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Hall of Fame doors likely to remain shut for Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens, and that’s too bad

With results announced Tuesday, former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz may be the only inductee.
Roger Clemens, left, and Barry Bonds, right, arguably the best pitcher and hitter of their generation, are likely to fall short in their 10th and final year of eligibility for baseball's Hall of Fame.
Roger Clemens, left, and Barry Bonds, right, arguably the best pitcher and hitter of their generation, are likely to fall short in their 10th and final year of eligibility for baseball's Hall of Fame. [ Associated Press ]
Published Jan. 24

Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, barring an unexpected shift in voting, we will have an answer.

Yes, youcan have a baseball Hall of Fame without arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of their generation, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

The dynamic duo will have gone through their 10th and final year on the ballots filled out by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and most likely will have fallen short for the 10th time.

Based on early disclosure of half of the roughly 400 ballots cast, Bonds and Clemens were chosen on just over the 75 percent needed for election. But historically, support drops off considerably from voters who don’t opt to share heir ballots early (or at all), and Bonds and Clemens are left out.

Which is too bad.

Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin voted for six players on his 2022 Hall of Fame ballot.
Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin voted for six players on his 2022 Hall of Fame ballot. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Though I’ve voted for both players for all 10 of those years, that is still a tough sentence to type. Their numerous connections to performance-enhancing drugs cast a shadow, if not put a stain, on their careers as I and other voters are well aware.

But as I have shared before, this is a position we voters are forced into by the circumstances. With no specific guidelines from the Hall (or MLB for that matter) on what to do with the “steroid guys” and no real way — despite what some colleagues claim — to truly know who did what and how much it helped their performance, we have to draw our own lines.

Some voters bar the door to anyone ever speculated to have used PEDs. Others have, initially or over time, thrown them open, deciding they don’t want to be the morality police.

My line, to this point, admittedly has been squiggly. I’ve voted for players who, despite allegations, didn’t fail a drug test once baseball started checking and thus technically were never caught cheating.

So I can vote for Bonds and Clemens based on how dominant they were overall (and, to a degree, before PED use was suspected) but not Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez (making his ballot debut), who failed tests and were suspended.

Nor for Sammy Sosa, who, while heavily suspected of steroids use — check out his career arc — but never suspended, was caught with a corked bat (and against the woeful 2003 Devil Rays at that.)

But that line gets squigglier at times.

Especially this year, with the addition of David Ortiz to the ballot.

Longtime Red Sox slugger David Ortiz could be the only player elected Tuesday to baseball's Hall of Fame.
Longtime Red Sox slugger David Ortiz could be the only player elected Tuesday to baseball's Hall of Fame. [ CHARLES KRUPA | AP ]
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The longtime, popular Red Sox slugger reportedly tested positive in the supposedly anonymous survey testing MLB did in 2003 but never after a testing program was put in place the next year, playing through 2016. Commissioner Rob Manfred in 2016 said the survey testing shouldn’t be taken as confirmation Ortiz was using, as it could have been a false positive.

Thus, Ortiz — with his .286 average, 541 homers, 1,768 RBI, .931 OPS, 55.3 career WAR (per baseball-reference.com), six top-six MVP finishes and a list of postseason dramatics — got my vote.

Polling at close to 85 percent in the ballots made public, he might be the only player elected Tuesday, which would be something after the BBWAA threw a shutout last year.

Others I voted for — for a total of six, given rules that allow a maximum of 10 — are Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner.

There is some squiggliness to including Sheffield, but the Tampa native with 509 homers was one of the hitters pitchers most feared to face, and that counts for something. Rolen, I’ve come to appreciate more in recent years for his all-around play. As for Wagner? I’m in the group that thinks closers have been underappreciated and underrepresented in the Hall.

Among those I didn’t vote for?

Ramirez, Rodriguez and Sosa for reasons stated above.

Curt Schilling asked that his name be dropped from the ballot in his final year of eligibility.
Curt Schilling asked that his name be dropped from the ballot in his final year of eligibility. [ KATHY WILLENS | AP ]

Curt Schilling, who was very good — though not necessarily great — on the mound but has in the years since raised serious character questions with hateful and vitriolic comments and posts and who specifically asked to be dropped from the ballot in his final year of eligibility. (Schilling, like Bonds and Clemens, can now see if he is viewed differently by the Today’s Game-era version of the Veterans Committee, which votes in December and on three-year cycles.)

Considered strongly before being left off were Todd Helton (who has the asterisk of playing his whole career in the thin air of Colorado) and Andruw Jones (whose defense doesn’t offset his shortened career peak).

Among others I passed on as just not being elite enough: Bobby Abreu, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte and Omar Vizquel (who also has had considerable off-field legal issues).

And while I couldn’t vote for Carl Crawford, it is worth acknowledging that he was a very good player on some very bad Devil Rays teams. Had he gone somewhere besides Boston (where he was not comfortable, as many around him at the time anticipated) and stayed healthy, he might have gotten some consideration.

Voting for the Hall can be challenging, with the evolving moral questions and mental gymnastics to consider beyond what players did on the field. But it remains an honor and a privilege, one I am happy to be transparent about and share, and to take whatever emails, tweets and screaming comes with it.

Marc Topkin’s ballot

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

David Ortiz

Scott Rolen

Gary Sheffield

Billy Wagner

John Romano’s ballot

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Todd Helton

David Ortiz

Manny Ramirez

Alex Rodriguez

Scott Rolen

Curt Schilling

Gary Sheffield

Eduardo A. Encina’s ballot

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Todd Helton

Andruw Jones

Jeff Kent

David Ortiz

Scott Rolen

Jimmy Rollins

Curt Schilling

Gary Sheffield

• • •

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