So the greatest home run hitter of all time and, arguably, the best right hand pitcher of all time (other than Bob Gibson) are not hall of famers. Not now maybe not ever. While most would agree each would have been accomplished enough to gain entry had he never taken performance enhancing drugs, the baseball writers and other Cooperstown voters have deemed them cheaters whose records are nothing more than ill-gotten gains.
Forget the fact that neither Bonds nor Clemens ever tested positive for banned substances and Clemens is actually accused of taking drugs which were not even on the banned list at the time, it is safe to assume each made the choice to try to enhance their performance to some degree by ingesting or injecting certain manufactured chemical compounds.
How do we react to this pronouncement? As fans? As attorneys? As human beings? With sadness on all three accounts.
Neither of these two great athletes was fan friendly so to speak, which certainly did not help them with the voters. (Sosa and McGwire, on the other hand, were immensely popular, though neither was the talent of Bonds, and they didn’t get into the Hall either.)
It is often said that both Bonds and Clemens are just as guilty for lying about their drug use as they are for taking the drugs. Should we care as attorneys that in fact both Bonds and McGwire were actually acquitted of the perjury charges brought against them by overzealous prosecutors at tremendous expense to the taxpayers? (Bonds was found guilty of one count of obstruction of justice but not guilty on the perjury charge.)
In my view, both are tragic figures of Dionysian proportions whose stories speak eloquently about the human condition and reflect in the truest terms how sports is a microcosm of life. These were by no means bad people but fantastic human specimens who performed heroically on the field of play. Yet they had flaws like all of us; and at times those flaws caused them to make bad choices and to inflict harm upon themselves. As Aristotle said, the tragic figure is one who is “not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity but by some error or frailty.”
I would have voted for their admission. Like Rose, their absence will loom larger than their inclusion, which would have come not only with all the baggage but with the lessons to be learned from life.