Red Sox: Hall of Fame vote for Barry Bonds must mean one for Roger Clemens

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 14: Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens walks on the field after being inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame before a game between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 14, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 14: Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens walks on the field after being inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame before a game between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 14, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) /

Former Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens has seen his legacy tarnished by PEDs as much as Barry Bonds yet he has one fewer Hall of Fame vote.

Fewer than one-third of the Hall of Fame ballots have been cast as we roll into the first weekend of January and already there is controversy brewing. Based on results revealed by Hall of Fame tracker Ryan Thibadaux on Friday, Barry Bonds would sneak over the threshold for election while former Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens would fall just short.

The votes keep rolling in and these percentages will continue to fluctuate until all ballots are counted. As of Saturday morning, Clemens had reached 75.6%, placing him barely ahead of the 75% required for election. Clemens has appeared on 96 of the 124 public ballots that have been counted so far.

That still puts him one vote behind Bonds. How could you possibly vote for one without the other? Based on their statistical resume, both players are obvious choices.

Bonds is the home run king, a seven-time MVP and 14-time All-Star. He won eight Gold Gloves and two batting titles. He’s the all-time leader in walks and owns a career 1.051 OPS, a category he led the majors in nine times.

Clemens has 354 career wins and 4672 strikeouts. He’s a seven-time Cy Young winner, 11-time All-Star and an MVP. The Rocket captured seven ERA titles including two seasons in which he won the pitcher’s Triple Crown. He has two 20 strikeout games on his resume.

The statistical reasons for putting these two in the Hall of Fame are as crystal clear as the counterpoint for why some writers choose to leave them off their ballots. While we have a lack of definitive proof since they played before MLB enforced testing for performance enhancing drugs, there’s enough damning evidence to condemn them of cheating. Nobody is trying to argue their innocence. These two were the poster children of the PED era.

Hall of Fame voters typically fall into two camps – those who view Cooperstown as a museum that should recognize the best players regardless of how they did it and those who want to punish the cheaters by depriving them of their moment of glory.

Personally, I lean toward the former. The Hall of Fame has already accepted its fair share of players who broke the rules or had questionable character traits. It’s not the Hall of Nice Guys. Baseball has always been a numbers game and nobody has ever put up the staggering statistics that Bonds and Clemens did.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that PED allegations can’t be a factor in borderline cases. Sammy Sosa wasn’t close to being worthy early in his career before his power numbers suddenly surged amid PED rumors. He wouldn’t get my vote.

Gary Sheffield is an admitted PED user. He was a great hitter but his lack of production outside of the batter’s box left him with a career WAR that trails other deserving candidates on the ballot. Manny Ramirez was caught twice after MLB cracked down on drug testing. Both should eventually get in but I can see the case for leaving them off the ballot.

It’s different for Bonds and Clemens. They aren’t borderline cases, they are among the best of the best. That was the case long before they used PEDs to prolong their careers. We can figure out when Bonds started using by tracking the growth of his head during  his time in San Francisco. He was a two-time MVP as a scrawny kid in Pittsburgh. Clemens had a brilliant 13-year career in Boston before he began to fade in the “twilight of his career.” He suddenly bounced back with consecutive Cy Young seasons as soon as he went to Toronto. It’s not hard to figure out when steroids were introduced to his career.

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If we only counted what Bonds accomplished during his clean seasons with the Pirates and the years Clemens spent with the Red Sox, both would be worthy of Cooperstown. Their legacies are intertwined. Two star players who were good enough to make it to the Hall of Fame without cheating yet they turned to PEDs because they were never satisfied by their own greatness. They are two sides of the same coin, making it virtually impossible to separate them in this debate.

Apparently, not everyone agrees. According to Thibodaux’s tracking site, ESPN’s Christina Kahrl voted for Bonds but not Clemens. She also had Sosa, Sheffield and Manny on her ballot so she’s clearly in the camp that believes the PED users shouldn’t be excluded. Except when it comes to Clemens? More baffling is that Kahrl voted for Clemens last year only to kick him off her ballot this time.

That wasn’t the only baffling ballot. One writer who didn’t vote for Bonds last year added him to their ballot this time, while selecting Clemens both times. Another head-scratching case of a voter finding one worthy but not the other. At least this time the mistake was rectified.

Another writer removed everyone he previously voted for to cast a ballot that included only newcomer Derek Jeter. That has to be the most cringe-worthy way to make a statement.

The voting process is open to some subjectivity and not everyone who casts a ballot is expected to agree on everything. What we do expect is that voters know where they stand on the topic of suspected PED users. You’re in one camp or the other, you can’t straddle the line.

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Not every player whose legacy has been soiled by PEDs is a lock for the Hall of Fame based on their on-field accomplishments. Bonds and Clemens are. Eventually they will both get into Cooperstown and it should happen at the same time. We don’t have to like them and it may be difficult to stomach their acceptance speeches but we’ll do it knowing that they both belong.