In the most resounding referendum yet on the legacy of steroids in baseball, voters for the Hall of Fame emphatically rejected the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in balloting results announced on Wednesday.
In their first year on the ballot, Bonds and Clemens, perhaps the most decorated hitter and pitcher in the game’s history, fell far short of receiving the necessary 75 percent of votes from baseball writers. Bonds, the career home runs leader, received only 36.2 percent, while Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards, did slightly better, with 37.6.
It was the first election since 1996 in which the writers chose no new members.
“It takes time for history to sort itself out,” said Jeff Idelson, the Hall of Fame’s president. “I’m not surprised we had a shutout today. I wish we had an electee, but I’m not surprised given how volatile this era has been.”
For a sport whose links to performance-enhancing drugs have forced it to endure Congressional hearings, public apologies from players, tell-all books and federal trials, Wednesday offered a profound moment. Writers decreed that two of baseball’s greatest players would not be officially recognized with the game’s highest honor, at least for now and perhaps forever.
The Hall of Fame will still have its annual induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer. But the three who will be honored — the umpire Hank O’Day, the owner Jacob Ruppert and a catcher, Deacon White — all died in the 1930s and were voted in by the veterans’ committee in December rather than through the more prestigious route of being selected by the members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. (The New York Times does not permit its reporters to vote for awards.)
As a result, it will be the first time since 1960 that the induction ceremony will include no new, living honorees, underscoring the lingering damage that the issue of drugs is inflicting on the sport.
Clemens, in a message posted to his Twitter account, said that “after what has been written and said over the last few years I’m not overly surprised.” Bonds did not immediately comment, but lamented in an interview with MLB.com in November that “it’s tough when you have so many people out there who don’t want to turn the page and want to be angry at you forever.”
Every player on the 2013 ballot was active in the years before steroid testing, which began, with penalties, in 2004. Some have escaped suspicion, like the top two finishers in this election. Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros, who amassed 3,060 hits, made his debut on the ballot at 68.2 percent, followed by the former pitcher Jack Morris, who got 67.7 percent in his 14th year as a candidate.
Others, like the former Mets catcher Mike Piazza and the former Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell, were muscle-bound sluggers in an era when many such players used steroids. They are viewed skeptically by some but have never been formally linked to performance enhancers, and both got more votes than Bonds and Clemens — 59.6 percent for Bagwell and 57.8 percent for Piazza, who was also on the ballot for the first time.
Three others with more than 500 career home runs and strong links to performance enhancers were essentially placed in a Cooperstown coffin in the latest voting. Mark McGwire, who has admitted his use of performance enhancers, received just 16.9 percent support, the lowest figure in his seven years on the ballot. Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive in 2005, dropped to 8.8 percent, the lowest result in his three-year candidacy. And Sammy Sosa, who was reported by The Times to have tested positive in 2003, made his debut on the ballot with 12.5 percent.
Voters can list up to 10 players on their ballot and are instructed to consider the integrity, sportsmanship and character of candidates, as well as their playing record. Jack O’Connell, the secretary/treasurer of the writers’ association, said members did not have to follow those guidelines, but stressed their historical importance.
Considering a player’s character, he said, “has been there since the very first election of 1936, and it is something that was emphasized by the Hall of Fame itself.” Nevertheless, the Hall has long included any number of inductees with character issues, including, in particular, blatant acts of racism.
The former pitcher Curt Schilling, who made his debut on this year’s ballot with 38.8 percent of the vote, wrote on Twitter that he would have voted for Bagwell, Biggio, Dale Murphy and Tim Raines. He did not mention Bonds or Clemens.
In a 2002 article in Sports Illustrated, Schilling told the writer Tom Verducci that he had to be careful when patting fellow players on the backside because that was where they injected themselves with steroids. A decade later, Verducci is part of the voting bloc that will not support steroid users.
“When I vote for a player I am upholding him for the highest individual honor possible,” he wrote in the magazine this week. “My vote is an endorsement of a career, not part of it, and how it was achieved. Voting for a known steroid user is endorsing steroid use.”
Candidates can stay on the writers’ ballot for 15 years, as long as they maintain at least 5 percent of the vote. Opinions can change over time, and some writers, like Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe, have shifted their stance.
Abraham used to exclude players if he suspected they might have used steroids. Now, he does not consider steroids when voting, and said Bonds and Clemens could be helped by the candidacies of Bagwell and Piazza, should those two eventually climb to the 75 percent threshold.
“If they get in, that will throw open the gates to guys like Clemens and Bonds, because there’s at least the suspicion of P.E.D. use with Bagwell and Piazza,” Abraham said. “Once somebody with even just suspicion gets in, at that point it becomes hard to say, ‘My vote will help keep the Hall of Fame completely clean.’ Once there’s doubt over guys enshrined in the Hall of Fame, it becomes more likely that people more directly tied to it will get in.”
At the owners’ meetings in Arizona on Wednesday, Commissioner Bud Selig told reporters that he respected the writers’ decision and expected a “rather large” class next year, when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas will be eligible for the first time.
“This idea that this somehow diminishes the Hall of baseball is just ridiculous in my opinion,” Selig said of the vote.
Selig, who has been commissioner for more than 20 years, presided over the height of the steroid era. Baseball was notoriously slow to acknowledge the depth of the problem, and the players union long resisted drug testing.
The union issued a statement on Wednesday expressing dismay that Bonds and Clemens were excluded from the Hall.
“To penalize players exonerated in legal proceedings — and others never even implicated — is simply unfair,” said the statement from Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director. “The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the best players to have ever played the game. Several such players were denied access to the Hall today.”
Support for Bonds and Clemens could grow over the next 14 years. But unlike with some inductees — such as pitcher Bert Blyleven, whose percentage rose as voters gradually came to appreciate his numbers — Bonds’s statistics are not in doubt. Nor are Clemens’s. Both are indisputably Hall of Fame performers, meaning most voters are judging them on morality alone.
Idelson, the Hall of Fame president, said Bonds and Clemens were currently represented at the museum because their accomplishments were part of baseball history. They will not be among the immortals in the gallery of plaques this year, but Idelson disputed the idea that the voting method should change.
“Voters who participate show that they do their due diligence,” he said. “They take the process seriously and they truly vote their conscience.”
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