Reggie Jackson, who believes baseball turned its back for years on rampant steroid use, told USA TODAY Sports that Roger Clemens deserves to join him in the Hall of Fame in 2013, a sentiment echoed by Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.
Jackson and Bench, who have been critical about the possible induction of steroid users, said Clemens' acquittal on all charges of lying to Congress in denying use of performance-enhancing drugs should open the door to the game's Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine.
"Here's a guy who took his principles that he believed in, and exposed himself to that kind of ridicule, to prove he was right," Jackson told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview. "He was proven through the legal system that he was correct. If you can beat Congress and federal judges, buddy, you must have had a pretty strong case.
"Yet, I listen to television today, and TV says that, although he was ruled not guilty, he's going to be held accountable in public court and they doubt seriously he'll ever get into the Hall of Fame.
"I don't understand that. He was ruled not guilty. By that ruling, he should get into the Hall of Fame, regardless of anybody's opinion."
Bench told USA TODAY Sports that he didn't need a trial to prove Clemens' innocence. The former catcher asked Clemens years ago whether he took performance-enhancing drugs.
"Roger was straight to the point," Bench said in a telephone interview, "and he told me he was innocent. That was good enough for me.
"I'm sure people will still have some kind of resentment, and people want to keep the purity of (the Hall of Fame). But for me, I'd welcome him into the Hall of Fame."
Jackson, who says there likely will be Hall of Famers who boycott the ceremony when players linked to steroid use are inducted, thinks Clemens and Barry Bonds belong.
Players who tested positive, such as Rafael Palmeiro, or admitted to steroid use, such as Mark McGwire, don't belong in the Hall, Jackson says. The voters have not been kind to many of the game's stars from the height of the steroid era, and several voters have expressed reservations about voting for Bonds and Clemens.
Yet with Bonds convicted on a single obstruction-of-justice charge, Bench isn't sure he belongs in the Hall. Bonds, after all, is a felon unless he wins his appeal.
"There's always been a little more haze over his name and everything else," Bench said. "They're certainly not going to elect (Mark) McGwire, so I don't think they'll vote for Barry.
"If (Bonds) was exonerated and everything was clear, it might be different. But there's still pending stuff going on."
There will be plenty more test cases on the ballot.
Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, who neither tested positive nor was remotely connected to PEDs in his career, has failed to garner more than 57% of the writers' vote.
Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, who also never tested positive but who experienced remarkable increases in size and strength, are on the ballot for the first time this year.
"There's a wavy line there," Jackson said. "I'm glad I don't have to resolve it. I'm glad I don't get a vote."
Said Bench: "There are several guys out there, you can't make a decision on. You don't know what the commissioner holds in his hand. How much do you release?"
There are no true answers, only confusion, with Hall of Famers not sure any longer whom to believe.
"Part of this is our fault," Jackson said. "We enjoyed the success of the great home run race in '98 (with McGwire and Sosa).
"It used to be that just two guys (Roger Maris and Babe Ruth) hit 60 homers, then it was four guys that hit 60, and doing it every year. Then, it was like 10 guys who hit 50 homers. It was like, 'Whoa!' It got stupid."
Yet for Clemens and Bonds, they should no longer be subjected to the speculation, Jackson says.
"You have to really admire what Roger did. He stood up for what he believed in," Jackson said. "I'd be proud to welcome him into the Hall of Fame."
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