Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have not been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the least Jeff Idelson — the former Yankees public relations man who runs the place — can do is issue each of them a free lifetime visitor’s pass.
No two people have done more for the Hall in recent years than Bonds and Clemens, who every winter prompt us to talk about Cooperstown with a level of interest and passion that fans of the previous millennium would find strange.
But this is getting a little old, as we seem to be at an impasse, with each camp entrenched on one side of the steroids debate, even as Bonds and Clemens creep closer to the 75 percent approval threshold.
They cracked 50 percent in 2017, then made another gain — albeit a smaller one than many expected — in the 2018 class announced Wednesday night. Clemens went from 54.1 percent to 57.3, Bonds from 53.8 to 56.4.
But still: If my elementary school math is correct, that is more than 50 percent, a fact that should not be dismissed easily by the holdouts among the eligible Baseball Writers Association of America voters. (I am a neutral observer here. My most recent BBWAA card was issued the year Aaron Judge was born.)
Certainly, those in the stubborn minority who believe strong suspicion of performance enhancing drug use is disqualifying have a right to their opinions, and are not without valid points.
Just because many people surely went uncaught during the steroid era who now are in or headed for the Hall does not automatically mean throwing open the doors for everyone.
Widespread cheating on tax returns, for example, does not exempt the relatively few who actually are caught from being punished.
But the factual and historical murkiness here demands that everyone involved in the debacle of the PED era — including those of us who cover the sport — accept that mistakes were made, blind eyes were turned and it is time to move on.
The 75 percent threshold is based on the theory that there should be a strong consensus on a player’s worthiness. Fine. But strictly in baseball terms, Bonds and Clemens would have 100 percent support.
The problem obviously is that both are strongly suspected — OK, more than “suspected” — of using PEDs late in their careers, which helped them go from already great to off-the-charts historic.
That’s bad, and both have been punished severely in the court of public opinion for it, and now have been made to wait by the Hall of Fame voters. All good.
But a clear majority of the electorate has decided that the time has come for the two greatest players of the steroid era to have plaques in Cooperstown.
As time passes and the voters get younger, Bonds and Clemens likely will make more progress as their eligibility window nears its 2022 closing date and perhaps eventually cross the finish line, opening the door for other steroid era rogues, including Alex Rodriguez.
It stinks, but this is the bed we all made for ourselves.
We could drag this out until 2022 in anticipation of the opposition collapsing at the finish line, but its point already has been made. Let’s just get this over with next January.
Current Hall of Famers themselves are divided, as witnessed by the recent back-and-forth between Joe Morgan, who is strongly opposed to admitting PED users, and Willie McCovey.
So, congratulations to Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome, big hitters who were clean, as far as we know. Except we really don’t know. Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez are in, so they must be clean, right?
And what about presumably clean players whose numbers were dwarfed by the users, such as Fred McGriff?
“A lot of people passed him by, and some of those people had a cloud of suspicion,” Jones said last night on a conference call with reporters. “It’s unfortunate.”
On the other hand, Jones said, “Barry Bonds is the best baseball player I’ve ever seen don a uniform.”
Shrug. Why must baseball writers do the guessing on everyone else’s behalf?
It’s a mess, and it should be a mess, because that is exactly what the steroids era was — a mess. But it’s time to tidy up.
The slow climb of the voting percentages of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds toward the 75-percent approval threshold: