosa, who reportedly failed a drug test in 2003 but has denied using steroids, got 12.5% of the vote. He is the only player in major league history to hit 60 home runs three times.
McGwire declined to say whether Bonds deserved to be voted in.
“I really don’t have opinions on a lot of things,” McGwire said at the Dodgers’ training site in Glendale, Ariz. “Barry Bonds was quite a ballplayer. He was pretty damn awesome. That’s all I can say.”
Former players appeared at least as divided as writers.
“I took PEDs and I’m not proud of it,” former Dodgers catcher Paul Lo Duca said via Twitter, “but people that think you can take a shot or a pill and play like the legends on that ballot need help.”
Goose Gossage, a Hall of Fame relief pitcher, lamented that Bonds is now credited with baseball’s most hallowed slugging records, for most home runs in a season and a career. “The most sacred records were Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs and Roger Maris’ 61 home run season,” he said. “Hey, I think they ought to reinstate those records. They stripped Lance Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins said he would have to “think long and hard” about whether to participate in an induction ceremony for a known steroid user and said he believes many of the 64 living Hall of Famers share his hesitation.
“I think they’d be embarrassed to show up,” Jenkins told MLB Network, “because they played the game honest, and now they have someone in the Hall who possibly cheated.”
If a player is not elected by the baseball writers, he can be considered by committees established by the Hall of Fame that also can vote to select executives, umpires and other baseball officials. So a July 28 Hall of Fame induction ceremony will go on, honoring three previously announced committee selections from baseball’s pre-integration era — umpire Hank O’Day, New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and catcher-infielder Deacon White. All three have been dead at least 74 years.
That leaves the Hall of Fame to hold a ceremony without any living inductees for the first time since 1960. Idelson, the Hall of Fame president, said he does not plan to overhaul the voting process or strip the BBWAA of voting rights because of this year’s shutout.
“It’s led to some very healthy discussion,” Idelson said. “We remain very comfortable with the process. It’s a tough period for evaluation. Any group you put this to would have the same issues.”
Times staff writers Dylan Hernandez in Glendale, Ariz., and Mike DiGiovanna in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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