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Bonds V. Clemens: Will Race Enter The Hall-Of-Fame Discussion?

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by Dave Fuller

In the wake of the Mitchell Report, questions abound for each and every player involved.  One of the more interesting themes to come out of the report is the treatment two certain players have received in the past and will in the future. It wouldn't be a debate without these two players being the best in the game, and they are. At least, they were.

Barry Bonds was the best hitter of his time (some may argue all-time). Roger Clemens was the best pitcher of his time (some may argue all-time). That isn't the only difference between the two players, however.

Both were listed on the Mitchell Report released earlier this week. Both are future Hall of Famers without these steroid allegations. Both may have tainted their name enough to keep themselves out of the Hall according to some voters. And, ironically, both will likely see their Hall of Fame fate rest in the hands of voters mulling over their situations on the same ballot.

Still, none of these issues are the key difference here. David Lengel of sportsblog brings up an interesting point:

There are people in the baseball world that felt Bonds's race had a lot to do with the way he was treated by the public and media. Now we are going to find out whether or not those charges stand up. Will the Caucasian Clemens receive the same vilification as the African-American Bonds? Will he hear the calls for an asterisk next to his statistics? Will he be ostracised in the same fashion? ... a guilty Clemens would deserve the same treatment as Bonds, the very same outrage that is directed towards the disgraced former San Francisco Giant, and nothing less. If that doesn't happen, it will be difficult to refute those who feel that race plays a big part in the anti-Barry sentiment.

Now, nothing has happened yet in terms of investigations or interrogations of the connection between Roger Clemens and steroids. If nothing does, the race card will fly without a doubt.  (ed:  Doesn't mentioning race bring the race card into play?)

As it is, people may wonder why Bonds has been investigated so thoroughly for his involvement with drugs. On the other hand, Clemens hasn't been so much as questioned about the issue despite whisperings a few years back. Was this preferrential treatment? Was it based on the difference in their race?

The simple answer is, no. People would be crazy to assume this to be an issue on race. Yes, there were whisperings dealing with Roger Clemens, and they came relatively close to the beginnings of the BALCO investigations. Don't quote me on this, but those whisperings may have even occurred before the BALCO investigations began. What gives?

The so-called "Steroid Era" didn't begin with Barry Bonds, nor did it begin with sluggers Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. It began closer to the mid-1990's with players like Albert Belle, and Frank Thomas. So, why was Bonds more heavily investigated than anyone else thought to have been "juiced"?

When both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa topped the single-season home run record in 1998 (previously held by Yankees outfielder Roger Maris at 61), the topic of steroids was really becoming a big issue. Yet somehow, both players were let off the hook relatively easily. Neither were heavily investigated, neither were big targets of any steroids allegations.

Instead, as Barry Bonds got better -- and stronger -- with age, Bonds became a member of the public eye. I'm sure Bud Selig had every intention of keeping his eye on Bonds to make sure that if this was a steroids issue, it would be caught and fixed so that the game would not become any more tainted. No one wanted this issue to get out of hand. So, after the article where Bonds detailed his training regimen published in "Muscle and Fitness" magazine (as prescribed by BALCO) came out, steps were taken and items potentially harmful to the game were found. This is where the grand jury investigation into BALCO began.

It's unfortunate that human growth hormore (HGH) is undetectable, because none of this would have had a chance to get this far. Since it is not detectable, I have a point to make. That point I'm making is that one of the main reasons Bonds' investigation got so deep was because of his link as a power hitter to the home run race and the power increase of the mid-1990's. 50-homer seasons were becoming increasingly common, and questions were becoming more frequent. Bonds wasn't treated this way because he's an African-American. It's because of what I mentioned above.

As for Roger Clemens? What direct connection did pitchers have to this "Steroids Era"? There was no real reason to do any deep investigation on mere whisperings. There's no special treatment or race difference here. Just a difference of interests and relevance.

If this random musing does nothing else, it will help defeat the idea that any difference in the treatment of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in the past and in the future have nothing to do with race. The only race issue here is the race to the Hall of Fame: who will get in first (if at all)? Will both players make 1st ballot? Will one make 1st and one make 2nd? Those answers will only be found in the future, but I assure you, those are the only race issues that will be present in the evaluation of these two greats* of the game.