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:
- 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.
- Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens used steroids.
- 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.
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.
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.
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&amp;amp;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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.