Now it’s ridiculous. Now it’s a joke.

The Baseball Hall of Fame, by way of the Baseball Writers Association of America, had been heading for punchline status for nearly a decade, with every refusal to vote Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into Cooperstown. Each omission was frustrating and short-sighted, but the saving grace was time. Bonds and Clemens had a final year left on the ballot. The BBWAA was down to its last strike. One last chance to get it right.

And it struck out. David Ortiz was elected Tuesday, and good for him. Well deserved. But Bonds and Clemens were not. Perhaps the greatest hitter and greatest pitcher the game has ever seen are off the ballot, and will have to hope for one of the backdoor entries into the Hall of Fame.

It’s a joke. Start talking about the glory and honor of the Hall of Fame, and you might as well be doing stand-up.

It’s a joke because it detonates what the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about: The best of the best, period. The ability to hit a baseball. The ability to throw it. The ability to catch it. The ability to run the bases. And of course, the ability to win. That’s what should matter. That’s all that should matter.

And, apparently, it doesn’t. Getting into the Hall of Fame isn’t about production anymore. It’s about measuring up to some out-of-touch gatekeepers’ notions of morality. Cool. I’m sure that’s what the fans want.


That’s not to say I think Bonds and Clemens are paragons of virtue. They were both prickly with the media and those around them, and while neither one failed a test, there’s ample evidence that they were among the heaviest PED users during the height of the steroid era. All true.

And this isn’t to say that I don’t mind steroid use. I don’t, however, like seeing people continue to try to play the “I think this guy did, I think that guy didn’t” game. It’s silly to do that. Steroids were everywhere. Assuming players like Jeff Bagwell, Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Thome, all of whom were inducted, were clean while thriving in the steroid era’s most rampant days is a little like when people talked themselves into thinking that nearly all cyclists were doping but Lance Armstrong, the one flying by them in the Tour de France, was the one guy doing it honestly.

I like the idea of steroid era players being graded on a curve. Hitting 500 home runs used to be an automatic entry, but since the numbers in the sport went up, so do the standards. You want to grade someone with 525 home runs the way you would someone with 425? That’s fair.

But that’s the thing. Maybe Gary Sheffield doesn’t pass that curve. Maybe Sammy Sosa doesn’t either. But Bonds and Clemens do. You can’t talk yourself into saying that Bonds and Clemens wouldn’t have been the transcendent players they were without steroids. It’s been said a million times already, Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers if they retired in the late ’90s, well before their steroid usage allegedly started.

Instead, they remain out. And the BBWAA, in trying to protect the integrity of the Hall of Fame — a place that already celebrates proud cheaters like Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford and John McGraw — instead weakens it, and makes it go against its purpose. The Hall of Fame that supposedly celebrates the greatest to ever play the sport doesn’t include perhaps the most feared slugger since Babe Ruth and the most decorated pitcher to ever step on a mound.

Imagine a Basketball Hall of Fame without Michael Jordan (hey, he gambled!). Or a Pro Football Hall of Fame without Tom Brady (hey, he threw deflated footballs!). That’s what we’re looking at here.


Meanwhile, Edgar Martinez gets in. Craig Biggio gets in. Trevor Hoffman gets in. Scott Rolen’s odds look promising with five more years on the ballot. Sure, they’re good players. Very good, even, and deserving of some Hall of Fame attention. But they get in while Bonds and Clemens are out? After dominating the game the way they did?

It makes no sense.

But that’s how the BBWAA wants the Hall of Fame to be. Were you a good guy with a squeaky-clean resume who was a joy in the locker room? That’s the important thing. Just how good a player you were? That’s secondary.

It’s a joke. This joke, though, isn’t funny.

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