Pete Rose: Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod should be in Hall of Fame

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have complicated Hall of Fame cases. (Onetwo1 andKeith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

It feels like for the better part of baseball’s existence, there’s been a debate about whether baseball’s all-time hits leader Pete Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In terms of career accomplishments, Rose would be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He’s a 17-time All-Star that won three World Series titles during his 25-year career. However, Rose was permanently banned from baseball on Aug. 24, 1989, due to betting on games. That ban was issued under Bart Giamatti’s watch, and has been reviewed and upheld by the three subsequent commissioners; Fay Vincent, Bud Selig and Rob Manfred.

Now 77, it appears that Rose is extremely unlikely to live to see himself given a chance to be on the Hall of Fame ballot, if one ever comes. Some have suggested that if Rose isn’t allowed to be on the ballot, then neither should candidates substantively connected to performance-enhancing drugs. However, Rose disagrees.

Rose recently joined Howard Eskin of SportsRadio 94 WIP and vouched for the Hall of Fame case of his former FS1 colleague Alex Rodriguez, along with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens:

Eskin: Is it fair that A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) is accepted by baseball, has a prominent job on a broadcast and he clearly – even admittedly now, after a while – admitted he did steroids and altered games and altered statistics? Is that right, in your opinion?

Rose: Well, I don’t think that’s right, but you gotta remember Howie, A-Rod’s my man. I’ve worked with A-Rod on FOX and I know he’s on ESPN now and he does this…I mean A-Rod is everywhere – everywhere. But A-Rod, he’s one of three players in the history of baseball with over 2,000 runs scored and 2,000 RBIs. The other two are Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth.

Eskin: Yeah, but he cheated to get there. He cheated to get those numbers.

Rose: Sometimes. I’m not going to sit here and talk to you about when Barry Bonds cheated or when Roger Clemens cheated or when A-Rod cheated. But I look at it like this – and this is my own personal opinion – if those three guys that we just mentioned aren’t in the Hall of Fame, you shouldn’t have a Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens won seven Cy Youngs and he went to three courts and said he didn’t take steroids. Barry Bonds hit over 760 home runs, and he was a pretty damn good hitter – you watched him – before he went to San Francisco. And I don’t think Barry Bonds messed with any kind of drugs – and I don’t know this for a fact – I don’t think he took any kind of drugs until Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had that home run derby in the summer of ’97 [it was actually the summer of 1998].

Like Rose, each of these three are statistical locks for the Hall of Fame. Bonds, arguably the greatest player in baseball history, is the all-time home run king, won a record seven league MVP awards and finished his career with a staggering 164.4 fWAR. Clemens is probably one of the five greatest pitchers in baseball history, having won seven Cy Young Awards and finishing his career with a 102.8 JAWS, 41 points higher than the average JAWS score for a Hall of Fame pitcher. And even though Rodriguez is the third best of the bunch, his 696 home runs are fourth in MLB history.

But despite their on-field success, each faces an uphill battle because of their connections to performance-enhancing drugs. And it’s entirely possible that all three will get in, only two will get in, only one will get in or none will ultimately be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Bonds was indicted in 2003 for perjury and ultimately found guilty for obstruction of justice for lying about his use of products that came from BALCO, including two designer steroids. Though he never failed an MLB issued performance-enhancing drug test, a raid of the BALCO lab did turn up a failed PED test from Bonds believed to be from November of 2000. Drastic changes in his build, along with a second prime in his late-30s, led most in the public to believe that for some period of Bonds’ career, he was taking anabolic steroids.

After years of whispers, Clemens was heavily implicated, along with long-time teammate Andy Pettitte, in the 2007 Mitchell Report, former senator George Mitchell’s MLB sanctioned look at how prevalent steroid use was in the league. Like Bonds, Clemens was dominant into his early 40s, pitching for the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Like Bonds, Clemens spent quite a bit of time in court discussing the allegations, but was found not guilty of perjury.

Because neither ever failed an MLB issued performance-enhancing drug test, some believe they should be elected to the Hall of Fame regardless of these allegations. There’s long been a case made that both were on Hall of Fame caliber trajectories prior to when they are believed to have started using performance-enhancing drugs. Others argue that while morally wrong, baseball didn’t start testing for performance-enhancing drugs until 2003, so any usage by these two (or anyone) prior to that should be ignored. (It is worth pointing out that baseball banned “steroids” in 1991.) There’s also some that think Bonds and Clemens were so great, that their reported usage of the drugs should be overlooked, even if that same standard isn’t held to all those connected. And then there’s a crowd that altogether views the steroid era as the greatest period in baseball history and doesn’t particularly care if players broke rules to make it that, including Bonds and Clemens.

Though Rodriguez could be grouped into the same category as Bonds and Clemens by some, there are a few differences in his Hall of Fame case. First of all, he’s the only one of the trio to publicly admit that he used performance-enhancing drugs, telling Peter Gammons, then of ESPN, that he used banned substances from 2001-2003, citing the pressure he felt after signing a record free-agent contract with the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez’s performance-enhancing drug timeline is believed to be less clear than Bonds and Clemens. He was suspended for the entire 2014 season after the Biogenesis scandal revealed that he had again been using performance-enhancing drugs. A 2009 book by Selena Roberts of Sports Illustrated alleged that Rodriguez hadn’t stopped using performance-enhancing drugs upon joining the Yankees in 2004. The book even went as far as speaking to high school teammates of Rodriguez that suggested that Rodriguez had been using performance-enhancing drugs in his teenage years. It’s unclear whether Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs when he played for the Seattle Mariners from 1994-2000.

Rodriguez won’t become eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2022. A few more years may not hurt him, as younger voters have tended to be more lenient to players connected to performance-enhancing drugs. The longer he’s away from the game, he also will become more associated with being an intelligent commentator, rather than the superstar whose career was scandal-ridden.

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Meanwhile, Bonds and Clemens have been on the Hall of Fame ballot since 2013. In the past five years, Rafael Palmeiro has fallen off the ballot and Sammy Sosa’s case has struggled to gain any momentum. However, Bonds and Clemens both saw their voting percentages jump into the mid-50s in 2017, prompting some to suggest that it was a matter of when, not if, the two would be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Both saw minimal increases in their totals in 2018, though, and they will have just four more chances on the ballot to reach the 75 percent threshold necessary to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

However the Hall of Fame candidacies of Bonds, Clemens and Rodriguez play out, it’s likely a topic that will be debated for the rest of baseball’s existence. Rose knows a thing or two about having his Hall of Fame case debated in the public eye for the second-half of his life.

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