Five years ago on Aug. 7, Barry Bonds hit home run No. 756 for his career, taking over baseball's all-time home run record from Hank Aaron.
That 2007 season also turned out to Bonds' final one in the major leagues. With five years passed since he stopped playing (he never officially retired, but acknowledged his career was over two years later), he's also eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Though Bonds being a part of the 2013 class of Hall of Fame inductees seems like a no-brainer based on his spectacular numbers, the controversy surrounding Bonds throughout his career is not going to make it that simple.
Obviously, Bonds' alleged PED use hangs over his achievements like a dark cloud of suspicion and doubt. Hall of Fame voters have already held such allegations against eligible players, regardless of actual evidence. Just ask Jeff Bagwell.
Some will obviously feel that Bonds' achievements are forever tainted by suspicions of PED use, especially his involvement with the BALCO scandal. During grand jury testimony in 2003, Bonds said that he used "the cream" and "the clear," but didn't know those substances were steroids because his trainer told him otherwise.
A No-Doubt Hall of Famer
In some people's eyes, Bonds is a cheater—one who cynically took PEDs to make sure he achieved all the records that matter in baseball—and shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame.
But look at the man's Baseball-Reference page. In particular, look at all the numbers that are in bold type, meaning he led the majors in that particular category. It's not just his home run numbers that are in bold.
At various points throughout his career, Bonds led the league in batting, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. He even led the league in runs scored, total bases and games played. In perhaps the greatest indication of how feared and respected he was as a hitter, Bonds led the league in intentional walks in 12 of his 22 seasons.
He won seven National League Most Valuable Player awards. Three of those came while he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates, long before there was ever any suspicion that Bonds was taking something extra to give himself a boost on the field.
Even if you look at Bonds' career before 1998, when he reportedly began using steroids, according to the book Game of Shadows, he was a Hall of Fame baseball player. He had six consecutive seasons with 30-plus homers, hitting 40 or more three times. Bonds hit over .300 in four of those seasons and surpassed 100 RBI in five of them.
Perhaps it's unfair to just assume that many, many players were taking steroids from the mid-90s through the 2000s. But the numbers say that it wasn't just a few players who were looking for an edge. So how can voters just single out a handful of players and penalize them?
If Bonds was taking steroids—and the changes in his body in addition to the surge in his statistics strongly indicate so—while many of his major league peers were doing it, he was still better than just about anyone in the sport.
Taking Out a Grudge
However, PED allegations won't be the only large obstacle between Bonds and Cooperstown. He also has to account for his relationship with the media. The writers that Bonds had a contentious relationship with throughout his career control his Hall of Fame induction with their vote.
Those who were mistreated and inconvenienced by Bonds' surly attitude and unwillingness to talk might take this opportunity to exact a measure of passive-aggressive revenge by keeping him out of the Hall of Fame—even if it's just for one year, in what's become a silly stratification of the inductees.
The best of the best are "first ballot" Hall of Famers, gaining entry when first eligible, while the other less best get in later on after they wait their turn in line.
Where will Bonds fall on that scale? His numbers are absolutely, undoubtedly first-ballot worthy. But it's entirely possible that voters will use their ballots to make a statement—both against his alleged steroid use and treatment of the media—and make him wait.
Judging by remarks Bonds made to MLB.com's Barry Bloom, he expects that to happen. And some of that defiance and anger that so many associate with Bonds comes to the surface as he considers the possibility that he could be withheld from his rightful honor.
"I don't worry about it because I don't want to be negative about the way other people think it should be run," Bonds said when asked how he felt about being eligible for the Hall of Fame. "That's their opinion, and I'm not going to be negative. I know I'm going to be gone one day. If you want to keep me out, that's your business."
But for someone who says he doesn't worry about such matters, Bonds then went on a rather incoherent rant when asked how voters might approach players of his era who have steroid allegations attached to them.
"You have to vote on baseball the way baseball needs to be voted on," Bonds said to Bloom. "If you vote on your assumptions or what you believe or what you think might have been going on there, that's your problem. You're at fault. It has nothing to do with what your opinion is. Period.
"If that's the case, you better go way, way back and start thinking about your opinions. If that's how you feel life should be run, I would say then you run your Hall of Fame the way you want to run your Hall of Fame. That's what I think. That's my personal opinion. If you want to do the Hall of Fame the way the Hall of Fame is supposed to be done, then you make the right decision on that. If you don't, that's on you. To stamp something on your assumptions, it doesn't work for me."
Voters Should Do the Right Thing
OK, let's cut through phrases like "how you feel life should be run" and focus on "the way baseball needs to be voted on."
I'm going to presume Bonds means that the best players should be voted into the Hall of Fame. And he's absolutely right about that.
Bonds is also right that suspicions or grudges shouldn't have a bearing on someone's Hall of Fame worthiness. A player either is a Hall of Famer or he isn't. None of this "first ballot" stuff should matter, especially for players who were clearly the best at their position and among their peers.
That's not to say that voters shouldn't be allowed to take their time. Look over the evidence more clearly and come to a conclusion in certain cases, as happened with Bert Blyleven. Sometimes, the numbers just don't jump out and make the verdict wholly apparent.
But the verdict is entirely obvious with Bonds. Even if he's displaying his signature arrogance when he says there's not a doubt in his mind that he's a Hall of Famer, Bonds is right.
The idea that he created a character, a persona to make himself a villain against the media is laughable. Bonds should just admit that he needed to be adversarial to give himself the edge he needed, and talking to the media—even if it really was part of his job—on a regular basis interfered with that.
In his interview with Bloom, Bonds admits that he "could've given the media a little more" later in his career. The cynical view is that Bonds is only saying this now because he knows the media controls his fate and he's kissing up a bit. But that also speaks to the concern Bonds has that his Hall of Fame candidacy could actually be affected by his behavior.
The man is worried. That's enough. Hall of Fame voters don't need to make an additional statement. Bonds is already sweating over his induction. Isn't that sufficient punishment if he actually deserves any sort of penalty?
Hall of Fame voters should show they're better than bitter scribes taking out a grudge. Here's hoping that they realize they're not bigger than the game and give Bonds the honor his career deserves.
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