Major League Baseball first tested for steroids in 2003. Boston David “Big Papi” Ortiz made that first list for a positive test, which was never released publicly. He did not appear on it again when subsequent lists were published and penalties were issued, and he went on to contribute significantly to Boston breaking the Curse of the Bambino and winning two World Series with the Red Sox. He hit 541 home runs. He is a folk hero in New England for his role on those teams and his presence in the community.
The Baseball Hall of Fame looked at that career and made Ortiz a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The writers seemed to forget the history of underachieving when he played for the Twins prior to the Red Sox. He also had a history of injuries – the game can be particularly hard on larger players, even as designated hitters. Ortiz also had a long career despite those nagging injuries; some believe it was due to PEDs.
So many others do not get in
Many steroid-era players will likely not get in because of the perception of tainted results by the likes of Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling. Barry Bonds, the home run king who passed Hank Aaron by hitting 765 home runs, is the most obviously overlooked in the steroid era crop. The other is Roger Clemens, who won 354 games, struck out 4,672 hitters, and won seven Cy Young Awards.
Bonds and Clemons are among the designated villains of the steroid era, so on their tenth and final candidacy, Bonds got 66% of the votes, and Clemens got 65.2%. They needed 75%. In 2023, the Hall moves their candidacy to the Contemporary Baseball Era ballot, where they may do no better among 16 peers.
Why the omission?
Clemens and Bonds don’t have the same likable personality as the effervescent Big Papi. Bonds seemed more or less disliked by everyone outside the Bay Area despite being one of the greatest players of all time. While he was no Bob Gibson, Roger Clemons was a fierce competitor on the mound and a multi-Cy Young winner who similarly wasn’t particularly liked when he played.
The guidelines are a bit arbitrary
“Best” is a relative term that does not adhere to baseball’s usual love of numbers. And popularity does have weight, at least in the regular voting body. The fact remains that Bonds, Clemons and others were competing against others who were also likely using PEDs. It was not a matter of everyone doing it, but the Hall is supposed to measure players by their success in their era, and many argue that they meet those criteria.