Clemens and Bonds

Allen Barra — with the help of J.C. Bradbury, David Ezra, and even Bob Costas — explains why, whatever we may think of Roger Clemens, there is no denying that he was a Hall of Famer before his alleged PED use:

The numbers support both Ezra and Bradbury. McNamee claims that Clemens’ use of HGH began in 1998, a season in which he won the American League Cy Young award with a 20-6 record, a 2.65 ERA, and led the league with 271 strikeouts. The problem is that Clemens was even better the year before, when McNamee doesn’t claim to have supplied him with HGH. In 1997, Clemens was 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA; he actually had more strikeouts, 292 to 271, and pitched 30 more innings, 264 to 234.7, in 1997 than in 1998.

Costas points out that discussions of Clemens’ Hall of Fame worthiness should at least begin by acknowledging that he was a legitimate candidate before McNamee became his personal trainer. “I’m really amazed,” he says, “that anyone would question that Clemens was Hall of Fame worthy before 1998. He won more than twenty games four times and eighteen games in three other seasons. Nearly all his best years were from 1984 through 1997.”

By any objective yardstick, Costas is right.

I can’t argue with any of that. I do, however, take slight issue with the headline/framing of the piece as one distinguishing Clemens’ career pattern from that of Barry Bonds. True, Bonds’ PED spike was far more dramatic than that of Clemens (or anyone else for that matter). But is there any denying that Bonds was a Hall of Famer even before his PED use is alleged to have begun in 1999? By the close of 1998 he had already won three MVP awards, had hit over 400 home runs, had stolen 445 bases, had won eight gold gloves, and was being credited with saving baseball in San Francisco. And he was still only in his mid-30s! Maybe that doesn’t put him in Ruth-Williams territory, but even a Dale Murphyesque decline beginning in 1999 wouldn’t have kept him out of Cooperstown.

Not that I think the Hall of Fame voters will give him credit for it when he comes eligible.

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  1. Andrew C. said...

    My question about all this is—what about Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe, etc.?
    If someone says, hey, well, Clemens would have been in the HoF before the PEDs, and thus should go in regardless, then Rose should be in, and so on. The point for me is that at some point they stepped outside the rules and that sort of negates the whole business.

    I imagine that a while down the road, they’ll all be let in in some sort of special election (Rose and all, since any position that, logically, would let in the PED bunch should have to also admit Rose and Shoeless Joe). But, maybe that’s optimistic.

  2. themarksmith said...

    As much as I don’t like Bonds, I think you’re right. Statistically, he was still an amazing player before the steroid use, and in addition, we don’t really know that steroids really have that great of an effect on players, if any at all. Look at Francoeur (not steroids but bear with me), he added a lot of muscle and it inhibited his production. Why would Bonds, or other players, adding so much muscle necessarily help him? Now, if you want to keep them out of the game because they tried to cheat, that’s a different story, but I’m not convinced that steroids really help more than just mentally.

  3. hermitfool said...

    The Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe cases have absolutely no relevance to this discussion. Betting on baseball and agreeing to throw games represent a much, much higher level of crime against baseball than attempting to maximize one’s own performance.

    Am I the only one who wonders how we can, with any degree of certainty, assign a beginning date or ending on a player’s use of PEDs?  Can we just assume that Luis Gonzalez and Brady Anderson took steroids before their huge one year jump in power numbers? Can we just assume because someone’s numbers declined in a given year they stopped taking PEDs?  How can we assume with any degree of certainty that a player was “clean.” We often hear the term “there’s never been any suggestion he took steroids.” They might be talking about Derek Jeter or Junior Griffey. These comments ignore Junior’s history of hamstring injuries and other connective tissue problems long associated with steroid use. I’m not saying Junior took steroids. Don’t know that it matters. He should go to the Hall of Fame based on the numbers he put up in the era in which he played, an era that included a helluva lot of bad chemicals. MacGwire, Sosa, Clemens and every other ball player of the era should be judged by that standard. To pick and choose based on the paltry information we have is ludicrous.

    But if any player bet on baseball they should join Rose and Shoeless Joe in permanent exile, because they brought the basic integrity of the game into question.

    Anyone who’s watched some of MLB’s broadcasts from seasons in the 1970s and early 80s might have noticed how different those players looked. The word skinny comes to mind.

  4. oldpaddy said...

    I remember an interview weei did with Conseco around the time conseco released his book where he states that there was a pitcher he did steroids with during his stay in Boston. I remember his big friend with the Sox was Clemens. Clemens was coming off of 3 mediocre seasons when he turned it around in 96. Don’t forget that Clemens and Conseco played together in 97 in Toronto. I’m pretty confident that a bunch of the Red Sox team during Consecos stay was juiced. A lot of guys had career (or close to it) years during the 95-96 Sox. John Valentin being the biggest stand out.

  5. Pete Toms said...

    The evidence that Bonds is an ***hole is pretty overwhelming.  His teammates (or the great majority of them) didn’t like him, he was a jerk to his mistress and his wife, mistreated clubhouse attendants and his “personal” assistants (although I have to admit that Anderson is incredibly loyalt to him), the baseball writers almost universally despise him (and they’re accustomed to being mistreated by spoiled pro ball players).  Clemens was much the same, widely portrayed as a very selfish teammate and an ***hole to his wife and the 15 year old McCready thing is disgusting.

    Having said that, both are first time HOFers.  They got caught, others didn’t.  That’s not fair to them.

  6. Scaryguy said...

    I think the Pete Rose argument does have a place here. We shouldn’t argue which is more severe but we should use the argument of ‘he was a hall of famer before…’ for anyone.
    Sure, Pete screwed up when he was managing the Reds. But he should have gotten in long before that. I don’t see the difference.

  7. Pete Anderson said...

    I think Bonds is a big piece of crap.  I hope he never steps foot on a baseball diamond again.  I think he might serve jail time… and while I feel a little bad about that… I think it would serve the greater good.  Remember 2005? That line-up of meatheads would think twice about lying to Congress.

    But Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame.  So does Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe.

  8. Pete Toms said...

    @ Pete Anderson.  Are you the Pete Anderson who plays guitar and produces for Dwight Yoakum.  The contemporary Don Rich?

  9. tadthebad said...

    Steroids help make one stronger beyond what would otherwise be possible.  If steroids make one stronger, then one can swing a bat faster.  If one can swing a bat faster, one A) misses fewer pitches, and B) hits balls harder and farther.  So, more ground balls get through, and long fly-outs turn into homeruns, with fewer K’s.  And then there are the benefits to pitchers… It’s not hard to see how steroids would benefit a player.

    As far as judging the fairness afforded Clemens and Bonds (they got caught and others didn’t), how fair was it of them to try to cheat in the first place?

  10. hermitfool said...

    Over on Jason’s blog today is an interesting article on the current state of technology in the PED industry. Goes to show how little we know about the so-called “post-steroid era,” let alone what we don’t know about what players were ingesting twenty or thirty years ago. Does anyone remember the cocaine fueled “We are Family” 1979 Pirates?

    Speaking of Rickey Henderson, one of the players who achieved remarkable muscle definition, even in his dotage. Why were sports writers so cocksure he was innocent of PED usage they voted him into the HOF on the first ballot? I have no reason to think he took drugs, no reason to think he didn’t. Maybe he was a little more clever than Clemens and the other bad boys. He deserved to be in the Hall of Fame based on what he accomplished in the era in which he played. Everyone else should be held to the same standard.

  11. VanderBirch said...

    Agreed hermitfool. Having drug testing is not going to make the problem simply disappear. Given the drug culture in baseball, players will simply shift to products one step ahead of the testers. Given the rewards, its hard to blame them.

    The drug problem will be minimised when baseball gets really serious about things and ensures they possess the best testing available, vetted by an outside authority (in the way someone like Damsgaard is doing with a few cycling teams). Otherwise the fox is guarding the henhouse. In sports with half assed drug testing programs, like the NFL, it seems you could drive a bus through the loopholes.

  12. Bob Rittner said...

    The Rose case is irrelevant. At the time Rose violated the rules about gambling, it was part of the rule that anyone doing so was banned for life. That rule was known and had already been applied (although admittedly, the first time it was ex post facto which makes the Jackson case a bit different).

    In the case of PEDs, no such penalty existed. It has nothing to do with whether both players broke rules or whether one sort of rule breaking was worse than another. It has to do with the existence or non-existence of the penalties themselves. Otherwise, you might call for lifetime bans for spitballers or corked bat users or any number of other violaters of rules.

    There now are penalties established for using PEDs. A first violation calls for a suspension I believe, so that is the penalty that has to be applied, not banishment. But if one is going to penalize players for rules/punishments that did not exist at the time of suspected “violations”, or years after they were suspected, then we might have to revisit Mays and his generation, in fact every player in history.

  13. VanderBirch said...

    One thing that concerns me about the whole debate is the certainty that some baseball writers have possessed in framing the ‘steroid era’ (Buster Olney really grates on me with this) as fitting in the period from Canseco to 2004.

    Perhaps its just me, but I’m always a little unsure why guys like Jim Rice are held up as ‘clean’. How do we know that steroid use in MLB has been such a recent development?

  14. andrew said...

    completely agree with the above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into the most important medium of communication across the globe and its due to sites like this that ideas are spreading so quickly.

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