Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Steroids, and Why They Shouldn’t Make the Hall of Fame

By Connor Pignatello

In 2001, Barry Bonds hit a single-season record 73 home runs, recorded the best offensive WAR season the game has ever seen (12.4), and won his fourth of an eventual seven MVPs — all at the age of 36. Also in 2001, Roger Clemens pitched to a record of 20-3 and won the Cy Young Award for the fifth of seven times — all at the age of 35. Both have been accused of using anabolic steroids to enhance their performance. Both were indicted with perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about their steroid use to the United States Congress. And both should not be inducted to the Hall of Fame. To frame my argument, I will prove three statements:

  1. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens decided to take steroids to gain a competitive advantage as their careers neared their respective ends and their performances in the years they allegedly used steroids were significantly enhanced.
  2. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens used steroids.
  3. Steroid users should not be in the Hall of Fame.

But first, some backstory:

Barry Bonds was born into a baseball family. The son of three-time All-Star Bobby Bonds and godson of legendary Hall of Famer Willie Mays, Bonds was naturally gifted and became one of the most talented players in the game just a few short years after the Pirates drafted him in 1985. From 1990-1992, Bonds stole at least 39 bases and smashed at least 25 home runs each year, led the league in OPS all three years, and took home three Gold Gloves and his first two MVPs. Frustrated by fans who lashed out at him as well as repeated failure in the postseason, Bonds signed a then-record $43.75 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. Bonds continued his torrid form with his father’s old team, winning another MVP in 1993 and becoming just the second member of the historically exclusive 40-40 club (40 homers and 40 steals in one season) in 1996.

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However, Bonds felt underappreciated. His eight career Gold Gloves and 445 career steals were not gaining the attention he thought they should. Instead, home runs were catching the baseball world’s eye, mostly due to the famous 1998 race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to break Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record, which they eventually both surpassed, although McGwire has since admitted to using steroids and Sosa is accused of using them. It was then that Bonds, jealous of the pair’s fame for hitting home runs, began using steroids to surpass not only McGwire’s single-season home run mark, but Hank Aaron’s all-time record.

Unlike Bonds, Roger Clemens was not a natural athlete and was not born into a baseball family. Instead, the 6’4” righty became one of the league’s most powerful pitchers due to hard work — while his friends were out partying, he was lifting weights. He was drafted by the Red Sox in 1983 and shined in Boston. In 1986, at just 23 years old, Clemens took home both the Cy Young and the MVP — still the youngest ever to win both awards in the same year. Through his twenties, Clemens captured four ERA titles, three strikeout titles, three Cy Youngs, six All-Star selections, and an MVP. In short, he was one of the most feared pitchers the game had ever seen. But once he hit 30, his production suffered. Despite leading the league in ERA three years in a row from 1990-1992, Clemens appeared to slowing down in his thirties, recording an average ERA of 3.77 from 1993-1996, a full run higher than his career average. Although Boston General Manager Dan Duquette “hoped to keep [Clemens] in Boston during the twilight of his career”, Clemens angrily signed a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997. He responded by recording one of the best years of his career at age 34, leading the league in Wins, ERA, and Innings Pitched, while taking home his fourth Cy Young.

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The next year, at age 35, Clemens began working out with new trainer Brian McNamee, who administered him steroids to propel him to the same level of success he had achieved a decade earlier in Boston.

1) Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens decided to take steroids to gain a competitive advantage as their careers neared their respective ends and their performances in the years they allegedly used steroids were significantly enhanced.

Bonds, like Clemens, began taking steroids in his mid-thirties and the results are evident. Bonds took two types of anabolic steroids called “the cream” and “the clear” which were undetectable by MLB’s rudimentary drug testing program and allowed him to work out incessantly without fatigue or soreness. Due to the steroids, the circumference of Bonds’ head grew an inch and his feet grew 2 ½ sizes. In the offseason prior to the 1999 season, the now-hulking outfielder added fifteen pounds of muscle to his physique, but injured his elbow (due to suspected excessive working out while taking steroids) and was limited to just 102 games and just 34 home runs. However, a closer look shows he hit a home run every 10.1 at-bats, far better than his career average of 16.1.

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As the new millenia began, Bonds began hitting home runs at an historic pace, smashing 49 in 2000 before hitting a single-season record 73 in 2001, passing McGwire’s mark of 70 that he had envied since 1998. Bonds’ superhuman 2001 season began a four-year run never seen before in baseball history. Bonds took home four MVPs, led the league in on base percentage and slugging all four years, and won two batting titles. From ages 36-39, when most players are already retired or in the twilight of their careers, Bonds was an even more feared hitter than Babe Ruth — he was once intentionally walked with the bases loaded. As Bonds entered his forties, his health deteriorated but he still kept chugging along to the unthinkable: breaking Hank Aaron’s career mark of 755 home runs. On August 7, 2007, Barry Bonds hit a Mike Bacsik pitch deep into left centerfield and out of AT&T Park in San Francisco, breaking Aaron’s all-time record. It was a bittersweet moment for all of baseball. In a fitting moment that showed how fans felt about Bonds breaking the record, both his record-tying and record-breaking home run balls were purchased at auctions and held for popular votes to decide what to do with them. Ten million baseball fans voted to have the record-breaking ball branded with an asterisk and sent to the Hall of Fame. The record-tying ball was voted to be smashed to bits by a two-to-one margin. Even though Bonds was still a valuable player, no team signed him in 2008 free agency and he left the game in disgrace.

Roger Clemens allegedly began taking steroids around the same time as Bonds and had impressive results. In 1998, Clemens led the league in Wins, ERA, and strikeouts while winning a fifth Cy Young award. In the offseason, Clemens forced a trade to the defending World Series champion New York Yankees and at the ripe age of 36, it appeared his career was turning around. Clemens won the World Series in both of his first two years in New York and took home another Cy Young in 2001. In 2003, Clemens retired, but quickly unretired and signed a contract with the Houston Astros, where he won his record seventh Cy Young award in 2004. He was 42 years old — the oldest man to win pitching’s greatest honor. After three strong years in Houston, Clemens returned to New York to play one final season for the Yankees at the almost unfathomable age of 44. By the time Clemens finally retired he had accrued seven Cy Young awards, seven ERA titles, and five strikeout titles.

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Clemens’ trainer, Brian McNamee, stated that he injected Clemens with Winstrol, an anabolic steroid, in 1998, 2000, and 2001. Let’s compare Clemens’ 1998, 2000, and 2001 seasons — where he reportedly used steroids — against his 1999 season — where he reportedly did not use steroids.

Year Age W L ERA Strikeouts WAR Award wins*
1998 35 20 6 2.65 271 8.1 CY, AS
1999 36 14 10 4.60 163 2.9 No
2000 37 13 8 3.70 188 4.6 No
2001 38 20 3 3.51 213 5.7 CY, AS
From this chart it is clear that Clemens’ performance changed in the years that McNamee claimed he used steroids.

2) Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens used steroids.

Bonds was one of the marquee players named in the infamous 2007 Mitchell Report, a list of 87 players accused of using performance enhancing drugs. Bonds was first implicated for steroid use in 2003 when his trainer, Greg Anderson of BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative) was charged by a federal grand jury for supplying anabolic steroids to athletes. Bonds has since admitted to taking “the clear” and “the cream”, BALCO’s two signature and undetectable steroids, but has claimed his trainer told him they were flaxseed oil and rubbing balm for arthritis. Bonds was investigated in the BALCO case and indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath.

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Clemens was not only named 82 times in the Mitchell Report, but was also called out for steroid use by infamous steroid user Jose Canseco and former teammate Jason Grimsley. Astros and Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte also gave testimony saying Clemens told him he used human growth hormone (HGH), a banned substance. In all, 45 witnesses testified that Clemens used anabolic steroids and HGH. However, Clemens vehemently denied all reports he used steroids throughout his 24-year career in a testimony before a Congressional Committee in 2008. But just like Bonds, Clemens was indicted with perjury, obstruction of Congress, and making false statements because of seven inconsistencies found in his testimony. Although Clemens claimed McNamee only injected him with vitamin B-12 and lidocaine (a legal substance used to numb sore tissue), needles saved by McNamee were investigated by two California labs and found to contain Clemens’ DNA and anabolic steroids — with no trace of vitamin B-12 or lidocaine.

3) Steroid users should not be in the Hall of Fame.

The baseball Hall of Fame is the most sacred of all Hall of Fames in professional sports, home to 230 of the best major leaguers to ever play the game. Every year, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) votes on who to enshrine into the Hall. Players who receive 75% of the vote are inducted, and there is no minimum number of players to be inducted each year. Unlike the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which inducts between four and eight players every year, the Baseball Hall of Fame is notoriously exclusive — some years, the BBWAA does not elect anyone, and only 2.8 players are elected on average every year.

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In 2013, their first year on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens only received 36% and 38% of the vote, respectively. However, their numbers have been climbing steadily, and this year, Bonds and Clemens were voted on 59% and 60% of ballots, respectively. Their case is growing not only among established members of the BBWAA, but with new members too — among new voters in 2017, the two beleaguered steroid users each received 87% of the vote. In addition, players typically receive more votes in their tenth and final year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame — which means the possibility of Bonds and Clemens entering the hall in 2022 is very real.

Inducting steroid users into the Hall of Fame will not only set a dangerous precedent, but will tarnish the reputation of the game’s highest honor. If Bonds and Clemens are inducted into the Hall of Fame, steroid users will no longer be punished for their actions. Instead, they will be honored among the game’s greats. Bonds and Clemens not only cheated the game they loved, but cheated the fans, the opposing players, and the foundation of the game of baseball. If they are enshrined in Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame will be delegitimized.

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There is even a case that they are ineligible for the Hall. BBWAA Hall of Fame voting rule #5 states “voting shall be based on the players’ record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the teams on which the player played.” Sure, Bonds and Clemens had the playing ability, but definitely did not have the integrity, record, sportsmanship, or character necessary for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Should steroid users really be placed next to legends who honored the game, preserved its values, and improved it for following generations?

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Some argue that Bonds and Clemens should be inducted into the Hall of Fame because of their contributions before they began taking steroids. And that statement has some truth in it — if Bonds and Clemens had both decided to retire the moment they decided to take steroids, they would have been first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even though they had both been wildly successful before taking steroids, it wasn’t enough for them — their reputations have been justly tarnished because of their cheating. You cannot induct the first half of a player’s career into the Hall of Fame. Whatever decisions they made during the latter part of their careers affect their legacy just as much, if not more than any decisions they made during the beginning of their careers. Using that logic, legendary players who were banned from the game late in their careers such as Pete Rose should be in the Hall as well. Rose is baseball’s all-time hits leader by a wide margin, but has not been elected into the Hall because of gambling decisions he made during his managerial career. If Rose is to be penalized for late-career decisions, so should Bonds and Clemens.

Others argue that Bonds and Clemens should be elected because of their substantial contributions to the game and the records they broke. However, their contributions were destructive, and their steroid use cast a shadow over an entire era of baseball. The records they broke are tainted — besmirched with pills, syringes, and asteriks in the minds of anyone who watched their joyless slogs through the record books. Every player in the Hall of Fame has built up the sport. However, Bonds and Clemens tore down the game of baseball and hurt the fans who paid for their enormous salaries. These two disgraced steroid users hurt the game of baseball, records held by the greats of the national pastime, and above all, they destroyed the trust of the fans. They should not be in the Hall of Fame.

Special thanks to Baseball Reference for stats, and articles from Sports Illustrated, SFGate.com, and NJ.com for articles written about Bonds and Clemens’ steroid use.  

Five NBA Players Who Have Broken Out This Year

By Connor Pignatello

This NBA season has brought many breakout performances by players; some by veterans in new scenery, some by youngsters on rookie deals, and some by players just entering their prime and finally figuring things out. Amongst the crowd of breakout performances, five stand out, and here are five players who should be first-time All-Stars this year.

Clint Capela

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With the Houston Rockets struggling and on pace for twenty fewer wins than their 65-win campaign of a season ago, Clint Capela has been one of the team’s lone bright spots. While star point guard Chris Paul has missed seven games and will miss 2-3 more weeks due to a left hamstring strain, Capela has started all 33 games, notching double-doubles in 23 of them. In the Rockets’ Christmas Day win against the Thunder, Capela notched his second consecutive 20-rebound game, the first Rocket to do so since 1996. The Swiss center has been a model of not only production — sixth in the NBA in blocks, fifth in rebounds, and second in offensive rebounds — but also efficiency — second in field goal percentage, fourth in offensive rating, and ninth in Win Shares. He has not done this in a small sample size either, ranking in the league’s top twenty in minutes played. Unlike Dwight Howard, his predecessor in Houston, Capela has blossomed into the perfect pick-and-roll partner for James Harden, allowing The Beard to rack up over thirty points and eight assists per game the past two seasons. Capela has been productive, efficient, and very valuable to the disappointing Rockets, and he deserves to play in the All Star game in Charlotte in February.

Danilo Gallinari

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Since Danilo Gallinari entered the league in 2008, he has been one of the NBA’s best marksmen and has recorded double-digit points-per-game in every year since his rookie season. However, he has struggled with persistent injuries and has never lived up to his potential. Now 30 years old, the Italian is having his best season yet, with career-highs in points (19.7), rebounds (6.1) , field-goal percentage (46%), and three-point percentage (47%). Among players with over 160 threes attempted, Gallinari ranks first in percentage made. Before this season, Gallinari had serious problems with staying on the court, missing a third of the possible games throughout his career due to injuries, including all of the 2013-14 season due to a torn ACL. These problems seemed to be getting worse, as the former Knick and Nugget played just 21 games last year after breaking his right hand on two occasions. However, Gallinari has been in prime physical condition this year, missing just one game. Gallinari has been efficient over a large sample size, and holds top-15 marks in attempts, makes, and percentage for threes and free throws. This has made him an offensive star — fifth in the NBA in offensive rating and tenth in true shooting percentage — rare marks of efficiency for a player who takes so many shots from outside the paint. Always talented but never healthy, Gallinari has shown what he is truly capable of for a Clippers squad that is defying expectations this year.

Domantas Sabonis

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Now in his third year in the NBA and his second for the Pacers after coming over with Victor Oladipo in the Paul George trade, Domantas Sabonis has established himself as a defensive ace and an efficient offensive contributor. His father Arvydas was a 7’3” dominant force in the post, bullying opposing defenses from Lithuania to Portland and eventually to the Hall of Fame. But Domantas is not like his father. In his rookie season, the Thunder wanted him to be a stretch-four after acquiring him in a draft-night deal centered around Serge Ibaka, and the 20-year old struggled to the tune of 5.9 points per game and 32% from three. But Domantas is not a stretch-four. Like reigning Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo before him, Sabonis has thrived in Indiana because he has truly discovered his role on the court as an efficient and overlooked contributor on both sides of the ball.  The Gonzaga product has found his niche with the Pacers, and is making a compelling case for the MIP award to stay in Indiana. Sabonis attempted five times as many threes per game in Oklahoma City compared to Indiana, and this improved shot selection since his move to the Pacers has propelled him to being one of the more efficient players in the game. This year, Sabonis is fourth in field-goal percentage, first in true shooting percentage, and second in effective field-goal percentage — stats that show how efficient he really is. Sabonis has also been extremely effective on the defensive end of the floor, ranking sixth in rebound percentage and fifth in Defensive Rating. Only Hassan Whiteside betters his marks in both of those categories. He slots in at eighteenth in the NBA in overall win shares — sandwiched between Ben Simmons and Stephen Curry — and although he is not the flashiest of players, he deserves a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star roster.

Montrezl Harrell

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Always skilled but without a role or consistent minutes, undersized big man Montrezl Harrell has finally found an NBA home with the Clippers after coming over in the Chris Paul trade. Taken by Houston in the second round of the 2015 NBA Draft, Harrell spent nearly half of his Rockets career in the G-League, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. At just 6’8” and facing much taller power forwards and centers, Harrell has had to work hard to carve out a consistent role in the NBA. It has taken Harrell four seasons to truly blossom into the player he is today. This year, the Louisville product is recording career highs in points (15.4) and minutes (25.3). Despite being undersized for his position, the energetic Harrell wreaks havoc in the paint — he’s top-15 in the NBA in free-throw attempts, blocks, and field-goal percentage. Harrell is quickly developing into one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and only Rudy Gobert and Ed Davis have better marks in both Offensive and Defensive Rating. Even though he comes off the bench for a talented Clippers squad, Harrell has shown himself to be an efficient and effective presence in the paint, and deserving of an All-Star nod.

Pascal Siakam

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One of the brightest surprises of the 2018 NBA season, Pascal Siakam is in the midst of a breakout season for the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. The former New Mexico State Aggie has proved to be an effective replacement for the departed DeMar DeRozan and a perfect complement for fellow All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Siakam’s transformation from bench player in 2017 to team-leader in minutes played in 2018 has been extraordinary, and the Cameroonian has improved his statistics in every statistical category. Siakam has also increased his three-point attempts and efficiency, improving from a ghastly 22% last year to a respectable 34% this year. He ranks sixth in the league in plus/minus and is a major reason why the Raptors are leading the Eastern Conference. He has more than doubled his scoring to 14.8 points per game while somehow increasing his efficiency across the board and slotting in at 12th in the NBA in field goal percentage. Although a relative unknown when he was selected by the Raptors in the 2016 draft, Siakam has become a frontrunner for Most Improved Player this year as an important member of one of the best teams in the league. Siakam’ contributions warrant a spot in a weak Eastern Conference All-Star lineup.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out more regular content in the coming months and as always, special thanks to Basketball Reference and NBA.com for these helpful stats.