Hemingway had booze, Ron Jeremy had Viagra and fat Elvis had…food. So why, even after the highest court in the land has cleared the names of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, will Hall of Fame voters refuse to acknowledge the greats of the live-ball era based on suspicion of using performance enhancers?
A federal appeals court Wednesday overturned Barry Bonds’ felony conviction for obstructing justice, which is the only charge the feds could hang on the former Giants’ slugger for the alleged crime of using performance-enhancing substances.
Bonds and pitcher Roger Clemens (fully acquitted in 2012), arguably two of the best baseball players of their day, if not all time—and the poster boys for the steroid era—should now have a clear path to the Hall of Fame.
But they won’t.
The Bonds overturn didn’t make headlines or get its 15-seconds due on SportsCenter. But that doesn’t matter. Bonds and Clemens have officially crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit-smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to…and came out clean on the other side. The foulness in this case came in the form of a spendthrift congress, eager federal prosecutors and a media full of Joe Buck Pollyannas who buoyed the cause. Despite tens of millions in taxpayer dollars, the witch hunt did not post a single notch in the win column for the crusaders or sycophant scribes.
Every charge filed against the seven-time MVP and seven-time Cy Young Award winner, without bluster or fanfare, has now been dropped. While it’s impossible to ignore the preponderance of circumstantial, not to mention physical evidence (yes, Bonds’ head got so big it looked like it should’ve been attached to a string—though the bloat may have been part ego), Bonds and Clemens are—in the eyes of a court and a public so very bloodthirsty for a conviction—innocent.
And yet their reputations remain tarnished.
Wednesday’s 10-1 decision by a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel was the “scoreboard” moment Bonds and to a lesser extent Clemens have been waiting for. Charges originated in the form of the Mitchell Report, an independent investigation given to Bud Selig, then-commissioner of baseball, about the use of steroids and other performance enhancing substances on the diamond.
The report, released in December, 2007, led to a 20-month investigation. The probe was the handiwork of former US Senator George J. Mitchell (D–ME). His postmodern red-scare cause has since been taken up by, amongst others, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.). The skirmish was also mollycoddled by a majority of the baseball writers and commentators who suddenly became so squeaky clean and pious, cigarettes had to be airbrushed out of their Norman Rockwell desk calendars.
They banged the drum ad infinitum about how Bonds and Clemens sullied the purity of the game, which is the equivalent to saying you don’t want to get a stripper’s G-string dirty with a dollar bill. Baseball is a game born of and for cheats. It’s America’s game and America was founded on the tenets of the stealing of lands, the introduction of disease to get the upper hand and turning out tribes, races and fairer genders in order to get ahead. Whether it was plantation owners who stopped wanting to pay taxes or billionaire hedge fund managers who, again, don’t want to pay taxes, the American-bred-and-perpetuated notion of baseball is to spit, bloop, tag, tug, scuff, cork, hit-and-run and steal the way to victory. It’s a game more puerile than pure and in its purist form the victors have already been spoiled.
The self-anointed guardians of this cherished game are the Baseball Writers’ Association of America—holier-than-thou annual selectors of who gets a Lionel Richie Hello bust in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, the organization and its charges are aging more rapidly than when Walter Donovan chose poorly in Last Crusade.
In its singular move to stay current this century, the BBWA gave web-only writers eligibility to vote in 2007, with a huge caveat: the first criteria is sites which specifically qualify for MLB Playoffs credentials (see: ESPN and Sports Illustrated). Deadspin, the industry standard for online/alternative sports coverage, resorted to BUYING a vote from BBWA member last year to be counted.
While the BBWA has recently curated its image by appointing a woman (Susan Slusser) and a black guy (LaVelle E. Neal) to consecutive terms as president of their association, the majority of the electorate is dying in time to the newspaper industry that carried them for the last century. Unless the banned substance Roger or Barry was allegedly doing turns out to be CIALIS, it’s a safe assessment the 60 percent no-vote for their 10 years of Hall eligibility (reduced from 15 in 2014) will perpetuate if not grow.
Because of the slow turnover of its gatekeepers, the giant generation gap at the BBWA will be reflected in the Hall. Writers who are currently in their 20s, 30s, 40s and even 50s who have had to create careers in new media or pursue the sport of writing on the side won’t get the same opportunity to vote as did the sportswriters of previous generation(s).
Shrinking the eligibility on top of that was the BBWA’s deft assurance of its own tattered and staid approach. It will leave a legacy that locks out the generation who grew up marveling at the individual feats of Clemens, Bonds and their contemporaries; resulting not in bringing justice to the Hall as much as a notable lapse in judgement.
Even if Bonds and Clemens were not the best of their time, their brazen testimony to uphold the cheating legacy of America’s Pastime should be recognized and codified for the ages. Bonds’ obstruction of justice charges came from his rambling reply to a prosecutor about whether his former trainer, Greg Anderson, had ever given him an injectable substance. The bizarre testimony made Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” look more amateurish than a Tuesday open mic night. Clemens’ vehement and sanctimonious dropkicking of the Mitchell Report in front of Congress, subjecting himself to perjury and serious federal prison time, was so fucking ballsy Cooperstown should build a wing in his name and stick him there along with the game’s best bullshitters Cobb, Rose, Mantle and, fuck it, Shoeless Joe, too.
In the clearing of Bonds’ name this week, justices brought up the harmful and collusive nature of the original trials which has also diminished the players’ chances for a redemptive legacy in the media and ever-lapdogging court of public opinion.
“Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy,” Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in an opinion signed by a quartet of other judges. “It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass.”
“In this particular case, we must determine whether a single truthful but evasive or misleading answer could constitute evidence of obstruction of justice,” Judge N.R. Smith wrote and had signed by three judges. “It could not.”
The government can still pursue charges against Bonds, but it won’t. And Hall of Fame chad-punchers can still try to cock block based on a myopic, discreetly aged-out, heels-dug-in mentality that has led to their real-time irrelevance. I can only hope current voters remember mistakes on top of mistakes will only bury them in the stench of their own false sense of self-worth. Probably not the legacy they are looking to leave.
During their careers, Bonds and Clemens never failed a drug test administered by Major League Baseball. They were never suspended for possession or use of banned substances. They were never censured by their individual teams or the players’ union for nefarious behavior.
They did, however, have their day in court.
And they won.