Mariano Rivera could have taught Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens thing or two

SHARE Mariano Rivera could have taught Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens thing or two

Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera became the first player to be elected to the Hall of Fame unanimously. (Kathy Willens/AP)

The results of the 2019 National Baseball Hall of Fame balloting are in, and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens once again didn’t make it.

That’s good.

It’s also good that a worthy player finally received 100 percent of the votes. That is Mariano Rivera, the peerless former Yankees closer.

Rivera, whose 652 saves are a major-league record, was 8-1 with 42 saves and a 0.70 ERA in 96 postseason appearances. Lights out. Seriously.

Remember, even Babe Ruth didn’t get 100 percent of the votes. Clearly, that was more a function of crabby voters or of those who thought they shouldn’t waste one of their votes on a player who was going to get in anyway. Well done, Mariano!

But back to Bonds and Clemens, arguably the best hitter and best pitcher of modern times.

I think you could make the bar-room argument that Bonds — with his record 762 home runs, 1,996 RBI, 2,558 walks, .607 slugging percentage and 162.8 career WAR — is the best player at any position ever.

His 73 homers in 2001 were ridiculous.

But then we get to steroids — the cream, the clear, BALCO, human growth hormone, flaxseed oil, hat size, whatever — and, well, forget it. Bonds is no Ruth. He’s more of a Mark McGwire.

Same with Clemens. His stats are off the charts. But so, to this writer and longtime voter, are his performance-enhancing drug-taking and his lying to writers, to Congress, to everybody.

Hall of Fame votes aren’t casual, arbitrary things for those of us who have been members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for the required 10 years and have watched hundreds, if not thousands, of games. For all you Cubs fans, I remember well watching Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Fergie Jenkins at Wrigley Field as a teenager and young man.


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I also watched Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Willie McCovey, Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver. Live. I have an idea about who was special in baseball and who deserves to be honored with the best of the best.

But there’s also a part of our ballots that goes beyond stats and dominance. Item No. 5 in the BBWAA Rules for Election states: ‘‘Voting shall be based upon a player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.’’

Note these three words: ‘‘integrity, sportsmanship, character.’’

Bonds and Clemens, in my opinion, get F’s there. Sorry.

Many of my colleagues voted for the pair this year — their seventh on the ballot

(10 is all you get) — with Bonds receiving 59.1 percent and Clemens 59.5 percent of the 425 ballots cast. But you need 75 percent to get in, and I hope they never reach that mark.

I hope Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield, among others, don’t get there, either.

There must be an ethical line drawn in the baseball dirt somewhere, and I draw it at the perception of cheating. Bonds never flunked a drug test, you say? So what? His trainer went to prison rather than rat on him, his name’s in the BALCO register of druggies and, above all, I know what I see.

His 73 homers in 2001 were 24 more than he hit in any of his other 22 seasons, a crazy 33 percent jump. If you read the book ‘‘Game of Shadows,’’ you will learn that Bonds was so mad about the 1998 home-run race between Sosa and McGwire and all the publicity the players got that it drove him to vindictive drug-taking to show the world who the real man was.

Was he a Hall of Famer without steroids? Absolutely. He was a lean, fleet, graceful outfielder with wondrous power. But 73 homers? Forget it.

I find it amusing that still lists him as playing at 6-1 and 185 pounds. I remember him coming to Wrigley toward the end of his career at somewhere around 230 pounds. Just like Sosa, he morphed into a muscleman.

I salute the 2019 class of Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina. I voted for all of them, plus Omar Vizquel and Billy Wagner.

Again, my votes aren’t knee-jerk check marks. I’m sure younger voters will come along after me, and maybe they’ll do revisionist scrutiny and vote in guys who were perceived as cheaters during their eras. Maybe the Veterans Committee, which votes on players after their 10 years on the regular ballot are up, will vote in strange choices, such as Harold Baines, whom it anointed this year.

Baines was a nice, one-dimensional player. But a Hall member? Hard to comprehend.

Maybe everybody I’ve ever voted for was a bad guy, an immoral person in some way. Maybe they all took drugs, be it steroids, greenies, massive amounts of caffeine or plates of hot dogs, a la Ruth.

We voters aren’t sleuths with subpoena power. We make our best choices based on what we believe, what we see, what we saw.

I did. I will.

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