A jury has just found Roger Clemens, legendary pitcher innocent on six counts of lying to Congress in regards to using performance enhancing drugs. There will be some debate on whether that verdict was “he was innocent” or “the prosecution couldn’t make the case”. There may not be any difference in legal circles (I’m not a lawyer, I don’t presume to know if there is). In the world of sport, there is a vast world of difference. Even in the NFL, when instant replay is used, the official judges that “the ruling on the field is confirmed” (the referees were definitively correct) or “the ruling on the field stands” (the replay was inconclusive).
Way back in 1920, the Black Sox were found innocent by a Cook County Jury of throwing the World Series (technically it was defrauding gamblers who bet on them and entering into a confidence game), but that was only because key evidence, like transcripts of several of the players admitting to the grand jury that they had taken money and thrown the Series, were “lost” before the trial began. The innocent verdict did not matter. The next day, the Commissioner of Baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned the lot of them for life. It cost Shoeless Joe Jackson and likely Edddie Cicotte shots at the Hall of Fame.
This winter, the Hall-of-Fame ballots will be mailed out to the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and they will vote on the Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Barry Bonds will be on the ballot for the first time, and so will Roger Clemens. I have a feeling despite numbers that would normally make them ironclad locks to enter the Hall of Fame, they will not make it … and even Roger Clemens’ innocent verdict will not help him.
Just to argue, Bonds can at least make the case that if you wipe out half of his home runs (a ridiculous number to wipe out), he would still be Hall of Fame worthy. I would agree with that, though that still doesn’t excuse the cheating. With Roger Clemens, the situation is murkier because without performance enhancing help, where would his numbers be?
In the past few years, the BBWAA has taken a dim view on those known to have used or those who have been highly suspected of using. Mark McGwire still has not received significant support despite appearing on three ballots. Rafael Palmeiro, the fouth man in history to collect 3,000 hits and 500 home runs isn’t anywhere near to making it in on his third ballot, despite the other three players to accomplish the feat being elected in landslide first ballot elections.
To make matters even worse for them, there was the March, 2012 statement from legend George Brett that several Hall-of-Famers have made it clear: electing steroid users will result in an automatic boycott of a significant number of the current members. That would make the Hall look exceptionally bad, and with the risk of that, the voters may need to think twice about putting any suspected users into the Hall of Fame, at least anytime soon.
There is the counter story to this: the NFL Hall of Fame has basically permitted any great player in, no matter what they do. Kill your wife and an eyewitness, you can stay in the NFL Hall of Fame. Pedophilia? not a big deal. This is part of the reason that the NFL Hall of Fame is simply not held in the same regard as Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
To be sure, the Baseball Hall of Fame has issues. Ty Cobb could hold a professorship in race baiting and assault. There is some weak evidence that Rogers Hornsby and Tris Speaker were members of a certain secret society. It was also well known that amphetamines were widely used by players in the 1950s and 1960s to gain an edge, and that it is highly likely that several high profile Hall-of-Famers were using them in their career. Why do they get the pass? Perhaps because it was something that came out so much later … that by the time it was discovered, it wasn’t news, and they weren’t seen as kids role models anymore. In an era of so much media, it is hard to escape things like this, and Charles Barkley’s claims to the contrary, when these folks suit up, they become role models, and there is a risk that comes with doing that: teaching people that cheating is OK does not meet with the muster of a lot of people.
The BBWAA is not one of my favorite groups. Bert Blyleven was a slam dunk Hall-of-Famer, and it took that group 14 years to vote him in. Ryne Sandberg, arguably one of the 3 best second baseman in history, was shut out on the first ballot for no good reason. Nellie Fox was a 12-time All-Star and the BBWAA never elected him (the Veteran’s Committee had to do that). Jack Morris, who won more games than any pitcher in the 1980s and who basically willed the Twins to win the last game of the 1991 World Series is till not there … there is no evidence that he didn’t use some mutant power to win that World Series for the Twins, but who knows?
For baseball fans, we will pull up a chair, munch on some popcorn, and take in the proceedings with great interest. Even after the next few years go by, the interest will remain to see of the Veteran’s Committee ever sees a streak of forgiveness and votes in some of these guys.
Time will tell.