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Baseball Hall of Shame: Players Tied to Steroid Use Denied Honors

January 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Sport legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens became eligible for entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. But after the votes were tallied, neither received enough support to receive baseball's highest honor. Jeffrey Brown talks to Washington Post's Barry Sverluga about why no living players were elected this year.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, this year, the story is the stars who were not given baseball’s highest honor.

The announcement came from Jeff Idelson, president of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

JEFF IDELSON, Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: For only the eighth time since voting began in 1936, Brian, the voting membership didn’t elect anyone to Cooperstown.

JEFFREY BROWN: Idelson didn’t say so, but the taint of the steroids era kept out three big names who are eligible for the first time.

Sluggers Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and pitcher Roger Clemens fell far short of winning enough votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Bonds held the records for most home runs in a season and the most all time. He’s also the only seven-time most valuable player. He’s denied ever knowingly using steroids. But, in 2011, he was convicted of obstructing justice in testimony to a grand jury investigating the issue.

Clemens won the Cy Young Award, as best pitcher, a record seven times. In 2008, he denied using human growth hormone in congressional testimony.

ROGER CLEMENS, Former Major League Baseball Player: Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.

JEFFREY BROWN: He was later indicted on charges he had lied to Congress, but last June, he was acquitted of all charges.

Sammy Sosa belted more than 600 home runs in his career, including 66 during the 1998 season. He, too, appeared before a congressional committee in 2005, insisting he never used steroids.

That committee also heard from another former star, Mark McGwire, who admitted to steroid use five years later. Today, he was denied entry to the Hall of Fame for a seventh time.

Barry Svrluga covers baseball for The Washington Post and joins us now.

Barry, for our non-baseball followers, explain the dilemma here. These players, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in particular, there’s no question of their greatness as ballplayers, right?

BARRY SVRLUGA, The Washington Post: That’s right.

I mean, all of them would be first-ballot Hall of Famers, certainly Bonds and Clemens, if the issue was only about their numbers. Bonds is probably one of the best hitters of all times, Clemens indisputably one of the best pitchers of all time, third on the strikeout list.

But this is a deeper issue and it’s really a dilemma for the baseball writers, who have long been trusted with voting people into the Hall of Fame. There’s a character clause in baseball’s Hall of Fame voting guidelines.

I think the results would show that the majority of writers are not comfortable electing people who they believe have cheated the game, have cheated by using performance-enhancing drugs.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, you know, as we said, Bonds and Clemens, Sosa, they have all denied using them. So baseball people are saying that there’s enough evidence or there’s enough question, or what exactly are they saying in this vote?

BARRY SVRLUGA: That’s exactly what they are saying.

And talking to former commissioner Fay Vincent, he thinks the whole thing is kind of murky. And that’s probably the best word to describe it. Keep in mind that this is a process, too. These guys can be on the ballot for up to 15 years if they keep getting the requisite number of votes.

So there’s some time to make a judgment here. And I think there’s a real reluctance among voters to make a judgment when they don’t feel like they have all the information that they might get in a decade.

Think of Lance Armstrong’s case in cycling. We don’t think we knew — he denied it for years and years and years. Now there’s a chance he might admit to using performance-enhancing drugs.

So it’s a very, very difficult spot for the voters.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s interesting that nobody got in. So, one wonders, does the steroid scandal go beyond the stars that we have all talked about? Does it in some way taint a whole generation really of players?

BARRY SVRLUGA: That really is the flip side.

You know, what do we know for a fact about any of these people? And just because their names have not come up in, you know, say, the Mitchell report in 2007, baseball’s independent investigation into the whole problem, does that mean they were clean?

I don’t — I think that’s one reason why you’re going to have — why you did have zero people voted in this year, because people are waiting.

Craig Biggio, who got the most votes of anybody on this year’s ballot, was on the ballot for the first time. Might we find out in five or six years that he in fact used performance-enhancing drugs?

I think that’s where some hesitance comes into the minds of some voters.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do we know at this point about how the public views this? We’re talking about a vote that is done by beat sports writers, the baseball writers. What about the public? Are they more or less forgiving? Do we know?

BARRY SVRLUGA: They are forgiving in that they say in a poll that we ran in The Washington Post this morning most people are not that kind of caught up in the whole issue of, did you cheat or did you not cheat?

With the Baseball Hall of Fame, though, there is a little bit of a demarcation there. The majority of people felt that players such as Bonds and Clemens, who have been tainted, even though they have denied, been tainted by the steroid scandal should not be allowed in there.

It’s a very odd issue for the public, because they certainly want to see the big home run, they want to see the big strike out. How much it matters to them how those players got to that result, it is a little bit unclear.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you were talking about the fact that these players have, of course, more chances. Every year, there’s another vote, up to a certain limit, I guess.

But is there some possibility that some of the writers were, I don’t know, giving a kind of slap this time to make a statement, you know, and say, well, we are not happy, but it’s possible that they will come back next year or in future years and vote them in?

BARRY SVRLUGA: That is possible.

I think what you have to look at in the case of Bonds and Clemens, who both received fewer than 40 percent of the vote, is how far they have to go to get to the 75 percent threshold that is needed to get into the hall.

That typically happens in, say, non-steroid cases, where the writers kind of say, well, this guy is an all-time great, so he should get in on the first ballot, and that really stamps him as one of an elite class, an elite among the elite.

There are changes in votes from year to year. And the environment changes. The discussion goes further.

I think there will be some developments over the next few years in regards to these two guys, and Sosa included. But is it enough to bump them up another 40 percent, which is essentially what they would need to get to get into the hall?

JEFFREY BROWN: And I’m just curious in our last 30 seconds. You said the writers look at other criteria, right, beyond the home runs and the strikeouts. And those are things like character. I mean, is that something well defined in baseball and in sports?

BARRY SVRLUGA: Well, you know, that rule was written a long time ago. So Ty Cobb, who was a notorious womanizer, or something like that, he is easily in the Hall of Fame.

What defines character, has that evolved over time? This is part of the discussion. And it’s particular to baseball, because other halls of fame don’t have that character clause in their voting procedure.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

BARRY SVRLUGA: Thanks for having me.