The extraordinary sadness of the Baseball Hall of Fame debate

February 3, 2022 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball.

As happens each year at this time when voting for the baseball Hall of Fame is complete, a fierce debate is set off, not about the people who may have been voted into the Hall of Fame but about those who did not make it. This year’s debate centerss on two people, extraordinary baseball stars Roger Clements and Barry Bonds. The debate has been intense because, according to the rules of voting, this was the last year that each could appear on the ballot for the Hall of Fame.

The athletic achievements of both Clemons and Bonds are not in doubt. They were men who dominated the game of baseball during the time that they played. Barry Bonds hit more home runs than anyone has ever hit. Roger Clemens’ pitching achievements are unmatched in either modern or historic times. By any measure of their baseball statistics, they should have been first ballot entries into the hall.

The problem for each, of course, is that they used substances banned by Major League Baseball while they were playing. These substances supposedly gave them an advantage over those who followed the rules. Some argue that is automatically excludes them from consideration for baseball’s highest honor. Others argue that their achievements were so extraordinary that their failures to follow the rules of fair play that baseball had set up should not apply. I have my own opinions about all of that, but those opinions are neither important nor compelling.

What strikes me the most about the situation is a feeling of overwhelming sadness. When both of these athletes began playing in the major leagues, it was apparent to all that they were beginning what baseball aficionados term as “Hall of Fame careers.” Somewhere along the way, each made a decision to break the rules, to attempt to gain unfair advantage. Each athlete had his reasons for doing so, I do not know for sure what those reasons were. As far as I know, neither has discussed that publicly. So I declined to speculate.

Instead, I am simply left with a feeling but all of this debate and controversy could have been avoided. Each athlete could have achieved their Hall of Fame plaque by simply doing what they could do better than anyone else who was playing the game. They chose a different path, and their disgrace – even if they eventually attain Hall of Fame status – will never leave them.

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