The logical capstone for great baseball careers is election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But neither Bonds nor Clemens has gathered anything resembling the necessary support in Hall of Fame elections.
This, of course, is a result of the fact that there is credible evidence linking both of them to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Neither Bonds nor Clemens has ever admitted using PEDs.
But is there a Hall of Fame future for either one? What are the realistic possibilities that one or both could be inducted in Cooperstown -- in the short run or the long-term?
No momentum on BBWAA ballot
Conventional election to the Hall for a player comes through voting by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. A candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes to be elected. The Hall, historically, has prided itself as being the most exclusive institution of its kind in all of North American professional sports.
Results of the BBWAA vote will be revealed on MLB Network on Jan. 6, with a news conference involving any electees to be held the following day.
Both Bonds and Clemens are in their fourth year of eligibility. Here are their voting percentages from the three previous elections.
2013: Clemens, 37.6 percent. Bonds: 36.2 percent.
2014: Clemens. 35.4. Bonds. 34.7.
2015: Clemens. 37.5. Bonds. 36.8.
That is a stunning lack of movement, plus or minus. Clemens and Bonds started with roughly half of the votes needed for induction and there they have stayed. These numbers say that the vast majority of voters have made up their minds on these candidates and are not budging. I've spoken at length with numerous voters. Their positions are always adamant, never iffy.
In any case, there is no trend here that would suggest election for either player at any time in the near future. Historically, voters have been limited to voting for no more than 10 candidates in a single year. The BBWAA requested that the number be raised to 12, but the Hall declined to change the rule. That didn't help Bonds or Clemens.
What the Hall has done is to reduce the number of years a player's name may remain on the ballot. It was 15. Now it is 10, except for those candidates who were already between their 10th and 15th year.
That change won't do Bonds and Clemens any good, either. Under the old rules, after the 2016 voting they would have each had 11 more years on the ballot. Now, they will each have only six more years. It's gotten to the point where you wonder if voters who have checked the Bonds and Clemens boxes will stop doing so, recognizing that with a crowded ballot, they might be better off voting for players who have momentum toward election that they might be leaving off.
Veteran's committee no easy feat
After removal from the BBWAA ballot, a player can be named for consideration by what is now termed the "Expansion Era Committee," which is an outgrowth of the former Veterans Committee. The 16-member committee is made up of eight Hall of Famers, four veteran baseball writers and four Major League executives and it considers candidates whose greatest impact on the game occurred from 1973 to the present.
It votes every three years. And based on its track record, it is a much tougher audience than the current BBWAA. In two elections, this committee has elected zero players. Bonds and Clemens would be eligible for consideration by this committee until 2025, providing that they are named as candidates by a screening committee. Maybe the electoral landscape will have changed dramatically by then. But maybe not.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a BBWAA Hall of Fame voter. I have never voted for Bonds or Clemens. I have based my decision on this section from Hall of Fame voting regulations:
"Voting shall be based on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."
I hear the argument that Bonds was going to be a Hall of Famer when he weighed 195 pounds, and the argument that Clemens was headed toward the Hall during his Red Sox days. Absolutely true, but the decisions they made later in their careers showed no "integrity" or "character."
Still, there is no joy in saying that for these two truly great talents, the Hall of Fame looks like a complete longshot; right now, in a little while, and long years down the road.