Most fatuous Baseball Hall of Fame argument: He was already deserving

BOSTON, MA - CIRCA 1988: Roger Clemens #21 of the Boston Red Sox poses for this portrait prior to the start of a Major League Baseball game circa 1988 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Clemens played for the Red Sox from 1884-96. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - CIRCA 1988: Roger Clemens #21 of the Boston Red Sox poses for this portrait prior to the start of a Major League Baseball game circa 1988 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Clemens played for the Red Sox from 1884-96. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /
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Of all the arguments, serious and otherwise, for supporting somebody’s Hall of Fame candidacy, he most fatuous is this: “He was a Hall of Famer before (he did what he did).”

Among a segment of the voting populace, we’ve heard this argument for years, particularly in support of the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Not all but many of their backers could be heard or read justifying their support of those cheaters on precisely that ground: “They were already Hall of Famers, so…”

Sorry, but that kind of argument backing someone for inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame is a total BS argument.

It’s the kind of fatuous assertion one would have made to defend an enshrinement vote for O.J. Simpson after 1994 if Simpson hadn’t already been enshrined at that point.

Logically, the same argument could be made today to advance the case for the election of Shoeless Joe Jackson.

At .356, he still has the third-highest batting average in history. He batted .408 in 1911, got a World Series ring in 1917, and put a bunch of black type to his name. No less an authority than Ty Cobb called him the greatest hitter he ever saw.

That throwing the World Series thing? Hey, by October of 1919, he was already a Hall of Famer…which, statistically, he was. So what if he made a few thousand on the side?

The same fatuous logic is applied to the cases for Bonds and Clemens. Statistically — even applying cutoffs (1998 for Bonds, 1996 for Clemens) — those cases are strong.

Through 1998, Bonds was a career .290 stick with 441 home runs and — at age 33 — a plausible four or five productive seasons remaining. Given that performance pattern, it’s reasonable to project him concluding his career as a .293 batter with about 600 home runs. Those are indisputably Hall of Fame numbers.

It’s the same story for Clemens, who was 33 in 1996, the season, prior to his move to Toronto. By that stage, he was a 192-game winner with a 3.06 ERA and a plausible four or five years of solid performance remaining. With that track record, it’s plausible to project him winning about 250 games on a 3.16 ERA.

In the real world, Clemens pitched until he was 44, won 354 games, and produced a 3.12 ERA. Measured by ERA+, three of his four best seasons came after 1996.

The same is true of Bonds. His three best WAR seasons and his four best OPS+ seasons all occurred after 1998.

Apply the tortured, fatuous logic of some bonds/Clemens voters to persons in other realms. Richard Nixon got us out of Vietnam and opened relations with China. Should his pre-Watergate record qualify him as a great president? Of course not.

In retroactively judging candidates for enshrinement, you have to take their full measure. You can’t logically pick an arbitrary, even if convenient, point in time to stop your assessment. That approach is fatuous.

Next. The secret shame of voting for Omar Vizquel. dark

Yet that’s exactly what a significant percentage of Bonds/Clemens voters did.