Do Steroid Users Belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Voting for the next class of Cooperstown is an annual tradition. But for the last decade, some Hall of Fame candidates have been tied to the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs during their careers.
Three of them — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa — are on the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. It's their 10th and final year on the ballot. This might be their last chance. It's also the first year for other players with PED links, including Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.
Baseball's steroid era continues to dog a generation of MLB players. There will always be controversy. Do any of them belong in the Hall of Fame?
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 10th (final)
2021 vote percentage: 61.8% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 22 seasons (1986-2007)
Teams: Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-92), San Francisco Giants (1993-2007)
Career highlights: Seven-time National League MVP (1990, 1992, 1993, 2001-04), 14-time MLB All-Star (1990, 1992-98, 2000-04, 2007), 12-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1990-94, 1996, 1997, 2000-04), eight-time Gold Glove Award winner (1990-94, 1996-98)
Using PEDs: Barry Bonds
No player in baseball history will ever be more connected to PED use than home run king Barry Bonds.
Bonds testified before a federal grand jury during the BALCO investigations. He said he took multiple substances from a trainer that were described as linseed oil and rubbing balm. Investigators said they were PEDs.
Bonds claimed he didn't know they were. If you want the full story of exactly how deep the rabbit hole went with Bonds' use of PEDs, please read the brilliant book "Game of Shadows" by Mark Fainaru-Wade and Lance Williams.
Should Barry Bonds Get Into the Hall of Fame?
That's going to be a hard "No" from us, but we recognize he has a shot with 61.8 percent of the vote in the last Hall of Fame go-round. That's a mere 13.2 percent from making it to Cooperstown.
Bonds hurt baseball more than any other player in our lifetimes. His egomaniacal cheating destroyed the most sacred records the game has, and his overall demeanor impacted the game as well. Surly. Unapproachable. Selfish.
There was never a worse spokesman or figurehead for baseball than Barry Bonds, and we doubt history will be very kind to a player who didn't even need performance-enhancing drugs to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Oh, and he never even won a World Series.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 10th (final)
2020 vote percentage: 61.6% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 23 seasons (1984-2006)
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1984-96), Toronto Blue Jays (1997-98), New York Yankees (1999-2003, 2007), Houston Astros (2004-06)
Career highlights: Two-time World Series champion (1999, 2000), seven-time Cy Young Award (1986, 1987, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2004), AL MVP (1986), two-time Triple Crown (1997, 1998), four-time MLB wins leader (1986, 1987, 1997, 1998), seven-time MLB ERA leader (1986, 1990-92, 1997, 1998, 2005), five-time AL strikeout leader (1988, 1991, 1996-98), MLB All-Century Team
Using PEDs: Roger Clemens
Seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens got put on blast by former trainer Brian McNamee, who said he injected Clemens with anabolic steroids and HGH from 1998 to 2001.
Clemens was not only named in the Mitchell Report for using steroids. He also was indicted by a federal grand jury on six felony counts of perjury, false statements and contempt of Congress. He received a mistrial the first time around because of prosecutorial misconduct and was found not guilty in a second trial.
To be clear — not guilty of lying to Congress. Not, not guilty of taking steroids. Big difference.
Should Roger Clemens Get Into the Hall of Fame?
Nah. And that's a striking exclusion because Clemens is the only member of the 300-win club not yet inducted into the Hall of Fame despite being eligible for induction since 2013.
The Mitchell Report and his former trainer weren't the only times Clemens' name was tied to steroids and PED use. Jose Canseco once hinted in his book "Juiced" that Clemens used steroids, but then told a federal grand jury that Clemens never used steroids. Jason Grimsley, a former teammate, accused Clemens of using steroids in a federal affidavit. That was denied and never proven.
But ask yourself this. If you spot Clemens his years with the Red Sox as being clean because he was young and his body bounced back, then what percentage of his career was spent striking out batters thanks to steroids?
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 8th
2020 vote percentage: 40.6% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 22 seasons (1988-2009)
Teams: Milwaukee Brewers (1988-91), San Diego Padres (1992-93), Florida Marlins (1993-98), Los Angeles Dodgers (1998-2001), Atlanta Braves (2002-03), New York Yankees (2004-06), Detroit Tigers (2007-08), New York Mets (2009)
Career highlights: World Series champion (1997), nine-time MLB All-Star (1992, 1993, 1996, 1998-2000, 2003-05), five-time Silver Slugger Award (1992, 1996, 2003-05)
Using PEDs: Gary Sheffield
Gary Sheffield was one of the MLB players named in the Mitchell Report regarding PED use and taking steroids. Mark Fainaru-Wade and Lane Williams also detailed Sheffield's steroid use in their "Game of Shadows" nonfiction opus.
In the book, it's alleged Sheffield used steroids, testosterone and HGH that he obtained from Greg Anderson, the personal trainer for both him and Barry Bonds.
The book also gave vivid details of Anderson's "steroid calendars" he kept for players in order to track their steroid cycles, including one for Sheffield during the 2001 season.
Should Gary Sheffield Get Into the Hall of Fame?
Aside from being outspoken — Sheffield once said the reason there were more Latin than Black players was because Latin players were easier to control by management — he also cheated the game. So there's no way he should get in the Hall of Fame. And we highly doubt he can make up that extra 35 percent of the vote he needs in the next three voting cycles before he's off the ballot.
What was Sheffield's excuse? He said he was working out with Barry Bonds in 2001 and a cream applied to his knee by a trainer contained steroids, which Sheffield didn't realize at the time.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 6th
2020 vote percentage: 28.2% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 19 seasons (1993-2011)
Teams: Cleveland Indians (1993-2000), Boston Red Sox (2001-08), Los Angeles Dodgers (2008-10), Chicago White Sox (2010), Tampa Bay Rays (2011)
Career highlights: Two-time World Series champion (2004, 2007), World Series MVP (2004), nine-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1995, 1999-2006), 12-time MLB All-Star (1995, 1998-2008)
Using PEDs: Manny Ramirez
It's not a leap to say Manny Ramirez probably had a decent shot of making the Hall of Fame after his first PED suspension in 2009 cost him 50 games. He was enough of a unique, talented and likable player that voters may have been keen to overlook his transgression.
When Ramirez was suspended for a second time — this time for 100 games in 2011 — all bets were off. Ramirez actually never returned to baseball in order to serve the suspension, even though he reportedly had a deal in place to lower the suspension from 100 to 50 games.
Should Manny Ramirez Get Into the Hall of Fame?
It's sad to say but one of the best right-handed hitters of all time just isn't getting into the Hall of Fame. He received less than 30 percent of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot.
"Manny Being Manny" should have been a lock for Cooperstown because few players have combined that type of quirky, mostly endearing behavior with that kind of skill.
But he cheated so much we'll never know exactly what his true talents could have done on a baseball field. We just got the juiced-out version.
He's not the only one on the Red Sox who will probably be on the outside looking in.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 10th (final)
2020 vote percentage: 17.0% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 18 seasons (1989-2005, 2007)
Teams: Texas Rangers (1989, 2007), Chicago White Sox (1989-91), Chicago Cubs (1992-2004), Baltimore Orioles (2005)
Career highlights: National League MVP (1998), seven-time MLB All-Star (1995, 1998-2002, 2004), six-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1995, 1998-2002), Roberto Clemente Award (1998)
Using PEDs: Sammy Sosa
Sammy Sosa gave congressional testimony in 2005 denying that he'd ever used PEDs or steroids. The New York Times proved otherwise in 2009, when they published a list of MLB players who tested positive for steroids in 2003 that was leaked to them by an MLB attorney.
A look at Sosa's stats and baseball cards makes it very clear how much he juiced — baseball cards meaning you can see the physical change he underwent in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Sosa had 39 home runs, total, through his first five seasons in the majors. He eclipsed that total in a single season seven times over the final decade of his career.
Should Sammy Sosa Get Into the Hall of Fame?
No, he should not. While other players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and the infinitely unlikeable Curt Schilling enter their final years on the Hall of Fame ballot with a slim-to-fair chance of being elected, Sosa has no shot.
Sosa reached 17.0 percent of the Hall of Fame vote needed in 2020, up from a paltry 13.9 percent in 2019. He barely missed being booted off the ballot when he received just 6 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility — players must maintain 5 percent to stay eligible.
That means Sosa, the only player in MLB history to hit 60 or more home runs in a season three times and one of just seven players to hit 600 career home runs, is never making it to Cooperstown.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 4th
2020 vote percentage: 13.7% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 18 seasons (1995-2013)
Teams: New York Yankees (1995-2003, 2007-10, 2012-13), Houston Astros (2004-06)
Career highlights: Five-time World Series champion (1996, 1998-2000, 2009), ALCS MVP (2001), five-time MLB All-Star (1996, 2001, 2010)
Using PEDs: Andy Pettite
Andy Pettite's former teammate Jason Grimsley named Pettite as a user of PEDs in 2006, saying he obtained amphetamines, anabolic steroids and HGH from the same trainer used by both Pettite and Clemens.
Pettite was also named in the Mitchell Report in 2007 as one of the MLB players who used PEDS, with evidence he'd injected HGH throughout the 2002 season to deal with an elbow injury.
Unlike almost every other player of the steroid era, Pettite was actually honest about his use of PEDs and apologized for it.
Should Andy Pettite Get Into the Hall of Fame?
No, and not because of his PED use. It's kind of ridiculous to continue to punish someone once they've admitted fault in a situation like this. And if we're getting into the weeds, Pettite was using a drug in order to pitch against a majority of batters who were using the same thing. Not that that's right, but we wanted to point it out.
The reason Pettite won't get into the Hall of Fame is because of his pitching. He only led the AL in one pitching category one time, with 21 wins in 1996, never won a Cy Young and only had two 20-win seasons in his career.
Then again, he started 44 games in the postseason and went 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA, winning five rings. That's a .633 winning percentage in playoff games. And his regular-season winning percentage was almost as good (.626) with 265 career wins in 521 career starts.
Hall of Fame voting might not be as easy as it looks.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 3rd
2020 vote percentage: 8.7% (75% needed for induction)
Career: 17 seasons (1996-2012, 2014)
Teams: Houston Astros (1996-97), Philadelphia Phillies (1998-06), New York Yankees (2006-08), Los Angeles Angels (2009-12), Los Angeles Dodgers (2012), New York Mets (2014)
Career highlights: Two-time MLB All-Star (2004, 2005), Gold Glove Award (2005)
Using PEDs: Bobby Abreu
This is the only player on this list who has some gray area when it comes to PED use. We're only including Bobby Abreu because of his bizarre answers to PED-related questions in the steroid era's heyday.
Mainly, when asked if he'd used PEDs, Abreu would always respond by saying he used creatine — the stuff your high school football coaches gave you to put on weight but just made you feel sluggish. And also made you gain weight.
Should Bobby Abreu Get Into the Hall of Fame?
No, because he didn't have a good enough career.
Abreu was definitely a rare combination of hitting and speed — one of only seven players with 900 extra-base hits and 400 stolen bases in MLB history.
What he didn't do very much was win. In 17 seasons, Abreau was in the postseason just four times and only played in the ALCS once, with the Angels in 2009 when they were swept in four games by the Yankees.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 1st
2020 vote percentage: N/A
Career: 22 seasons (1994-2013, 2015-16)
Teams: Seattle Mariners (1994-2000), Texas Rangers (2001-03), New York Yankees (2004-13, 2015-16)
Career highlights: World Series champion (2009), three-time American League MVP (2003, 2005, 2007), 14-time MLB All-Star (1996-98, 2000-08, 2010, 2011), two-time Gold Glove Award winner (2002, 2003), 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner (1996, 1998-2003, 2005, 2007, 2008)
Using PEDs: Alex Rodriguez
Three-time American League Most Valuable Player Alex Rodriguez was dogged by reports of steroid use for years. In 2009, Rodriguez finally admitted to using steroids from 2001 to 2003.
In 2013, Rodriguez was caught in another substance-abuse scandal when he was shown to have obtained human growth hormone from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami.
MLB originally suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, which would have been the longest non-lifetime suspension in league history. It was later reduced to 162 games, and he missed the entire 2014 season.
Should Alex Rodriguez Get Into the Hall of Fame?
No way. Consider that all three of Rodriguez's American League Most Valuable Player awards came after he admittedly began using steroids — 2003, 2005 and 2007.
While Rodriguez had a lot of natural talent, knowing he started using PEDs in 2001 means there were only five presumably "clean" years to his career, with the Seattle Mariners, and it's not totally clear if he was using them then.
Rodriguez, who is only in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, will be just fine. He has an estimated net worth of $500 million and helped lead an ownership group that purchased the Minnesota Timberwolves for $1.5 billion in April 2021.
Year on Hall of Fame ballot: 1st
2020 vote percentage: N/A
Career: 20 seasons (1997-2016)
Teams: Minnesota Twins (1997-2002), Boston Red Sox (2003-16)
Career highlights: Three-time World Series champion (2004, 2007, 2013), World Series MVP (2013), ALCS MVP (2004), 10-time MLB All-Star (2004-08, 2010-13, 2016), Roberto Clemente Award (2011)
Using PEDs: David Ortiz
In 2009, The New York Times published a story detailing a list of 100 MLB players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003. Boston Red Sox superstars David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez were on the list.
Ortiz, who had long been rumored as a PED user, addressed the failed test by saying it must have been a combination of "supplements and vitamins" he was using at the time, although he could not recall which specific ones.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has since disavowed the 2003 tests, pointing out that there were many substances that could have indicated a false positive or weren't detectable — which was the whole point of the steroid era. They figured out a way to make drugs that the tests couldn't detect.
Should David Ortiz Get Into the Hall of Fame?
This is by far the hardest of all the names on this list to say shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. So we just won't. There's enough gray area about the PEDs (not much, just enough) and enough goodwill built up by David Ortiz — Big Papi — over the years that we feel like he'll make Cooperstown a better place.
He also should get a boost from comparisons to his teammate, Manny Ramirez, who is on his sixth year on the ballot in 2022 while Ortiz is on his first. Ortiz, unlike Ramirez, was never suspended for PED use and never, according to MLB, had a failed drug test once new testing procedures were implemented in 2004.
Veterans Committee: Mark McGwire
Years on Hall of Fame ballot: 2007-16
Final vote percentage: 12.3%
Career: 16 seasons (1986-2001)
Teams: Oakland Athletics (1986-97), St. Louis Cardinals (1997-2001)
Career highlights: World Series champion (1989), 12-time MLB All-Star (1987-92, 1995-2000), AL Rookie of the Year (1987), Gold Glove Award (1990), three-time Silver Slugger Award (1992, 1996, 1998), MLB All-Century Team
Using PEDs: Mark McGwire
Mark McGwire was perhaps the central figure in steroid's baseball scandal, and by all accounts, he spent the entirety of his 16-year career using illegal substances.
McGwire's name was linked to federal steroid investigations since the early 1990s, dating back to a 1992 investigation called "Operation Equine" trying to nail dealers in the U.S.
To McGwire's credit, he finally came clean in 2010 and admitted to using steroids. After almost 20 years of denials.
Should Mark McGwire Get Into the Hall of Fame?
McGwire fell flat in his 10 years on the Hall of Fame ballot, receiving his highest percentage of votes at 23.7 percent in 2010, then dropping to 12.3 percent in his final year on the ballot in 2016.
There's still a way for McGwire to get into the Hall of Fame via the Era Committees, what was formerly known as the Veterans Committee. It is one of four electorates that consider players, executives, umpires and managers who are no longer on the official ballot.
McGwire's name is on the Today's Game Committee ballot, which considers eligible persons who spent the majority of their MLB careers from 1988 to the present, and gets to vote two out of every five years. Their next vote is in December 2022 for inclusion in the Class of 2023.
Unlike Barry Bonds, who likely had a Hall of Fame career before he began using PEDs, we can't attribute a single great year for McGwire to anything other than modern science and a hypodermic needle.