On Jan. 24, Jack O’Connell, the Secretary/Treasurer of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), will announce the names of this year’s inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There’s a very good chance that both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be part of the class of 2018. As of this writing, Hall of Fame Ballot Tracker Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) has Bonds and Clemens, each as having received approximately 67% of the required 75% vote total required for induction (based on 39% of the ballots).
At one point, it was unthinkable that the duo might be inducted, because of the performance-enhancing drug (PED) allegations lodged against them. But, if they are elected, it could pave the way for Alex Rodriguez and others to make it to the Hall of Fame. However, one major difference exists between A-Rod and the duo of Bonds and Clemens that could delay or stop A-Rod from getting into Cooperstown.
This is the first of a two-part series that examines the qualifications all three players had at different points in their career.
While both Bonds and Clemens were alleged to have used PEDs, neither failed a drug test or were suspended from baseball. Neither admitted to the use of HGH or steroids. A-Rod, however, hit the Daily Double.
The former shortstop for Seattle and Texas and third baseman for the Yankees admitted to steroid use after the results of a confidential 2003 drug test were leaked to the public. Then, A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season due to his connection to Biogenesis of America, a PED provider disguised as a health clinic. To this day, the public still does not know the full extent of A-Rod’s role in the scandal.
Complicating matters further, A-Rod alleged that the Yankees’ front office and Major League Baseball were “out to get him”. Then, he turned things up a notch in 2013 by suing MLB and the Yankees’ team doctor Christopher Ahmad. The suit against MLB claimed that the league paid Biogenesis owner Anthony Bosch $5 million to provide incriminating evidence against A-Rod. The suit against Dr. Ahmed alleged that the doctor missed a “superior labral tear at the left hip”, which in turn, led to A-Rod playing with a bad hip and injuring himself further (both suits were dropped by A-Rod in 2014).
But, for now, let’s get back to the cases of Bonds and Clemens, who both retired after the 2007 season. The theory is that both had Hall-worthy numbers, especially Bonds, before their alleged PED use. The 1998 season reportedly changed everything for Bonds. While Bonds was having a fabulous year, the country was fixated on the Mark McGwire–Sammy Sosa duel/race to top Roger Maris‘ single-season home run record. Bonds already had three NL MVP Awards in his trophy case. But, he was reportedly jealous and angry that he was being ignored by two inferior players, and that’s why he hooked up with Victor Conte and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).
This information came to light in the 2006 book, “Game of Shadows”, written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. The pair used Grand Jury testimony from Bonds and information leaked to them by a former BALCO employee. In 2007, Bonds was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice and four years later he went to trial. He was found guilty only on the obstruction charge and all other charges were dismissed. (In 2015, the obstruction conviction was overturned by a court of appeals.)
The Pre-BALCO Bonds
The 1998 season was the 13th in the Major Leagues for Bonds. He had already amassed 411 home runs, 1,216 RBI, 1,364 runs scored, 1,907 hits, 403 doubles, 445 stolen bases, and 1,357 walks (compared to 1,050 strikeouts). His splits to that point were /290/.411/.556, which translates to a .996 OPS. Bonds’ average Wins Above Replacement (WAR) was 7.5.
In addition to his three NL MVP Awards, Bonds finished second another time and placed in the top-five an additional three times. His trophy case also held eight Gold Glove Awards and seven Silver Slugger Awards. And, he was a member of the NL All-Star team eight times.
There was no better hitter in the game from 1992-1998. In that seven-year stretch, Bonds averaged 38 HR, 109 RBI, 33 stolen bases, 75 walks, and a spectacular 1.064 OPS. At 33 years of age, he clearly had a path to the Hall of Fame. When you compare his numbers to those of Minnesota Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett, who entered the Hall in 2001, the argument is made even clearer.
Puckett retired after 12 seasons in the Big Leagues with two World Series rings and a number of doubters as to his Hall of Fame worthiness.
These two tables show Bonds after 13 seasons and Puckett’s career totals:
Strictly based on this comparison, it is clear that Bonds was already on a path to Cooperstown. Next week, I’ll compare and contrast Roger Clemens’ career numbers with those in the Hall and take a deeper dive into A-Rod’s career.