As an irregular feature, Mondays at The Recovering Politician are sometimes reserved for great debates among the contributing RPs and Friends of RP. Click here for a link to the prior debates.
Today, the following question is posed: Should superstar pitcher Roger Clemens, recently acquitted of lying about using performance enhancing steroids, be admitted to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame?
Steven Schulman, this site’s resident baseball expert — and the second best owner in his fantasy baseball league — leads off:
First, a few disclaimers: Roger Clemens was for many years my favorite baseball player. Until he signed with the Yankees. Then he was dead to me.
Ok, that’s behind us. The question is whether the acquittal of Clemens on the charges of lying to Congress and obstruction of justice make him more or less likely to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and, in any case, whether he should be elected notwithstanding the charges (both legal and moral) against him.
The realist point of view is that the writers who are empowered to elect players to the Hall of Fame are highly unlikely to be persuaded by the verdict in a criminal proceeding. The prosecution’s burden in a criminal court is to prove the facts “beyond a reasonable doubt.” For Hall of Fame voters, the burden appears to be “well, I personally think so, for whatever reason.” For their own reasons – either moral objections or simple embarrassment that they themselves failed to uncover (or to reveal their own knowledge of) steroid use – writers are objecting to anyone from the 1990s into this century who even has a hint of steroid use.
Jeff Bagwell – who ranks among the best first basement ever (in the major leagues, not just my Rotisserie baseball team) – has failed in two tries to be elected to the Hall of Fame, simply because his body type and the era in which he played raise suspicions of steroid use. Accordingly, Clemens’s acquittal will hardly move the needle for the knights of the keyboard who guard the gates to Cooperstown.
But should he be elected. Again, somewhat of a moral question, as the statistics case for him – 7 Cy Young Awards (the most ever), 4,672 strikeouts (3rd all time) and 354 wins (9th place) – is beyond a reasonable doubt. If he used steroids, he pitched against plenty of hitters who used steroids, too, and was still one of the best around. His Hall of Fame case was probably made when he left Boston, with 192 wins, 3 Cy Young Awards and a MVP. The general suspicion is that he started using steroids the next year, when at age 33 he joined the Toronto Blue Jays as a free agent when the Sox refused to offer him a comparable deal, with Sox GM Dan Duquette famously saying that Roger was in his “twilight years.”
Regardless of whether Clemens had qualifications through 1996 (his last season in Boston) or 2006 (his last good season), the Hall of Fame is for the fans, not for the writers. It is aptly named the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of the Perfect, and certainly not the Hall of Humanitarians. Clemens was a great baseball player – he had the fame. He may be a lousy human being, and he may have taken steroids in an era when the use of performance-enhancing drugs was widespread in baseball. Should his accomplishments be forgotten or memorialized on Cooperstown, which is really a museum of nostalgia? I would like to remember the Rocket, for the good and bad. When I go to Cooperstown with my sons, I want to be reminded of Clemens, and be prompted to share the memory of the night I watched him pitch at Fenway against Nolan Ryan.