Jones, Thome, Hoffman, and Guerrero are headed to Cooperstown

The 2018 class of inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame was announced Wednesday, January 24. The four players voted in by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America this year are Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves), Vladimir Guerrero (Montreal Expos / LA Angels of Anaheim), Jim Thome (Cleveland Indians), and Trevor Hoffman (San Diego Padres).

They will be joining Alan Trammell and Jack Morris in the class of 2018. Trammell and Morris were elected to the hall of fame late in 2017 by a 16-member Modern Baseball Era committee “that considered 10 candidates whose biggest contributions came from 1970 to 1987. Morris received 14 votes and Trammell drew 13.”

All six of the 2018 Cooperstown additions will be officially enshrined in a ceremony on July 29.

The process for Cooperstown’s BBWAA ballot inductees involves waiting five years after retirement from the end of their playing career and receiving the necessary 75% of potential votes (out of 422 this year). Thome (89.8%) and Jones (97.2%) made it in their first year eligible, while Guerrero (92.9%) and Hoffman (79.9%) are second-ballot inductees. Guerrero missed by just five votes last year, and Hoffman missed by 15 in 2017.

This year’s will be the biggest class of inductees since 2014, a class with some of the biggest names in recent baseball memory (Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, and Tony La Russa). While none of those players is reasonably questioned as being deserving as a spot in the Hall, they are a relatively small group out of a huge list of potential inductees.

Some of the most recognizable names in baseball in the last 20 years were left out of the Hall for 2018, including Edgar Martinez (70.4%) and Curt Schilling (51.2%). While Canadian fans will be thrilled at the recognition of Guerrero this year, they will also be disappointed that all-time Canadian baseball great Larry Walker received just 34.1% of the vote this year. The biggest story from the list of non-inductees this year, though, is once again the rejection by the BBWAA of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

Steroids were the most overwhelming story in baseball for years, and were the downfall of a long list of legendary figures, and are clearly now keeping the greatest pitcher and hitter of the era out of the Hall of Fame. Clemens received 57.3% of this year’s vote, and Bonds got 56.4%.

The takeaway from Bonds and Clemens being rejected once again is that baseball writers hold a grudge. Considering the enormous impact that both players had on the game, and the historic achievements of their respective careers, it seems borderline negligent to keep them out of Cooperstown. However, the argument is consistently made that both men were guilty of cheating the game, their teammates and opponents, and the fans. While both Bonds and Clemens are generally accepted to have been among the huge number of players of their era to use performance-enhancing drugs, it would be impossible to argue that they would not have been great without them or that they are not, together or individually, a significant part of the history of baseball.

The so-called dead-ball era of baseball was horrible for everyone involved in the game. Fans were bored, teams were losing money, and ratings were down across the board. As detrimental as steroids were to the health of many, it is hypocritical for anyone who makes money in some fashion because of baseball to say that Bonds and Clemens ‘ruined the game’. They were the most exciting and electric players on their respective sides of the ball, with power that brought the game of baseball back from the brink.

Each man was recognized seven times as the greatest player in the game in their respective areas, and put up numbers that are as historic as it gets even in a game with as much history and as many recorded numbers as baseball.

Bonds’ seven MVP awards are nothing to laugh at but it was his swing, especially one in particular, that made him one of the most unforgettable players of all time. That one swing, in AT&T Park in San Francisco on August 7, 2007, is something that I and countless other baseball fans will never forget. The image of Bonds, with his arms raised at the plate as he watches his 756th home run fly out to the Bay beyond the right-field wall, will forever be burned into my memory. No matter how tainted his reputation may be by steroid use, that moment will still give me goosebumps and make me well up. He passed Hank Aaron for the most ever with that swing, and that is a piece of history that no one can erase.

Watching Roger Clemens on the mound was like watching some combination of Picasso and Ali. The overwhelming power, precision, and passion that he brought to pitching was unlike anything hitters have ever faced, before or since. He earned seven Cy Young Awards and is third all-time in career strikeouts behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. He brought something to baseball that the game wasn’t quite comfortable with, and he embraced that role. He was aggressive, cantankerous, and loud – but most importantly, he was great.

What Bonds and Clemens have in common, and what is arguably the most important part of the argument around their Hall of Fame potential, is that they were both unlikeable. They each carried a huge ego and were consistently grating in their interactions with teammates and with the media. Bonds was famous during his playing career for, whether it was true or not, attempting to get his own locker room separate from the rest of the team. That type of thing followed him around, and his relationship with the media was consistently tense and full of animosity. Clemens was never one to hold his tongue and was certainly never one to back down from a fight. He famously threw half of a broken bat at Mike Piazza, who is now a Hall of Famer himself, as Piazza ran down the first base line – in the 2000 World Series, which was an even bigger stage than normal because of its being the ‘Subway Series’ between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.

The reputations that followed Bonds and Clemens around during their careers became even more important after they finished playing, as they have become the centrepiece of a debate that has taken over baseball in the wake of the steroid era. They are likely being kept out of the Hall because of their steroid use, but their case is certainly not being helped by the animosity that was the hallmark of each man’s relationship with the media, who are now, in the form of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, in charge of deciding what to do with their legacies.