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Mulvena: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens should be in Hall of Fame

| Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A little over a month ago, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) inducted yet another class of the finest players into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet again, the class featured players who dominated their positions during their careers — Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman and Jim Thome. And yet again, the class did not include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame states that its mission is to “preserve the sport’s history, honor and excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball.” Still, Bonds and Clemens remain on the outs.

The careers of Bonds and Clemens are undoubtedly woven into the fabric of baseball history. Bonds is the all-time home-run leader with 762 total homers, seven more than Hank Aaron, as well as the all-time leader in MVP honors, earning seven throughout his career. Clemens is an 11-time All-Star with seven Cy Young awards — the most of any pitcher in MLB history — and a career 3.12 earned-run average. So why do they remain outside the Hall?

Well, unfortunately, they cheated. And the BBWAA is very clear: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

Bonds and Clemens were both featured in the Mitchell Report, which came out in 2007 and exposed a number of players for cheating by means of steroid use. They simply don’t pass the “integrity, sportsmanship, character” test. What a shame.

It is only right that we honor the brave ethical warriors of the BBWAA who have fought tooth and nail for years to preserve the purity of the Hall of Fame. So, let’s take a look at the enormous success of the writers’ crusade to preserve the integrity, sportsmanship and character of the Hall throughout the years.

Baseball is a game of rules and unwavering respect for those rules. The integrity of baseball’s Hall of Fame is beyond reproach. Take Gaylord Perry for instance: The beloved San Francisco Giants pitcher was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991. The five-time 20 game winner was the first to win the Cy Young in both the American and National Leagues. Perry’s dominance was largely a result of his nasty “spitter,” a pitch with crazy action that is almost unhittable when executed properly. It’s also a pitch that relies on the application of saliva and vaseline to the ball, which is blatantly illegal. But that’s just all conjecture, right? There would be no way to prove that Perry was relying on the spitball during his career. Fair. Except Perry went on to publish his own book in 1974 in which he recounted his career. The title? “Me and the Spitter.”

OK, the BBWAA may have dropped the ball on Gaylord Perry. But its defense of the Hall’s purity in the way of sportsmanship and character is simply remarkable. Just take a look at Cap Anson, the great first baseman for the Chicago White Stockings, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1939. Anson repeatedly refused to take the field against teams whose rosters included black players. His efforts contributed to and heightened the already disgusting racial oppression in the league during his era. And then there’s Ty Cobb, the legendary center fielder of the Detroit Tigers who was inducted into the Hall in 1936. Cobb was involved in numerous altercations with black players on and off the field, one of which resulted in him turning violent. Who could possibly question the character and sportsmanship of these great legends of baseball?

OK, so the BBWAA let a few bad apples slip through. The Hall is still, for the most part, pure. Its members respect the game of baseball.

Oh, really?

Mickey Mantle, the beloved center fielder of the New York Yankees, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 and winner of the 1956 triple crown, is cited on the Hall of Fame’s website for his “drive and love for the game.” But Mantle couldn’t finish the 1961 season, while he was in the middle of a heated home run race with Roger Maris, because he developed an abscess from an infected needle. What was the needle used for? Steroids and speed.  

Pud Galvin, a pitcher for the Buffalo Bisons who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965, is cited on the Hall of Fame’s website for his uncanny ability to “pitch deep into the game.” He is also cited by the Washington Post as having injected himself with monkey testosterone.

Grover Cleveland Alexander, a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938, is cited by the Hall of Fame as being one of the “smartest” pitchers to play the game. Alexander was also an alcoholic and was known by owners for being a better pitcher drunk than sober. And he did all of this during Prohibition, when alcohol was not only illegal in baseball, but also nationwide.

Wade Boggs, third baseman for the Boston Red Sox who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, was touted for his sweet swing. He was also known for (as legend has it) drinking 107 beers the day before a game as well as admitting he was a sex addict on national television after his affair had been exposed.

Paul Molitor, third baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers who was inducted into the Hall in in 2004, had a long illustrious career. He also fathered a son in an extramarital affair while struggling with cocaine addiction. What tremendous character.

The list of cheaters, men of subpar moral character and players with a gross disregard for the rules of baseball goes on and on and on. And if you think there are guys in the Hall who played during the Steroid Era but didn’t take steroids, you’re just ignorant. Baseball is a game with a long, vibrant history of incredible moments, and it is an undeniably amazing part of American history. But it is also a game with a long history of cheating and moral deliquency. Thomas Boswell, a renowned sports columnist for the Washington Post, once said, “Cheating is baseball’s oldest profession. No other game is so rich in skullduggery, so suited to it or so proud of it.”

It’s not hard to find guys who have cheated and were either caught or admitted to it, so you can imagine how many were never caught and are probably in the Hall of Fame. Let’s stop pretending the Hall of Fame is emblematic of the purity of America’s past time.

Is Barry Bonds’ “character” worse than some of these men? Is Roger Clemens’ integrity more lacking than the players I’ve mentioned?

To the writers of the BBWAA leading the laughably unsuccessful campaign to maintain the purity of the Hall of Fame: You have already failed. You’ve failed over and over and over again. So please, stop. Let Barry Bonds in. Let Roger Clemens in. Let Pete Rose in. Let anyone whose effect on baseball has been as remarkable as these men into the Hall of Fame.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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