Green: If Bud Selig is in, Hall of Fame must make room for Bonds, Clemens, McGwire

Detroit News

By Jerry Green
 |  Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Barry Bonds, rejected! Roger Clemens, shunned! Mark McGwire, denied!

Bud Selig, elected! Inducted! Glorified!

It is election time again in Major League Baseball.

The qualified sports journalists of the Baseball Writers Association of America are voting this week for the worthy candidates for election to the honored Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Bonds, the most productive home-run hitter in the 145-season history of the major leagues, is on the ballot for the ninth time. He has 762 home runs, No. 1 in the record book; 1,996 runs batted in; a .444 on-base percentage; a .607 slugging percentage — and seven most valuable player awards and 14 All-Star selections.

These are not the flimsy, make-believe numbers used for judgment nowadays by the analytics purveyors.

They are the genuine article, the way ballplayers were assessed in the eras of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

And Barry Bonds fit in with them along with Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

But all of Bonds’ stats of greatness have added up to eight rejections by the Hall of Fame-eligible voting baseball writers.

Snubbed likewise in the last eight elections was Clemens, one of the most electrifying pitchers in the history of the game. Roger was a stalwart, tough pitcher with a mean streak and a scorching fastball. He won 354 ballgames in his 24 seasons. Seven of those seasons he was considered worthy of the Cy Young Award, six in the American League, and another in the National League.

Funny, guys who voted Clemens for the Cy Youngs have been part of the electorate for the Hall of Fame.

Dingers delight

It was Mark McGwire who started the home-run surge that rescued Major League Baseball from the doldrums in the last 1990s.

The sport — once a joyous, popular past of Americana — was suffering from the machinations of a lackadaisical commissioner. A World Series had been canceled due to a work impasse between the commissioner-led monied club owners and the ballplayers. There were other blunders, a rearrangement of how Major League Baseball looked.

The grand old sport needed a boost.

It got one.

A home-run race.

Home runs, as noted every summer’s night on Fox Sports and ESPN, provide the glamour television for the viewer ratings. And thus, for the bucks spent by the auto manufacturers and assorted other sponsors that purchase the commercials.

In 1998, there was a hugely publicized home-run duel pitting McGwire against Sammy Sosa.

The one-season home-run record of 61 had stood inviolate since 1961, the year Roger Maris assaulted Babe Ruth’s record of 60 achieved in 1927. By September of ’61, when the Yankees came to Detroit, Maris was full of jitters, unnerved in an unwanted spotlight. He was being tracked daily an entourage of journalists.

There is nothing like an assault on a home-run record to stir up interest in baseball.

More: Green: Brock showed grace, guts in duel with Kaline, Tigers in 1968 World Series

As baseball rode through September 1998 — a month that once-upon-a-time featured genuine pennant races — McGwire was challenged by Sammy Sosa, in the attack on Maris’ 61. McGwire won.

Mark obliterated Maris’ 61. So did Sammy. McGwire hit 70. Sosa finished second in the struggle with 66.

That autumn of 1998 America’s sports fans were captivated by McGwire and Sosa and the home-run binge. ESPN went wild with coverage; so did newspapers, a journalist each as McGwire and Sosa exchanged the lead.

The commissioner was agog.

His sport was coming back — again.

That season, Bud Selig had been acting baseball commissioner for six years. For six years he ruled MLB as a dictator with a temporary title. He was awarded the formal title of commissioner that 1998 season.

A dictator who smashed the purist history of baseball — and twiddled.

And all along, in 1998, before and after, there were the rumors.

Rumors about steroids. Rumors about performance-enhancing drugs. Rumors about Bonds, about Clemens, about McGwire.

Rumors that they enhanced their achievements because they were juiced.

But the substances were not decreed illegal by baseball for five more years. Five years with Bud as the formal commissioner, followed by 11 with MLB empowered to stop the usage by testing — and suspensions for the positive tests.

It is a bitter irony, that Selig — the commissioner who calmly condoned the use of steroids and other drugs for the first decade-plus of his reign — was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2017 while Bonds, Clemens and McGwire were denied. Denied, retroactively punished. Sosa also belatedly accused — and denied.

And it is a painful irony that a pressbox witness to rookie McGwire’s monstrous first home run at Tiger Stadium and a follower in the pursuit of Maris has been disenfranchised after a half-century of voting for Cooperstown.

Also denied. Too old. Only 92. With baseball memories that go back 84 years. Denied the privilege of voting for ballplayers — or against — I saw, covered for The News. Denied the honor of voting for the first time since 1970. Not a kid anymore.

Denied for being a fuddy-duddy, out of touch, not at the ballpark often enough the Hall of Fame muckamucks have decreed.

Balderdash!

Nine, perhaps 10 times, at Comerica with my gold honorary Baseball Writers card in 2019, the last time the muckamucks kept score.

And I wrote more about baseball in 2020 than some of their 35-year-old writers — and bloggers — because of the deaths of Al Kaline and six of his Hall of Fame fellows.

Out of touch — another irony — I watched more baseball in 60-game 2020, on TV, while in pandemic captivity than had been my norm.

Well, here is my ineligible ballot that is as valued and as well-researched as any active Baseball Writer voting for, or against, athletes he never saw.

I’d vote for Bonds, Clemens and McGwire — all worthy. I’d vote for Gary Sheffield. But not for Curt Schilling, who is the most likely to be elected.

Rivera reflection

And I would — if I could — retract my vote of two years ago for Mariano Rivera, elected in his first time on a Hall of Fame ballot, and the only ballplayer ever to receive 100% of the votes.

I would withdraw that support of Rivera — certainly, a Hall of Famer, but not with the honor of a first-time election. And not with 100%. I went for the New York-led drive to make Rivera elected with all the votes.

I ignore the flaws that bothered me in Rivera’s over-heralded years with the Yankees.

He flatly failed in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series with the Yankees about to win with a 2-1 lead. Rivera allowed the Diamondbacks to score twice. In that inning, Rivera gave up three hits, committed a throwing error and hit a batter. Luis Gonzalez, an ex-Tiger, won the championship for Arizona with a bloop single into short left off Rivera.

Three years later, the Yankees relied on Rivera to clinch the American League pennant after winning the first three games of the championship series vs. the Red Sox. The Red Sox historically overcame an 0-3 deficit to reach the World Series and sweep the Cardinals for their first World Championship since 1918.

In Game 4, with the Yankees about to clinch, Rivera squandered the lead on a walk, Dave Roberts’ famed steal of second, and Bill Mueller’s single. The game went to the 12th, with the Red Sox surviving. The Red Sox prevailed in Game 5, this time in 14 innings. The Red Sox tied the score in the eighth, the tying run scored on a sacrifice fly off Rivera.

Boston won Game 6 with a courageous start by Schilling, part of a package scrutinized by the Hall of Fame voters. And the Red Sox won Game 7 in a romp over the forlorn Yankees.

The turning point had been Rivera’s failure to hold a 4-3 lead in bottom the ninth, the Red Sox down 0-3 and about to be defeated again in one of their historic games against the Yankees.

So, I made a rare mistake in my 50 honorable years of voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I voted for Rivera his first time on the ballot in 2018 despite knowing entirely about his two glaring failures against the Diamondbacks and Red Sox.

To me, those two performances should have deprived Rivera of receiving 100% of the votes in his first year.

Gosh, even the late Al Kaline did not collect every vote when he was elected, legitimately, his first time on a Hall of Fame ballot.

Jerry Green is a former Detroit News sports reporter.

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