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Looking at the Hall-of-Fame Ballot: Roger Clemens

Anytime one writes about Roger Clemens, there is bound to be a reaction. Roger Clemens is a polarizing figure on the Hall-of-Fame ballot because of the allegations that he used steroids to enhance his career. If that is true, and many people believe it is, then many people also feel that he does not deserve to be enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame.

Absent of the steroid question, which for many cannot be separated, Roger Clemens is an inner circle Hall-of-Famer. Just look at these statistics:

354 wins

4,672 strikeouts

7 Cy Young Awards

One MVP

11 time All-Star

Led the league in wins four times

Led the league in ERA seven times

Led the league in strikeouts five times

The list could go on and on. If we just look to WAR for pitchers, Clemens ranks third all time behind only Cy Young and Walter Johnson.

Absent of steroids, the man is a Hall-of-Famer…

So What About Steroids?

This is a question that each voter or fan has to answer for himself. There are a variety of ways to look at this question.

The most direct is “If he was a steroid user he shouldn’t get in – ever.” That argument has been a strong one and it is one that will be hard for Roger Clemens to overcome. In fact, that’s the exact argument that has kept him out of the Hall-of-Fame to date.

The problem is, that argument is falling apart.

The first, and most obvious reason is that other players tied to steroids are already in the Hall-of-Fame and have been elected in the years after Clemens first went onto the ballot. It seems like Roger Clemens (and a few other players) are being held to a different standard than some other players with credible ties to using performance enhancers. Why the selective outrage for Clemens and not the others who have reached baseball’s hallowed hall?

A second argument is that no one will ever truly know which players used performance enhancers and which ones did not. We know the players who were caught. We know the players who were named in the Mitchell Report, but no one believes that the lists end with just those players. Are we to assume that any player not listed on those reports or who didn’t publicly fail a drug test was clean?

A third argument is that managers of teams that won pennants to a large degree by relying on players accused of steroids are also now in the Hall-of-Fame. The successes those managers enjoyed was based, at least partially, and in some cases significantly, on the performance from players using performance enhancers. If those PEDs make an individual’s success questionable, shouldn’t they do the same for the team’s success? Take away those players (and, if you want, including Roger Clemens) and some of those managers’ great records suddenly don’t look so great. Would the Yankees have won the 1999 and 2000 World Series without Roger Clemens?

A fourth argument is that the Commissioner of Baseball during the steroid era is in the Hall-of-Fame. The blight that steroids had on the sport did not keep him out of Cooperstown. Why are certain players held to a different standard than the person who oversaw the sport throughout all of those years? If baseball boomed in popularity in those years, surely some of that was on the backs of individuals being denied entry into the Hall-of-Fame.

A fifth argument would draw an imaginary line at the point when Clemens probably didn’t use and when he might have. The question one would ask is, “Was he a Hall-of-Famer before be used (or when he was suspected of using) steroids? The problem here is that no one knows, at all, when any player used or didn’t use.

A sixth argument differentiates between Joe Jackson and Pete Rose and the steroid guys. Joe Jackson and Pete Rose were kicked out of baseball. On the other hand, some of the players most tied to steroids, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire (both also not enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame) have served as MLB coaches. The game welcomed them back. This begs the question, if they can coach, why can’t they also be in the Hall-of-Fame?

Seventh, there are players in the Hall-of-Fame who openly cheated, it was part and parcel of their entire playing image. There are also players that have used (and abused) other drugs during their careers.

Finally, this off-season, we have already seen two managers who presided over teams that cheated and won welcomed back to managing. After facing a one-season suspension, these men are back in baseball’s good graces and will be the faces of two franchises. By allowing this, baseball is stating that some levels of cheating do not come with permanent exile.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the steroid question is the only one that matters in regard to Roger Clemens. Did he use, and if he did, should that keep him out of the Hall-of-Fame?

Based on his numbers, Roger Clemens is a Hall-of-Famer. I believe he will be inducted eventually. Whether or not that happens in 2021 will be determined by today’s writers.

I hate performance enhancers. I wish they never existed. I hate the fact that all of this has tarnished the game in so many ways.

But I also believe that some players who used PEDs are already in the Hall-of-Fame. If they are in, and if the managers who won because of them are in, and if the commissioner who benefited from their great play is in…how do you keep the best players from that era out? It seems like selective outrage.

Roger Clemens belongs in Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame.


#RogerClemens

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