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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 1, 2022 11:05 am PDT
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Let’s put the Baseball Hall of Fame controversy in simple terms so more people understand what is going on in the game that has lost its way in so many ways and could use a pick-me-up.

Consider that Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader, Roger Clemens, the leader for winning the most Cy Young Awards, Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was the central figure in baseball’s most iconic movie, Field of Dreams, and the third best lifetime batting average in the history of baseball, are all not in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Also add Bonds in there as the all-time walks leader in MLB history.

And just how do we do that?

We do it by putting it in NFL terms.

That’s really the only thing people understand anymore is the incredible success of the NFL, highlighted this past weekend of off-the-charts games and television ratings.

When it comes to sports, it is the NFL’s world and the rest of the sports world is just along for the ride. For all the blemishes of the NFL, and there are many, it remains an action packed, wild and crazy game where anything can happen and usually does and that keeps the fans on the edge of their seats led by quarterbacks who are superb.

And there is always enough second guessing to keep things lively and there is, most importantly, the human element in football.

You see, unlike MLB which has lessened the impact of the starting pitcher, the NFL has protected and increased the impact of the guy who throws their ball. Makes sense.

That’s one of the main reasons why fans love it. For the most part it’s an escape from the real world and there are times you basically jump out of your seat, witness the Bills’ final touchdown and then the 13-seconds of mindless Buffalo coaching in the loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs this past Sunday, despite the many heroics of Superman Josh Allen.

Just an aside here, but I saw Josh Allen play in college at Wyoming and soon after wrote a column that the Jets should absolutely draft Allen, who was clearly the best quarterback in that 2018 draft and was one of the toughest quarterbacks I have ever seen play the game.

I remember going to the Jets complex, back in New Jersey when I covered some football too, and being told that the reason the Jets were not going to draft Allen is because they did not like “his completion percentage.’’

Imagine that. They did not like the completion percentage of a quarterback who competed in the wind and cold and sometimes snow of Laramie, Wyoming, and who did not have receivers anything comparable to NFL-level receivers.

That’s some high-level scouting there, Jets.

And you wonder why the Jets are the Jets and will, it seems, always be the J-E-T-S. And the game I was at in Laramie, there was a Jets scout at the game.

Somehow the all-time home run leader in a game that reveres home runs is persona non grata.

Only the Jets as a totally inept organization could come up with that conclusion. If the same clowns were running the Jets in 1965, Joe Namath would have signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Same goes for the New York Giants, by the way. Allen is close to perfect as a cold-weather quarterback. But I digress.

Getting back to my main point, essentially what has happened in baseball, if you put it in football terms, here it is: Jerry Rice, the all-time NFL TD leader with 208, would not be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rushing leader with 18,355 yards, would not be in Canton. Tom Brady, who is not yet eligible because he remains The QB, would not be allowed there as well despite his 624 passing touchdowns. Since Brady is still playing, let’s take out the first QB on the all-time touchdown passing list who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That would be Peyton Manning. Sorry Peyton, got to go and take your 539 passing touchdowns with you. And since we made the Field of Dreams and Shoeless Joe Jackson movie comparison, for me, Brian’s Song pulls at the heartstrings much like Field of Dreams and that means the great Gale Sayers is out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Bonds and Clemens did not meet the 75 percent needed in the BBWAA vote to be inducted on their 10th and final year on the ballot. This year I voted for both men. Now their candidacy depends on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee called the Today’s Era committee.

That will be interesting to say the least.

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, right vs San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds Sunday, September 26, 2004 at SBC Park in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)

I know there are big differences in why Bonds and Clemens, Rose and Shoeless Joe are not in the Hall of Fame, I am not comparing their situations (PEDs and gambling) to the NFL players I am only comparing them from a pure production standpoint, those players not being In Cooperstown despite their incredible numbers of success is equivalent to the likes of Rice, Smith, Brady, Peyton and Sayers not being in Canton with all their incredible numbers.

Take their busts out since the plaques of Bonds, Clemens, Rose and Joe Jackson have not been cast in bronze. I know that is a simplistic way to look at things but there is nothing wrong with simplicity. Sometimes that is the best way to look at something.

Carve away all the BS and just look at what is happening.

Bonds and his 762 home runs don’t exist in the plaque gallery. Clemens’ seven Cy Young Awards don’t count. Rose’s 4,256 hits don’t count. Bonds’ 2,558 walks don’t count and the same goes for Shoeless Joe Jackson’s .356 lifetime batting average, it doesn’t count, even though it is third all-time, behind Ty Cobb’s .366 average and Honus Wagner’s .358 mark.

Baseball is all about gambling now too. Everywhere you look. But Rose and Jackson are left out in the cold.

Looking at all this from this perspective really shows how absurd the whole thing is when it comes to the history of baseball.

The answer is so simple it is ridiculous. Put these players and their plaques in the Hall of Fame and spell out on the plaques their PED and gambling issues. Tell the story as best you can but their numbers simply cannot be tossed aside as meaningless.

Don’t cancel the numbers.

Don’t cancel the players.

I am not a fan of cancel culture. In any form.

You can’t just cancel Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Explain their story. All the details good and bad.

Pitcher Roger Clemens #22 of the New York Yankees looks over at first baseman Jason Giambi #25 after Giambi made a diving stop during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 29, 2007 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

There is a generation of baseball fans who only remember from 1998 on and the Great Home Run Chase and Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and their heroics on the field. They remember those good times and can’t grasp why the players are not in the Hall of Fame. And I’ve made this argument before: Bud Selig and others benefitted from the play of PED users and are in the Hall of Fame so where do we draw the line?

For now, I’m drawing it at the numbers and telling the story of their success and human failings.

That’s it. That’s the bottom line.

You may not like it but the story of baseball has to include the Hall of Fame numbers of Bonds, Clemens, Rose and Shoeless Joe and that they need to be in the Hall of Fame plaque gallery, which the Hall describes as a sacred place.

I know there are artifacts in the Hall of Fame from all these players and that helps tell the baseball story, but it doesn’t tell the full story. Somehow the all-time home run leader in a game that reveres home runs is persona non grata. Same for Clemens, Rose and Joe Jackson.

Bonds also is the single season leader in home runs with 73 in 2001 and I was there watching much of that success in San Francisco and other ballparks that year. As the late Tony Gwynn told me once, “No one covers the inside part of the plate better than Barry Bonds. No one.’’

The single season home run leader in the National League is Bonds with 73, and the single season home run leader in the American League with 61 in ’61 is Roger Maris, both do not have Hall of Fame plaques.

Maris also owns two MVP awards. Bonds owns seven, the most in baseball history. In the past, when I possessed an MVP vote I voted for Bonds.

Someone who has been in baseball for decades and someone I deeply respect for his knowledge of the game made this terrific point about the culture of the game in Bonds’ and Clemens’ day.

“Baseball created a weight-room culture back in the late ‘80s,’’ he said.

Strength training became a thing in baseball in a sport where players never used strength training.

Said the baseball man: “You introduce strength training to competitive athletes with no real supervision and they all went home and went to a gym and the guy next to them was juicing, and said, ‘How many home runs did you hit?’

“I had 18.’’

“You take this shit and you’ll hit 30 next year.’’

Boom! That’s the reality of the situation. “And nobody said a word,’’ the baseball man added.

Detroit Tiger stars Ty Cobb, left, and Sam Crawford, right, talk with Joe Jackson of the Cleveland Indians before a game at League Park in Cleveland in 1913. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

In Bonds’ case he saw all the attention on McGwire and Sosa when he knew how much better of a ballplayer he was than those players and all of a sudden BALCO entered his world.

Others followed suit. MLB became Home Run Heaven and everyone from Selig on down happily cashed the checks. Some form of testing finally came along but the problem was too immense. Players got bigger, paychecks got bigger, home runs got longer and the crowds cheered louder and the media wrote glowing reports of the home run strength.

Bonds kept getting older but better with age. Clemens, as it turns out, was not in the “twilight of his career.’’ The man who had three Cy Young Awards when that comment was made by Red Sox GM Dan Duquette after the 1996 season would go on to win four more Cy Young Awards.

Rose’s gambling problem came when he was manager of the Reds after his 4,256 hits were in the books. Shoeless Joe’s issues came with the Black Sox and the 1919 World Series. Here we are more than a 100 years later and there is no Hall of Fame closure. Shoeless was banned from baseball for life even though his life has been over for 72 years.

It is time to move on, folks. It is time for the Hall of Fame to move on and just celebrate the numbers and tell the story. Now this is in the hands of Veterans Committee. The BBWAA had 10 years and this is the decision they came to with Bonds getting 66 percent, 260 votes. Clemens got 65.2 percent, 257 votes. The magic number is 75 percent.

David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a home run during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 8, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

David Ortiz skipped along despite PED questions with 77.9 percent of the vote and was the only player voted in by the writers, and yes, I voted for Ortiz. I also voted for Scott Rolen. He didn’t make it, but his numbers are trending well and he will get in. Nothing against Scott Rolen but if he is in the Hall, Barry Bonds should be in the Hall. If Harold Baines is in the Hall of Fame, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson should be in the Hall of Fame.

Bonds and Clemens will get another shot in December when the Today’s Game Era meets for the 2023 class, and they will need 12 of the 16 votes to make it. Rose and Jackson would have to jump through much more elaborate Hall of Fame hoops to be welcomed in Cooperstown.

Put them all in. Tell their stories on their Hall of Fame plaques. Baseball is a game of winners and losers and right now baseball is losing this fight. You can’t tell baseball’s HOF plaque gallery story without Bonds, Clemens, Rose and Jackson. Common sense needs to rule.

Baseball’s all-time leaders, just like the NFL’s all-time leaders, need to be in the Hall of Fame.

Case closed.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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