x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Making Clemens, Bonds and Sosa sweat for a year gets my vote

Their worthiness into the Baseball Hall of Fame has been compromised – or, to some, obliterated – by legitimate suspicion of performance-boosting drug use, writes Mike Tierney.

Sugar Land Skeeters Roger Clemens throws a pitch during a baseball game against the Bridgeport Bluefish Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, in Sugar Land, Texas. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, signed with the Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League this week. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) *** Local Caption *** Clemens Comeback Baseball.JPEG-02c52.jpg
Sugar Land Skeeters Roger Clemens throws a pitch during a baseball game against the Bridgeport Bluefish Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012, in Sugar Land, Texas. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, signed with the Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League this week. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) *** Local Caption *** Clemens Comeback Baseball.JPEG-02c52.jpg

Each accomplished American athlete craves a three-word identifier that validates greatness. It will appear during the intro to his biography, on invitations to a banquet in his honour, in the opening lines of his obituary, perhaps on his tombstone. Trophies and titles matter, but there is only one ultimate designation: Hall of Famer.

In any election season, for every sport, the roll call of nominees ignites fierce debate. For Major League Baseball's hallowed Hall, the volume dial is about to be turned all the way to the right.

For half a decade, the notion of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa gaining eternal fame has marinated in the minds of voters and been weighed in the town square of public opinion. Their worthiness has been compromised - or, to some, obliterated - by legitimate suspicion of performance-boosting drug use.

Now comes the first round of reckoning for the most polarising players since career hits champion and degenerate gambler Pete Rose, shamed rather than famed.

Judging them collectively, the for-or-against case: should the trio be assessed on numbers and contributions to their teams? Should they be cut a break because steroid ingestion was widespread, and who are we to assert that we would not have succumbed? Should we acknowledge that some evidence against them is circumstantial?

Or does any player, no matter how productive, who gives off a slightest scent of steroids deserve a perp walk, not a parade?

Should examples be made of these purported cheats so current and future big-leaguers will repel the temptation to indulge? (Do not kid yourself; the sport has hardly cleansed itself.)

Should Bonds, Clemens and Sosa be required to come clean, taking a flyer on Americans' tendency to forgive those who confess sins?

If I had a vote, here is what I would do: this time, keep the box by their names blank.

Only a select few are chosen as soon as the five-year wait period expires. More opportunities for admittance await Bonds, Clemens and Sosa. Let them sweat and squirm for another year, minimum. And then?

Start with the easiest call.

For his first 10 seasons, Sosa never exceeded 40 home runs. The following four years, he landed thrice in the 60s and once right on 50. The argument is persuasive that sluggers do not complete such a quantum leap through natural means.

Without the homers, Sosa, a .273 hitter, has no claim to fame. Further, he flunked a drug screening. He should be rejected, forevermore.

Bonds's arc of power improvement was not as dramatic, until he skied from 49 to 73 home runs in a season. However, he fails the eye test, having morphed from high jumper to bodybuilder in appearance. Any protestations are drowned out by five reported positive tests and damning testimony from a mistress at his perjury trial.

With Bonds, I would ask myself - were his Hall credentials established before he evidently began juicing? If so, should those be negated by the tainted super stats he rang up later?

Give me another year to ponder that one.

As for Clemens, pitchers are more difficult to assess because their dabbling in drugs is not motivated by the desire to bulk up. Their frames are altered less, making it difficult to estimate a before-and-after date.

Clemens proclaimed his innocence, then was acquitted of perjury changes. Still, some testimony was damaging, particularly from an ex-trainer.

Last season, Clemens suited up at age 50 in the low minor leagues, a puzzling gesture until it became apparent that he was seeking a big-league call-up to restart the five-year clock on his consideration. For this blatant scheme to buy time with voters, I would withhold my vote for ... oh, five straight years.

 

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