If we don't put the best player of our generation in the Hall of Fame, why have it at all?
This morning I read Lowell Cohn's column in the Press Democrat about why he won't vote for Barry Bonds for the Hall of Fame. Cohn actually gets to vote on the matter, and I do not, but Bonds clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame despite Cohn's arguments against his induction.
The crux of Cohn's argument is that Bonds does not belong in the Hall of Fame because his alleged steroid use was a moral failing that disgraced the game of baseball. Even though Major League Baseball was not testing for steroids at the time of his alleged use, and even though the use of performance-enhancing drugs was rampant throughout the game during this time, because baseball had a rule against steroid use and because steroid use was against the law, Bonds does not belong in the Hall of Fame due to his moral transgressions.
The main problem with Cohn's argument is that the Hall of Fame is not a place centered on judging the morality of Major League Baseball players. The Hall of Fame is about recognizing the performances of the greatest players on the field, not about examining their behavior off of it.
Cohn's contention that Bonds disgraced the game by using steroids is also inaccurate. If we accept that argument, we also have to accept that Cohn and his colleagues in the media disgraced the game by not doing enough to shine the light on baseball's steroid problem.
We also have to accept that the commissioner, the owners, the fans, the users and the players who didn't use but who didn't do enough to stop their teammates' steroid use, also disgraced the game. In short, everyone involved disgraced the game, and therefore no one from this era can get in to the Hall of Fame.
Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame because he is perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game. He won seven Most Valuable Player awards and eight Gold Gloves, became the all-time career home run and walk leader and set the single-season records for on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and home runs. He was the greatest player of his generation, and if we don't put the best players in the Hall of Fame for their perceived moral failings, why even have the Hall of Fame at all?
If the case against Bonds is that his alleged steroid use makes him a reprehensible character that we can't put in the Hall of Fame, what do we then make of his charitable activities? According to Yahoo! Sports, Bonds has agreed to pay the college tuition for the children of Bryan Stow, the Giants fan who was nearly beaten to death at Dodgers Stadium last season.
Since Bonds has both positive and negative moral actions on his resume, who ultimately should decide if the totality of his behavior is good enough for the suddenly high moral standards of the Hall of Fame? If Cohn gets to make that assessment, shouldn't we start investigating his behavior to see if he has any moral failings that would disqualify him from this process?
If we are going to make the Hall of Fame all about morality, perhaps we would be wise to heed the advice of a rather moral person from history called Jesus, who famously said in John 8:7, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone."
Or, better yet, let's realize how preposterous these moral investigations are, how ridiculous it is that I am quoting Jesus in a baseball article, and make the Hall of Fame solely about on-field performance. Let's admit that there were plenty of moral failings to go around during the steroid era, leave morality to the theologians and reward Barry Bonds for being the greatest player of his generation with a first ballot induction to the Hall of Fame.
If Bonds isn't moral enough for the Hall of Fame, but all of the sports writers who get to make that judgment are given moral impunity, then I really don't care about the Hall of Fame anymore. If we leave one of the greatest players of all time out of the Hall of Fame, my guess is that most baseball fans will similarly stop caring about the Hall of Fame as well.