For several years now, the Baseball Hall of Fame -- and generally speaking, the Hall of Famers -- has stayed pretty silent on the question on what to do about accused and admitted steroid users. This specifically includes two players: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds is the all-time home
For several years now, the Baseball Hall of Fame -- and generally speaking, the Hall of Famers -- has stayed pretty silent on the question on what to do about accused and admitted steroid users. This specifically includes two players: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Bonds is the all-time home run leader and one of the greatest players in the history of baseball. Clemens won seven Cy Young Awards, 354 games and has a case as the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball.
Both have been connected to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The connection is somewhat tenuous. Bonds, it seems, tacitly admitted to limited and unintended steroid use. Clemens has furiously denied all charges. Neither ever failed a drug test. But both have been at the center of high-profile PED investigations and court cases and were mentioned in the Mitchell Report, MLB's 2007 investigation into PED use. Polls suggest that the majority of people believe that they both knowingly used.
What do you do with Bonds and Clemens if you assume they both used? This has been one of the biggest baseball topics of the last five years, but the Hall and Hall of Famers have, up to now, largely left that up to the voters. That changed on Tuesday when Hall of Famer and board vice chairman Joe Morgan sent out a letter titled: "The Hall of Fame is Special."
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"We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame," Morgan wrote. "They cheated. Steroid users don't belong here."
Though the letter was written by Morgan -- a wonderful Hall of Fame second baseman for the Big Red Machine in the 1970s -- it clearly represents a much larger viewpoint. For one thing, Morgan is one of the 16 members of the Hall of Fame board and perhaps its most prominent member after chairperson Jane Forbes Clark. More to the point, Morgan sent the letter to every Hall of Fame voter while using the Baseball Hall of Fame email address.
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And even more to the point, Morgan made it clear that "many" Hall of Famers agree with him, adding that "Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they'll no longer come to Cooperstown for induction ceremonies or other events."
This, to me, seems a clear shot across the bow. The last couple of years, Clemens and Bonds have been steadily gaining in the voting. Last year, for the first time, both of them crossed the 50 percent mark. Getting more than half the vote is usually a sign that Hall of Fame voters are slowly coming to a consensus that a player is Hall of Fame worthy. Add in the recent election of several players who have been loosely or maybe recklessly discussed as possible users of PEDs, and you can sense the momentum for their election building.
The Hall of Fame, I believe, is on the record now. They absolutely, positively do not want steroid users in. I think this means a lot of things, beginning with this: Bonds' and Clemens' Hall of Fame chances are probably over now.
It's clear that Morgan, the Hall of Famers and, yes, the Hall of Fame feel that now is the time to take a stand.
Morgan wrote: "The Hall of Fame has always had its share of colorful characters, some of whom broke or bent society's rules for their era." He means that we know the Hall of Fame includes players who used various forms of lesser PEDs (such as amphetamines), cheated in numerous ways (cutting up or spitting on baseballs, corking bats, etc.) and committed much more serious non-baseball offenses involving racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, mistreatment of women and so on.
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"Times change and society improves," he said. "What once was accepted no longer is."
Now, you can disagree strongly, say that the Hall of Fame has always included the best players regardless of their flaws or bending of rules -- I have written countless articles from the other side -- but what is interesting here is not Morgan's specific viewpoint nor the well-worn arguments. We all have suspected for a long time that this is how many Hall of Famers feel.
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The thing to understand here is that by going public, something dramatic has changed. Morgan -- and, by extension, the Hall of Fame -- is now making it plain to the Baseball Writers' Association of America voters that Bonds, Clemens and any other strongly suspected PED user has no place in the Hall of Fame. Morgan even makes it clear where the line should be drawn: "Players," he wrote, "who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids or were identified as users in MLB's investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in."
On this year's ballot, this would include: Bonds, Clemens, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa.
The BBWAA has been electing players since the start, since 1936, and it has done so with a lot of independence … but the Hall of Fame has stepped in when it felt its integrity was on the line. The Hall had Pete Rose removed from the ballot after Major League Baseball permanently banned him. And now I think through Morgan, the Hall of Fame is making it clear that it opposes the election of Bonds and Clemens.
With that now on the record, I do not believe Bonds or Clemens can get 75 percent of the BBWAA vote.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.