Jack Curry: Explaining why I finally decided to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens

For the last nine years, my Hall of Fame ballot has sat on my desk throughout the month of December. I study it every day and do research every day. It’s my daily routine, a comforting routine. I like having the ballot nearby as I decide who I think is worthy to be in Cooperstown. I have one vote, a vote I take very seriously.

On the last nine ballots, I haven’t checked the box beside Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. In three decades as a baseball reporter, Bonds and Clemens are the greatest hitter and the greatest pitcher I’ve ever covered. Their gaudy statistics meant that both players should have danced into the Hall on their first ballot.

But, because of strong suspicions about their use of performance enhancers, both players have languished on the ballot. This is a situation that Bonds and Clemens have created. No one else. We all make choices. We all know right from wrong. And Bonds and Clemens made decisions that have placed an ominous cloud over their own candidacies.

During the countless hours I’ve spent pondering my vote, I’ve always believed the easiest way to handle Bonds and Clemens would have been to vote for them. We can talk about the recklessness of the Steroid Era and how baseball officials turned a blind eye to what was happening with players. We can say we didn’t know what each player was doing. We could make those valid arguments, vote for Bonds and Clemens and move on. Again, that would be the easiest way to handle this thorny question.

Still, I know what’s already been reported about both players and it’s always been difficult for me to simply ignore the narratives around Bonds and Clemens. So, while many voters who I respect have voted for Bonds and Clemens, it hasn’t been simple for me to do it.

Well, this year, I finally decided to check the box for Bonds and Clemens. After numerous conversations with former players, managers and coaches, I have chosen to give those two legendary players my vote. I know how incredibly talented Bonds and Clemens were. I covered the last few weeks of Bonds’s pursuit of Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record and was in San Francisco when he broke it in 2007. Pitchers feared him more than any hitter. I watched Clemens impact the culture around the Yankees with his work ethic and his determination to succeed. Hitters feared him, too.

I didn’t need to be reminded of how remarkable Bonds and Clemens were, but, in my conversations with the men who shared fields and clubhouses with them, I was repeatedly reminded of their elevated status in the game. Eventually, those passionate discussions and the fact that it was their final year on the ballot nudged me into a place I never expected to be: a Bonds and Clemens Hall of Fame voter.

For me, one of the most salient comments came from an ex-player who said that he believes Bonds and Clemens deserve to be in the Hall. But he also believes that they deserve to forever have the S of a scarlet letter attached to them, too, for everything that hovers around them. Even if both players are enshrined, the questions about what they did or didn’t do will persist. In its own way, that’s a punishment for two of the greatest players ever. That’s a fair characterization, one I agree with, and that helped lead me to voting for them. Before this ballot, neither Bonds or Clemens had received more than 62 percent of the vote. They will need a significant boost to reach the required 75 percent to enter the Hall.

Besides Bonds and Clemens, I also voted for Scott Rolen, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Billy Wagner and Curt Schilling. Regarding the combustible Schilling and his offensive words, I continued to treat his candidacy with more respect than he has treated it. There are other players on the ballot who have been linked to performance enhancers like Gary Sheffield and David Ortiz and players who have been suspended over PEDs like Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, but I didn’t vote for any of them this time. Now that I have voted for the two players who became the poster boys for the Steroid Era, I will reassess those other candidates next year. This year was about grappling with the dilemma of Bonds and Clemens. I didn’t vote for Sammy Sosa, who is also in his final year on the ballot.

Judged strictly on their career statistics, Bonds and Clemens should have received close to 100 percent of the vote in their first year of eligibility. Both could have beaten Mariano Rivera to becoming the first unanimous selection. But, again, they created doubt. If they don’t make it into the Hall, they will have kept themselves out.

I never had a choreographed plan to make Bonds and Clemens wait until their tenth year on the ballot. In fact, I didn’t even make my decision until two days before my ballot was due. But I’m mostly comfortable with my choice. After a long wait and a lot of lengthy discussions, I checked the two boxes that I’d left blank for nine years, I exhaled and I mailed my ballot.

For more on this year’s Hall of Fame, watch an all-new Yankees Hot Stove tonight at 7 p.m. on YES.