Four players were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year but in their sixth year of eligibility, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will not be among the inductees on July 29.
Clemens is without doubt the greatest pitcher of his generation, perhaps of all time. Ditto for Bonds as a hitter. Yet neither player was able to garner 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America, the minimum required for election to the Hall. Their totals this year – 57.3 percent for Clemens, 56.4 for Bonds – represent only a slight increase from last year’s numbers. With only four years of eligibility remaining, they are still a long way from enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Baseball is an institution that struggles to confront its past honestly and directly and the same can be said of both the voters and the Hall. While the Hall is a separate entity from MLB, the influence of the latter over the former is undeniable. Past and present MLB executives as well as former players populate the Hall’s Board and various voting committees, the lone exception being the BBWAA which votes on players during their first 10 years of eligibility. And no one in baseball wants to be reminded of an issue – steroids – they turned a blind eye to while it was happening.
Joe Morgan, a 1990 Hall of Fame inductee and Vice Chairman of the Hall’s Board, sent an impassioned letter to voters in November imploring them not to vote for Bond or Clemens, although neither was mentioned by name. Morgan, speaking for himself and “other but not all Hall of Famers,” threatened a boycott of the Hall should “players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report” be admitted.
In 2007 Morgan was a member of the Veterans Committee that failed to elect Marvin Miller, former Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, to the Hall. Morgan defended his actions by saying, “It is a little more difficult for me to look at an executive and know how much he contributed to the game…It's much easier for me to evaluate the players."
As I said then, love him or loathe him, no one had a bigger impact on the business of baseball - how the game is played off the diamond - than Miller. If it weren't for Miller, Morgan would have spent his career as a serf in the kingdom of baseball. The fact that he couldn’t comprehend that makes anything Morgan says suspect.
As baseball historian Bill James – who should be in the Hall with Miller - once wrote of Carl Yastrzemski, "the Hall of Fame has lost the capacity to honor (Yastrzemski). It can only insult him." Such is the case with Bonds and Clemens. Neither can truly be honored by a plaque alongside a group of players who were inferior to them; they can only be insulted as long as they are ignored.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in and chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions in this column are the authors. Kobritz can be reached at email@example.com.