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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There would have been a sick symmetry if two of the biggest cheaters in the history of baseball — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — were ushered into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the same writers who have raised their pitchforks and torches about the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.

Derek Jeter and Larry Walker will be the Class of 2020 for the Hall of Fame — Jeter just missing a unanimous vote with 99.7 percent (one as-yet unnamed writer the lone holdout) in his first year on the ballot and Walker, in his last year of eligibility, squeezing in at 76.6%. Candidates need 75% of the votes by the writers to be elected.


Bonds and Clemens will have to wait, falling short once more in their eighth year of eligibility for election to Cooperstown. Clemens got 61% of the vote and Bonds garnered 60.7% — a slight increase over Clemens‘ 59.5% and Bonds’ 59.1% last year.

There is no joy in anabolicville.

The righteous anger over sign-stealing is far deeper than it ever was over steroids.

Maybe, when it comes to sign-stealing, the villains are easier to identify.

After all, there is already a rush to judge Jose Altuve, caught on video clutching his jersey after hitting the game-winning home run in the American League Championship series. Surely, we’re told, he’s trying to hide some sort of electronic device to cheat — though we never actually see this supposed device.

What’s the difference between that and the comparable videos of a normal Barry Bonds and a blown-up, post-steroids Barry Bonds hitting home runs? Which one truly is more revealing?

Many baseball writers have seen fit to portray Bonds and Clemens as victims — cheated cheaters, if you will. Not enough so far, though.

Will they take up the cause of Altuve when his time comes on the ballot? I mean, what’s the difference if you use a garbage can for banging out signals relayed by video or using a garbage can to dispose of performance-enhancing drug syringes?

I voted for five candidates on my Hall of Fame ballot: Jeter, Walker, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent and Omar Vizquel.

Jeter, of course, was a no brainer for a plaque in Cooperstown. Not a deity, but certainly a Hall of Famer — a 14-time All-Star, a five-time World Series champion, a five-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop and a five-time Silver Slugger award winner. He is the New York Yankees’ all-time career leader in hits (3,465) and is considered by many to be the anchor of those championship Yankee teams.

Walker had a career .313 batting average with 383 home runs and 1,311 RBI, three-time National League batting champion and the 1997 Most Valuable Player. He did some of that at Coors Field, where the games still counted, as far as I know.

Wagner had 422 saves over 16 seasons coming out of the bullpen. A seven-time All-Star, Wagner’s 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest of any pitcher with a least 800 innings pitched.

Kent is the all-time home run leader among second baseman, with 377, and drove in more than 100 runs eight times. Vizquel, in a position at shortstop defined by defense, won 11 Gold Gloves — nine straight from 1993 to 2001. I saw a lot of Omar Vizquel, and he is the best shortstop I’ve ever seen during my time covering baseball.

Barry Bonds? He hit 762 career home runs — many of them helped by performance-enhancing drugs. Roger Clemens? He won 354 games over 24 seasons — many of them helped by performance-enhancing drugs.

Why do I believe this? Because Bonds is an admitted steroid user and Clemens was exposed in the credible Mitchell Report on PEDS. Bonds admitted to using steroids in grand jury testimony in the BALCO case, claiming that he was unaware that he knew what he was taking, a claim that strains credulity.

Clemens denies using steroids, but his case against him was credibly laid out in the Mitchell Report — an investigation conducted by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.

Forgive me if I chose to believe a two-time U.S. Senator who brokered peace in Northern Ireland and who used a former federal drug prosecutor as his lead investigator in the Mitchell Report over Clemens. That’s just me.

There are six criteria for election to Cooperstown. Three of them are integrity, sportsmanship and character. To reward a player with the highest honor, I chose to take those three components seriously.

And I don’t buy the arguments being made to let them in.

One of those arguments is that it’s unfair to single out Bonds and Clemens when so many others were using steroids. So you mean because I can’t judge everyone, I can’t judge anyone — even ones with testimony and evidence against them?

Another argument is that there are cheaters and others of questionable character already in Cooperstown. I didn’t vote for any of them. Does that mean I am bound by every vote that has taken place before me?

Bonds and Clemens may wind up getting in, and that’s fine. If so it will be the will of the electorate. They have two years of eligibility remaining before they are taken off the ballot, and next year’s class of new candidates is not particularly strong — Tim Hudson, Torii Hunter and Mark Buehrle among them.

Their final year in 2022? The nuclear ballot, with steroid poster child Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz on the ballot for the first time.

Altuve? He’s 29, entering his 10th major league season. He may be 10 years or more away from being on the ballot. By then, Bonds and Clemens may have knocked down the door, and sign-stealing may be one of the criteria to get into Cooperstown.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast.


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