On January 25th, the new inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced. This is the tenth and final year of eligibility for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa, each of whom has a resume well-worthy of induction into Cooperstown that is sullied by connection to Performance Enhancing Drugs. This makes 2022 the critical moment of decision for the legacies of these three players. Voters are presented with a referendum, once and for all: should the greatest players of modern baseball who used PEDs be venerated in the Hall of Fame?
Major League Baseball never gave a specific directive clarifying how PED users should be judged during their Hall of Fame candidacy. Rather, their legacies were left to the group of about four hundred baseball journalists and writers who vote to induct Hall of Famers each year. The subjective discretion of this handful of writers determines these players’ legacies. A player needs 75% of the writers’ votes in one year to enter the Hall, or an unlikely selection from a veterans committee. Their name remains on the ballot for 10 years.
In 2012, the voters saw the names of PED users Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa for the first time. For the past decade, they have been collectively procrastinating their verdict. A candidate’s tenth year on the ballot is effectively their conclusive judgment and many Hall of Famers don’t get inducted until this final year. Voters will delay the most difficult decisions until one’s final year of eligibility to let further perspectives and comparisons accumulate. One voter said they wanted to see the full landscape of the steroid-era before a final decision on Bonds and Clemens. Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa have been receiving enough votes to remain competitive candidates. Bonds and Clemens are extremely close at 61%, making 75% attainable in their final year. 2022 is the moment of truth, where voters are conclusively forced to make their decision on modern baseball’s most important figures.
Voters have to grapple with the fact that Bonds, Clemens, and Sosa are not just generational stars, but some of the statistically dominant players to have ever graced the diamond. Barry Bonds has hit the most Home Runs in baseball history and has won more than twice as many MVP awards as anyone else. Roger Clemens has the most Cy Young awards and has accumulated more Wins Above Replacement than any pitcher since 1927. Sammy Sosa is one of just nine players with 600 Home Runs.
Without steroids these three would waltz into Cooperstown, likely in their first year. But there is substantial and irrefutable evidence that Bonds and Clemens built these godly resumes due to their use of steroids and other PEDs. Sosa, likewise, was on a list of players who tested positive for PEDs during 2003. These three stars became the public centre of baseball’s steroid scandal in the 1990’s and 2000’s and each has ,at one point, had perjury or obstruction of justice charges levelled against them for lying about PED use in court.
The steroid era was a time of vast doping and excess in the sport that fractured fans’ faith in the integrity of the game. 2022’s vote is not just a decision about them as individuals, but a collective decision on how to remember the era in which they played. Fans and writers have had many debates but few conclusions about how to understand an era where a vast number of players, which some claimed to be 50 or 85 percent, used steroids and put up some truly ridiculous statlines. This is the vote where baseball writers can decide if they want to validate or spurn an era of cheating and immoderation that most don’t have fond memories of. Likewise, this vote will set a precedent for the candidacies of other PED users. Alex Rodriguez, for example, is new to the ballot this year, and whether Bonds and Sosa become Hall of Famers will set a precedent for how he will be judged in the coming years.
But how important is the Hall to the memories of these players? In a sense, to become a Hall of Famer is just getting your name on a plaque in a museum in upstate New York. Nobody will forget Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time Home Run record, or Clemens’ World Series runs, or the Sosa-McGwire Home Run chase. These men are integral to the development and character of the sport, no matter what scandals they were a part of and how we ultimately judge the morality and effect of their actions.This vote is not a question of if they get remembered, but how they get remembered. Induction will honour them as baseball legends who played during an era with complex rules and ethics around PEDS. Denial will shun them from the game’s greats and label their cheating as an irredeemable path to achievement. 2022 is the most important Hall of Fame in recent memory. It is a final referendum on the game’s greatest steroid-users.