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Commentary Bob Lutz: Want a spot in Cooperstown? Don’t cheat

  • Published Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at 8:45 p.m.

If Lutz had a vote

(Maximum of 10 votes)

1. Greg Maddux, RHP (355-227, 4 Cy Youngs)

2. Tom Glavine, LHP (305-203, World Series MVP)

3. Frank Thomas, 1B (521 HR, .301 average)

4. Craig Biggio, 2B-CF-C (3,060 hits)

5. Jeff Bagwell, 1B (.297 average, 1,529 RBI)

6. Curt Schilling, RHP (216 wins, 11-2, 2.223 ERA in postseason)

7. Tim Raines, LF (2,605 hits, 808 stolen bases, .294 average)

8. Mike Piazza, C (.308 average, 427 HR, 12-time All-Star)

The Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds pro-Hall of Fame people like to use the argument that, well, both guys would have been Hall of Famers even if they hadn’t started juicing whenever it was they started juicing.

Clemens and Bonds, proponents of their Hall of Fame candidacy say, were already two of the best players in baseball when they decided to do whatever necessary to take their games to higher levels.

And they’re right. If Clemens and Bonds had decided to retire in 1998, when Bonds was 33 and Clemens was 35, they undoubtedly would have been elected into the Hall of Fame.

But they didn’t retire. They weren’t even close to being finished. And the way they went about elevating their performance as they grew older is the problem here.

Clemens and Bonds chose to cheat the game, themselves, fans, teammates and anybody else who gave a hoot. They weren’t satisfied with being great, they wanted to be greater. And so they went to the dark side, joining other players who have created one gigantic headache for baseball and especially for those who try to sort out who gets in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Don’t tell me neither Clemens nor Bonds tested positive for steroids. We’re past that debate. Hall of Fame voters might be split on whether they believe Clemens and Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, but there’s a unanimity about how they got better with age.

Clemens was a six-time All-Star before 1998, the year generally considered the beginning of baseball’s steroids era — although I’m not convinced it didn’t begin earlier. He had already won 213 games and had a 2.97 career ERA over 14 seasons. He led the American League in strikeouts four times, in wins three times and was a five-time ERA champ. He also was lugging around three Cy Young Awards.

But from 1993-96, Clemens was showing signs of wearing down. He was 40-39 in those seasons with a 3.77 ERA. The Boston Red Sox let him go after the 1996 season and Clemens signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Clemens rediscovered himself in Canada, going 41-13 in two Cy Young seasons with the Blue Jays. But Toronto traded him to the New York Yankees, where Clemens went 20-3 and won his seventh Cy Young as a 38-year-old in 2001.

And he wasn’t finished yet.

In 2004, Clemens was 18-4 with the Houston Astros and, at 41, picked up his seventh Cy Young. He had a 1.87 ERA for the Astros in 2005 and in 19 games in 2006, he was 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA.

It looked like Clemens might pitch forever.

Bonds also discovered the fountain of youth with the San Francisco Giants.

He was a two-time MVP in Pittsburgh before joining the Giants as a free agent in 1993. That season, Bonds hit 46 homers — 12 more than he had ever hit. And he was just getting started.

Once a lithe, fast outfielder who used his legs as much as his power, Bonds started to grow like a Great Dane puppy. And so did his home-run totals. And in 2001, when he was 36, Bonds smashed the home-run record set three seasons earlier by Mark McGwire with 73 long balls.

McGwire, of course, was using steroids to attain his massive home run numbers and after years of playing peekaboo, he finally admitted his wrongdoing.

Neither Clemens nor Bonds have. In fact, neither former player says much of anything these days.

I suspect when the Hall of Fame vote is released Wednesday afternoon, neither Bonds nor Clemens will come close to appearing on 75 percent of the ballots cast by those in the Baseball Writers Association of America. I am not a member of that organization and never have been. But if I were, neither player would get my vote. Nor would McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro or Sammy Sosa, others implicated in the steroids era.

If Cooperstown eventually wants to acknowledge these players, an additional wing should be built. I’d be fine with that. There’s no use trying to hide from the history of the game, even when it’s sordid. A detailed, historical perspective about the steroids era would be a fascinating addition to the Hall of Fame, but only when all of the notable players are finally ready to fess up about their involvement.

Meanwhile, there are enough great players to make the Class of 2014 a special one. Already, former managers Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre have been elected into the Hall by the expansion era committee.

Former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine appear to be shoo-ins, as does ex-Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who played in the middle of the steroids era with the most incredible physique imaginable but has never been implicated. Good for him.

For Clemens and Bonds, the numbers speak for themselves. And out of both sides of their mouths. It must be a strange, frustrating feeling to be so great, but to be turned away from the place where greatness is honored.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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