When Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, it was a tough sell. The case for both was clouded by evidence that they used performance-enhancing drugs. Nothing was proved in legal proceedings against either, yet there was all that testimony.
For most voters, it was a lot to digest, even though it involved a seven-time MVP and the all-time home runs leader as well as a seven-time Cy Young Award winner with 354 career victories. It seemed reasonable not to vote for them right out of the gate because of what was heard.
Their vote totals reflected the skepticism. Needing 75 percent on balloting for enshrinement to the Hall of Fame, they got less than 40 percent their first three years and between 40 and 50 percent last year, their fourth time on the ballot.
The dynamics may be changing now. Many voters have posted their ballots on social media, and one man, Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs on Twitter), is keeping track, as he does each year. As of Saturday evening, 201 of the approximately 450 ballots were public. Bonds and Clemens were both in the mid-60 percent range. It is starting to look as if they eventually will get in.
I changed my vote on Bonds and Clemens this season, something that has happened on more than 10 percent of the now-public ballots. A few things seem to be in play with this. Many of the long-time voters who felt it their duty to "protect" the Hall no longer cover the sport and cannot vote. The electorate is getting younger, and the performance-enhancing-drug use doesn't seem to matter as much to that segment.
And, based on the writings of a number of voters — members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America — they switched their votes on Bonds and Clemens because Bud Selig was voted, almost unanimously, into the Hall by the Eras Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee). Their reasoning, generally, is that if the commissioner who allowed performance-enhancing drugs to permeate the game is in then voting for those with that taint is fine.
That wasn't the case with this voter, though it did give me pause. I didn't vote for Bonds and Clemens initially because I wanted more information. Maybe time would change something. Maybe there would be more proven evidence that Bonds and Clemens actually did something wrong. Maybe the Hall of Fame would take a position on those who were suspected of using PEDs. Maybe a trend would develop.
And it has been years now. What changed is that Bonds' and Clemens' peers from the same era — some with serious suspicions of PED use — are getting into the Hall of Fame.
And for this reason, my stance on denying Bonds' and Clemens' entry into this museum that honors baseball's best performers is evolving. Voting for Mike Piazza, despite nothing but rumors, was easy. But now Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez is likely to gain entry, even though Jose Canseco gave first-person testimony in his book that he knows Rodriguez used.
So now the best players from that era — where it is likely that PED use was widespread — are getting into the Hall of Fame. More are to come. I don't see how the best players from this era could go to Hall of Fame while Bonds and Clemens do not. They were the very best from that era. They belong ahead of anyone else who has circumstantial evidence against them. So I felt it only right to vote for them this season and not hold two people accountable for the sins of so many.
And I did, for the first time. And I will from this point on. Unless something new, something even more damning, is introduced to the debate. They are undoubtedly among the best baseball performers of all time.
Along with Bonds and Clemens, I added newcomers Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. They are on my eight-person ballot along with four holdovers: Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Trevor Hoffman and Curt Schilling.
A few words about the decision-making process regarding some I chose and did not choose and the way their fortunes on Hall of Fame balloting are going:
Rodriguez — One of the best catchers, on offense or defense, of his time. In 21 seasons, he was an All-Star 14 times, a Gold Glove winner 13 times, has great all-time numbers including a .296 batting average and played like a stud as the Marlins captured the 2003 World Series. I expect the rest of the electorate sees things the same way.
Guerrero — One of the most feared power hitters of his time, he batted .318 with 449 homers and an OPS-plus of 140. He was a nine-time All-Star and won an MVP. And he wasn't the typical home run hitter; he had no 100-strikeout seasons. If he doesn't get in this season, I expect he will next season. Public balloting has him close on his first ballot.
Bagwell — He was a player you would buy a ticket to see, one of the great power hitters of his era. He had a .948 OPS and his OPS-plus is 149, 12th best all time among right-handed hitters. Detractors suggest PED use from a good minor league hitter who became a behemoth.