MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Bonds, Clemens still far from Hall

PED-linked duo sees slight rise in BBWAA voting percentage

Bonds, Clemens still far from Hall

They were denied entry but perhaps offered optimism. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- arguably the best pitcher and hitter of their era and two figures caught in a crossfire of PED opinions -- saw an uptick in support on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot results unveiled Wednesday night.

Needing to appear on 75 percent of ballots in order to qualify for Cooperstown, Bonds went from 36.8 percent in 2015 to 44.3 percent this year. Clemens went from 37.5 percent to 45.2. In terms of raw votes, both men dropped -- Bonds from 202 to 195 and Clemens from 206 to 199 -- but the voting pool also decreased, from 549 to 440.

So how much optimism can truly be gleaned from this rise?

Well, let's just say this up front: It's still hard to see Bonds and Clemens getting inducted in this particular process. They've got only six more chances on the BBWAA ballot, and they've still got a ton of ground to make up. Past connection to PEDs kept Mark McGwire from induction in his 10th and final year on the ballot (12.3 percent), and Sammy Sosa, in his fourth try, continued to just barely clear the bar to remain on the ballot (7 percent).

Despite the progress made by both players, Bonds still fell 135 votes shy of the 330 needed for election, and Clemens needed 131. It will be awfully difficult to bridge that gap given the still-strong sentiments that exist against these two. One of the more damning public discussions of Bonds and Clemens came from a potential Hall of Famer, Roy Halladay, who posted this on Twitter on Tuesday: 

Coming from such a respected recent retiree, that's quite a strongly stated stance. And it's one still shared by many people in this industry.

The other side of the argument, of course, is that knowing who did what and when -- at a time when Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program was not yet in place -- is impossible. It's a discussion that will continue to rage. But if Bonds and Clemens eventually get into the Hall -- and that still registers as a major "if" -- it will be because of some combination of these elements:

Evolving attitudes and a smaller voting body
This is purely anecdotal, but there seems to be more public support of these two Hall of Fame cases among the younger generation of BBWAA members. The change in eligibility rules that culled long-inactive members from the voting body for 2016 and dropped the total number of votes by 109 helped skew the electorate toward that younger group, and the result is reflected in the uptick in support for Bonds and Clemens.

Furthermore, some voters -- FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal being a prominent example -- have simply flip-flopped on this issue, accepting the possibility that there might already be -- or will soon be -- PED users in the Hall of Fame, and that making ethical judgments only on those who have been publicly connected to PEDs is intellectually faulty.

The 1998 argument
Some people with moral or ethical stances against Bonds and Clemens have still justified acceptance of them as Hall of Famers on the basis of belief that had either guy retired in 1998 -- the year Bonds hired Greg Anderson as his personal trainer and the year Clemens began working with Brian McNamee and, hence, the year widely pointed to as the beginning of their PED use -- they would still possess valid Cooperstown credentials. By that point, Clemens had already won an MVP Award and won four Cy Young Awards and Bonds had won three MVP Awards.

Beyond the problematic assumed omniscience this hypotethical requires, there is the glaring reality that Hall of Fame careers are just that -- full careers, not handpicked portions of them. The plaques bearing the images of Bonds and Clemens would not be accompanied by playing career dates that suddenly cease in 1997.

Still, some voters will continue to use this argument as a means of avoiding a firmer stance on either side of the spectrum.

The Piazza precedent
Mike Piazza finally crossed the 75-percent threshold despite the specter of suspicion -- none of it backed up by actual evidence, mind you -- that has surrounded his candidacy. Now that he's in, will stances soften on Bonds and Clemens?

It's an odd hypothesis, certainly, but, hey, we've seen stranger rationales utilized by various members of this voting body.

A matter of time?
Again, the BBWAA ballot is going to be a tough nut to crack. But that's not the Hall's only entry point. Under the current arrangement, which is of course subject to change, the earliest Bonds and Clemens could appear on the Expansion Era Committee ballot is 2027.

Who knows what the public sentiment about the steroids era in general, and Bonds and Clemens in particular, will be by that point? And who knows what the makeup of said committee will be?

All we know is that while Bonds and Clemens might become Hall of Famers in some far-off date, they're not getting in this summer.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.