Baseball Hall of Fame: Buck O'Neil Goes in, While Bonds and Clemens Left on Cutting Room Floor

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

MLB is on vacation until its labor dispute is resolved. This winter, even with a looming stoppage, a record amount of money was tossed at current players.

This week, The Hall of Fame voted in deserving players and Tim Kurkjian, a long-time baseball writer and TV color guy. Buck O’Neil, a star of the Negro Leagues, was also voted in by the Early Baseball Committee.

O’Neil was a terrific player and a great ambassador of baseball, but he was not a unanimous choice. Three committee members voted no. O’Neil numbers were good but not Willie Mays-like. Nonetheless, he deserved to be a resident of Cooperstown. Baseball needed O’Neil after Jackie Robinson was signed by the Dodgers. O’Neil, and men like him, faced racism and ridicule yet remained gentlemen and advocates of baseball. Why he wasn’t a unanimous pick escapes me.

Let me address the tale of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for a moment. Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) mark their legacies and like ugly tattoos, they are permanently inked as “cheaters.”

After Barry Bonds left baseball and his body deflated like a balloon, his defenders thought he still belonged in the Hall of Fame. Sure, they, argued, PEDs might have helped but he had Hall of Fame numbers before PEDs. Roger Clemens numbers remained Tier 1 well past the age where pitchers lose their “stuff”.

Both denied taking PEDs. Bond’s denial was more Jesse Smollett-like. After BALCO broke, and facts made it clear that he was PED-inflated, Bonds claimed he didn’t know he was using Performance Enhancing Chemicals. Bonds was launching baseballs into the stratosphere but like a kid standing in front of the cookie jar with crumbs all over his face, he denied the obvious. Clemens remained constant in his violent denial of PED use. Most baseball fans reacted with a “Sure, Jan.”

Bonds was indicted and convicted of obstruction, but the verdict was overturned. Clemens was tried, but found not guilty on obstruction. This year, the baseball writers did not select Bonds and Clemens for entry into the Hall of Fame once again. Both are in their last year of eligibility and likely will drop off the ballot next year.

 

 

A fascinating article at ESPN.com by Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn presents a case that Bonds and Clemens both would have had dramatic drops in “numbers” but for PEDs. The projections are based on a fascinating statistical analysis by baseball stats guru Dan Szymborski. Szymborski’s system is called ZiPS projection. The data is plugged in from past performance and it predicts future numbers. It’s all fascinating, but irrelevant to the people voting for the Hall.

Should Bonds or Clemens have been voted in? The baseball writers who induct players have answered with a lukewarm “No”. Some voted for both, but enough left both off their ballots. I am loathe to agree with baseball writers. It reminds me of a Groucho Marx resignation line: “I don’t want to be in a club that would accept me as a member”.

Twenty-two baseball writers didn’t vote for Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame induction; 23 percent of writers left him off their ballots. Nineteen writers didn’t want Ted Williams in the Hall. According to contemporaries, Ted wasn’t “nice” to them, so a petulant pack of 19 newspaper writers didn’t vote for him.

Willie Mays? Yeah, 22 writers thought he was unworthy of a 1st ballot selection. Yes, those writers are all dead now, and none can vote, (unless they’re buried in a Blue state) but up to 2019, when Mariano Rivera was selected, there had been no unanimous pick for Cooperstown. Baseball writers are like economics professors. They can’t “do,” so they write about it – not that there is anything wrong with that.

Hall of Fame voters should be a combination of Hall of Fame members and guys who actually played, managed, or ran a team. Then add maybe a half-dozen writers like Tim Kurkjian and it might be a fair vote that leaves personal animus out, and votes in for men who were inarguably good for baseball — like Buck O’Neil.