ST. PETERSBURG — Cooperstown is a gingerbread hamlet in upstate New York. The first time I went there as a child was a pilgrimage, because it was home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. To me, it was St. Peter’s Square and Disney World rolled into one.
It was where my baseball gods were. I thought their plaques in the Hall were mere headstones. I assumed, happily, that they were buried somewhere on the grounds. What a place. I was just a kid.
I know better now. I grew up. It’s a shame.
But the real shame is that Tuesday was my least favorite baseball day of the year. Tuesday, another Hall of Fame class was announced, and with it, again, came the need to confront the fact that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are still in the running for Cooperstown — though they haven’t cracked 60 percent of the necessary 75 percent of votes. Maybe there is hope yet.
The Baseball and the Hall will forever be lost to me if these cheaters are enshrined. I vote for the Hall. I never vote for Clemens and Bonds. And I never will. And I’ll never apologize. People can argue with me, throw numbers at me, present logic to me. I’ll stop voting before I change my mind. My gut says cheaters don’t belong. My gut will throw up if these two get in.
I refuse to turn a blind eye, though Major League Baseball did that for all those performance-enhancing seasons, eventually enabling seven-time MVP Bonds and seven-time Cy Young winner Clemens. They are two of the greatest players in the game’s history. It’s quite possible that you wouldn’t be able to tell the story of baseball without mentioning them. The Hall’s museum acknowledges their records. The game doesn’t want to deal with it, so they dumped it in laps like mine.
And this lap will never stand for Clemens and Bonds in the Hall.
The Hall made me the final word and that’s my final word. I’m not on a high horse. You don’t need to be on a horse, high or otherwise, to tell right from wrong. I didn’t ask to be Martin Bader Ginsburg, jurist. But baseball didn’t want to decide, and the Hall passed the job along.
I know steroids weren’t banned by baseball back then, or at least they weren’t prohibited in the CBA, which is baseball’s fault. I know Babe Ruth was a drunk, Mickey Mantle was a drunk and a womanizer, and some old-time Hall of Famers might have been racist. I know that if we separated the saints from the sinners at the Hall of Fame, we’d be lucky to end up with Stan Musial playing the harmonica to himself.
And I know both Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before they cheated, unlike Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, though that makes Bonds and Clemens that much more reprehensible. They were in but still felt the need to disgrace their game.
What was it? Vanity? Jealousy?
I’ve never said these men couldn’t earn a living. Mark McGwire was a coach. Bonds was a coach, too.
All I’ve ever said was that the game’s greatest honor, its Hall of Fame, should be off limits, now and forever. And it always will be in my mind.
I’ll never look at the Hall the same if these two get in. I guess I’m fighting progress. I mean, both Bonds and Clemens’ metrics are off the charts. They are a fantasy baseball player’s dream.
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Look, I have enough problems with Harold Baines being in the Hall. But I’d take Baines twice over Bonds and Clemens. And I’d take our own Fred McGriff, who missed out on his 10th Hall try, and Lou Piniella, who came up short in veterans voting. I’m just glad Bonds and Clemens didn’t take away from the great Mariano Rivera, the Hall’s first unanimous inductee, or the memory of Roy Halladay, who will be inducted posthumously.
Bonds and Clemens didn’t make it Tuesday. Good. But that day might still come. And more gingerbread will fall off the gingerbread place I loved as a child.
Yeah, definitely have to grow up.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.