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Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens will be elected to the Hall of Fame soon enough

Tim Brown
·MLB columnist
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A few years back, I sat on a white folding chair in a big, soggy field in upstate New York and listened to the retired baseball players talk. They said nice things about their wives and children, their moms and dads, their former teammates and the millions of people who’d once come to see them play.

They were young men by the usual standards and still they mourned what was. They cried. In spite of themselves and the happiness around them and the joy in having gotten there, they were sad too. Soon, they’d be sitting in one of those folding chairs behind them, up on that stage, in the background of someone else’s day, a long weekend otherwise spent on colorized memories and counting out their blood pressure meds. Maybe that was it.

It’s what got me thinking about immortality, which is what everyone kept talking about, when in fact what they surely meant was mortality. Hardly anyone would cry over immortality, depending of course on how one would be required to spend that time. Playing right field for the San Diego Padres forever wouldn’t be a bad gig.

So I wondered what they might regret.

Their dads rolled them a baseball when they were 2, they grew up adoring the game, they got good at it, they got rich for it, they retired, and then they were given a plaque in a big, soggy field in upstate New York. And still, mortality means one shot at this thing, one chance to do it well and do it right, to have some fun and raise a good kid or two, to love the lady in the sunglasses in the front row, to do crappy things and try your best to make them right again, to be honest with yourself and the guy in the next locker and also by the game.

That’s about it, right? So, yeah, sitting in that field I wondered what the men on that stage hadn’t quite gotten around to yet, the stuff they held back, the stuff they were good by and stuff they wished they could change, if their special day and all the love in it felt inevitable or entirely too fragile. Whose conscience was clean? Whose burned? And did any of it matter?

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds earned 53.8 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, up from 44.3 percent. (Getty Images)

Also, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens came up short again in balloting for the Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

They’ll be there soon enough, it seems. Next year, the year after, sometime before 10 years, before their eligibility expires. They’re five years in, plenty of time to float the current of forgiveness.

Clemens drew 54.1 percent of the vote, up from 45.2 percent last year, from 35.4 percent three years ago. It’s coming. Bonds was at 53.8 percent, from 44.3 percent and 34.7 percent. Him too. Clemens was 93 votes shy, Bonds 94.

It’s complicated and entirely hazy and whether they belong or not depends on which direction one’s folding chair points. Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez were Hall of Famers as of Wednesday afternoon, and both bore the burden of PED suspicions. Bagwell, who fought only whispers, waited seven years. Rodriguez, accused in a book by Jose Canseco of using steroids and HGH, arrived on his first ballot.

Dinged twice by the league, Manny Ramirez, fresh to the ballot, was named on nearly a quarter of the ballots. Gary Sheffield, who once explained he’d unknowingly smeared “The Cream” on himself, 13.3 percent, about the same as last year. Sammy Sosa, five years into his candidacy, got 21 fewer votes than Sheffield. Mark McGwire washed out last year.

Now, lord knows there are larger issues than a few plaques on a wall in upstate New York. There are more important paragraphs to parse than a character clause within the Hall of Fame voting instructions.

What we are beginning to suspect, however, is that cheating the game is not a forever crime anymore. Maybe not even a crime. Let’s call it an infraction, if that. That, like in the NFL, the game is too demanding for the public to require an absolutely clean body. That, in baseball, the lure of fame and wealth is too strong, that it is unfair to also ask a player to resist the easier way.

They have plied their trade. No one took that from them. They have made their money. That, too, was guaranteed. And now they also are to be honored – if not already, then soon enough – for having served the game with rare distinction and for having accumulated the even rarer numbers that justify their afternoon up in that soggy field. Just try not to get caught more than, you know, twice.

So there we are. Nobody needs to regret any of it anymore. The important thing, after all, is getting there. Not the how of it. Not the why of it. Just the chair. Just the tears. Just the memories.

If nothing else, it’s become a helluva spectacle. Pull up a chair.