Baseball is a game that reveres numbers, and their numbers offer indisputable evidence they were among the best to ever play. Barry Bonds clobbered more home runs than anyone in a single season or a career and was honored as his league’s MVP a record seven times. Roger Clemens won 354 career games and was named winner of the Cy Young Award as his league’s best pitcher seven times, another record.
Yet on Wednesday, Bonds and Clemens were denied entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame, a sharp rebuke not only to those two stars but an apparent condemnation of the steroids-tainted period in which they played the game.
In their first time eligible to receive the sport’s top honor from the Baseball Writers Association of America, both men – whose careers ended with suspicions they used performance-enhancing drugs, despite their denials – received fewer than four out of 10 votes, well short of the 75 percent needed for induction.
For the first time since 1996, the baseball writers elected no one to the Hall. Among those rejected were Sammy Sosa, the slugger who sits eighth on the all-time home run list and who joined Clemens and Bonds on the ballot for the first time. Mark McGwire, who sits 10th on the all-time home run list, failed again, receiving his lowest percentage in seven years of eligibility.
McGwire has admitted steroid use. Sosa was widely suspected of it.
Craig Biggio, 20th on the career list with 3,060 hits, came the closest to enshrinement. He was chosen on 68.2 percent of the 569 ballots, 39 shy of election. Among other first-year eligibles, Mike Piazza received 57.8 percent and Curt Schilling 38.8 percent.
Jack Morris topped others previously on the ballot with 67.7 percent.
The vote was the latest emphatic, if expected, pronouncement that the vast majority of the 569 writers who cast ballots are not ready to elect even the best performers, if there are fears they used drugs.
“It means that the period in baseball from about the time I left until the present is pretty dirty, if that’s the right word, period,” said Fay Vincent, who was baseball’s commissioner from 1989 to 1992. “I think everybody, including many who were probably clean, are subject to that judgment, and any judgment has got to be a cloudy one.”
The results extended the debate about how baseball, a sport that cherishes its history, should remember those players who defined and dominated an era from the 1990s through the mid-2000s in which baseball’s own investigation showed the use of performance-enhancing drugs was widespread.
“It’s a tough period for evaluation,” Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. “That’s what this chalks up to.”
News of the vote was embraced by some and brought swift rebuttals from others. Clemens, who has defiantly and publicly expressed his innocence, took to Twitter to express his reaction.
“After what has been written and said over the last few years I’m not overly surprised,” Clemens wrote in a link from his account. “Thanks to all the teams I’ve worked with and to fans and friends for all the fantastic letters, voice mails and texts of support over the last few years.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley tweeted, “Wow! Baseball writers make a statement. … Feels right.”
Jeff Borris, Bonds’ longtime agent, told The Associated Press that it’s “unimaginable that the best player to ever play the game would not be a unanimous first-ballot selection.”
Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players’ union, called the results “unfortunate, if not sad.”
“To ignore the historic accomplishments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, for example, is hard to justify,” Weiner said in a statement.
“Moreover, to penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings – and others never even implicated – is simply unfair.”
Vincent said Hall voters have “a very murky, opaque decision. ... I think it’s the right decision. But it reflects very badly on that whole era in baseball.”
Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and anyone receiving more than five percent of the vote will be eligible in the future, for as long as 15 years. Idelson said there are no plans to change voting procedures.
“It’s evident that the voters took this exercise probably more serious than any other ballot that they filled out, and that’s because there’s so many questions in voters’ minds,” Idelson said. “It takes time for history to sort itself out. I’m not surprised we had a shutout today.”
In 2003, Bonds became embroiled in the scandal surrounding the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative. Bonds maintained his innocence, but in 2007 – the year he hit the last of his record 762 home runs – he was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in relation to his grand jury testimony in the BALCO case.
Clemens was a prominent figure in baseball’s independent investigation into steroid use, led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, in 2007, when Clemens recorded the last of his 4,672 strikeouts.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.