By Larry Fine
(Reuters) – The Baseball Hall of Fame announced three new members to its fraternity on Wednesday but a spike in voting for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the most controversial candidates ever, was creating just as much buzz.
Bonds and Clemens, whose MLB career achievements would ordinarily have earned them landslide entry into the Hall of Fame, have yet to reach the necessary 75 percent threshold for election with both linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
But times are changing as Bonds and Clemens enjoyed dramatic gains in voting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America that could augur their eventual elections, perhaps as soon as next year.
Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, registered 54.1 percent of the 442 votes cast, a jump of nearly nine points, while Bonds, a seven-time MVP and baseball’s home-run king, came in at 53.8 percent compared to 44.3 percent last year.
Jeff Bagwell, the top vote-getter in the Class of 2017, said he was “a fan” of Clemens and Bonds and cheered them on.
“Barry Bonds was the best player I ever played against in my life,” Bagwell told reporters on a conference call. “I got to play with two of the best pitchers of all time in (Hall of Famer) Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.
“They were just awesome,” he said about Bonds and Clemens. “Their demeanor, the way they went about their business was just amazing. I respect them. I’m a fan.”
Rules governing which BBWAA members vote have changed, with longtime members who no longer regularly cover baseball phased out, making for a younger electorate as other reporters earn the vote by reaching the requisite 10 years of BBWAA membership.
Another factor in shifting perspectives was last month’s independent veterans’ committee vote to enshrine former MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over the so-called “Steroids Era” before crusading for a strict anti-doping policy.
Some believe Selig looked the other way while soaring home run records set by admitted doper Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds helped revive the game’s popularity following labor strife that wiped out the 1994 postseason.
Neither Bonds nor Clemens is known to have failed a drug test, but both have been linked to PEDs and faced federal charges that they lied about it under oath.
Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice, though the verdict was later overturned, and Clemens was acquitted of perjury and obstruction.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)