I think many of us have been hard on Barry Bonds, the best hitter of his generation, for his use of anabolic steroids. Okay, sure, there's no proof of that, but there was an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence of it even before he was indicted for perjuring himself. Bonds is the all-time home run king, and yet most baseball fans, like me, believe he should be kept out of the Hall of Fame for cheating.
There has been among some a belief that the antipathy toward Bonds is due to race. And no doubt, some of it has been. Bonds is African American, and the fact that he's been held up as the poster boy for steroids when white players like Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi have largely skated by has to have an element of race to it.
But Bonds' excellence is the other part of his elevation; he's just better than McGwire, better than Giambi. He was a Hall-of-Famer even before he allegedly started using steroids. And that excellence makes him a natural target, race aside.
These arguments both have merit. But the test of which is the driving factor in Bonds' vilification comes today. Because a player of Bonds' caliber has been named today as a steroid user, and he should be banned from Cooperstown no less than Bonds.
Roger Clemens is the most talented pitcher of his generation, and one of the all-time greats. He has won 354 games, is second only to Nolan Ryan in strikeouts. And according to the Mitchell Report, which was released today, he used anabolic steroids during his career.
Like Bonds, Clemens was in the Hall of Fame before he used the drugs. But like Bonds, he used those drugs to extend his career; he used the drugs to win his 300th game, to rise up the strikeouts list, to win the two World Series titles he won. In short, while he was a Hall-of-Famer before he used the drugs, Clemens, like Bonds, used the drugs to position himself as an all-time great.
The punishment for Clemens should be no less than that for Bonds: he should be kept out of the Hall of Fame. He should be denied enshrinement in Cooperstown. Like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, Bonds and Clemens should be remembered as people who forfeited their right to glory because they chose to cheat the game itself.
More than anything, their punishments should be equivalent. If Clemens is allowed to skate by while Bonds is denied enshrinement, we will know that those who have fingered race as the reason for the antipathy toward Bonds are right, that Bonds is being targeted because he is an African American, not because he is a cheater. I have no problem saying that Clemens and Bonds should be treated alike; I hope that America agrees.