The game of baseball has always held a great respect for its records and statistics, and baseball fans are some of the most educated audiences of their sport. They can quote the batting averages of opposing hitters with or without runners in scoring position, the ERAs of dominating pitchers, the on-base percentages of Hall of Fame players from decades ago, and all the requisite sabermetrics of all their favorite athletes. Baseball fanatics are intelligent and informed fans, however they are also some of the most pompous and deluded people in the sports lexicon. With the extreme reverence that fanatics hold for America’s pastime comes an inflated sense of protection for its meretricious statistics. So, when a player does anything that brings the integrity of the game into question, baseball writers and historians band together to keep them out of the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose, a 17-time All-Star and baseball’s all-time leader in games played, hits, at-bats, singles, and outs is not in the Hall of Fame because he gambled on his own games. Baseball has kept the man out of the Hall on principle. But, no player has drawn the ire of these critics like Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds, possibly the best baseball player that ever lived, has been shut out of the Hall of Fame for three years now. Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez, four players who starred in the “Steroid Era”, all made it into Cooperstown in 2015 while Bonds sits on the outside. This is a phenomenal mistake.
Barry Lamar Bonds should be in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He is the game’s most decorated player besides baseball’s most famous legend, Babe Ruth. Bonds is the all-time home run leader in Major League Baseball with 762, he owns the record for the most home runs in a single season with 73 in the 2001 campaign, and holds the career record for walks. All three categories point to his career long dominance as a hitter. Bonds is a 14-time All-Star with 12 Silver Slugger awards, 8 Gold Glove awards, and 7 Most Valuable Player awards. He is second to only Babe Ruth in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), one of the newest ways to measure a baseball player’s relevancy to his teams wins. But, perhaps most importantly, Barry Bonds has never been proven guilty of using any performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in his career. Regardless of the assumptions made surrounding his reemergence as the best player in baseball in the early 2000s, Bonds has been exonerated of all wrongdoing in the court of law and never failed a single Major League drug test, so there is no legitimate reason that he should be excluded from Cooperstown. By all accounts, he already had a Hall of Fame career before the period when he was alleged to have cheated. Had he retired in 1997, Bonds would have been a first ballot guy. He carried his teams with his play. In comparison, Craig Biggio was never the best player on his team, never came close to having the impact that Bonds had on the game, and he still made it into the Hall of Fame (Jeff Bagwell took that honor, and he is currently being punished for playing in the steroid era though he never failed a drug test either). Bonds won three MVPs in four years when he played in Pittsburgh, he is 1 of 38 Major League players to have 30 home runs and 30 steals in the same season, and 1 of 13 players to have done it multiple times. Bonds has the most 30-30 seasons in MLB history (5 total, and 3 in years when he was not suspected of cheating). His accomplishments in the game of baseball are unparalleled, yet he goes unrecognized and unrewarded for his contributions to baseball because writers want to make a moral stand against him and his home run record.
This moral stand is ill-conceived, naïve, and somewhat dissimulating. Baseball fans and historians knew that baseball players were using drugs in the 90s. Anyone with a modicum of awareness and common sense knew that the athletes in baseball had to be cheating. A record that had not been approached in thirty years had three players nearly break it. Ken Griffey Jr. trailed off his amazing pace at the end of the season, but both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa actually surpassed the original single season record of 61 home runs in 1998. McGwire finished with 70 homers and the record. No one questioned how McGwire and Sosa added bulk and power at the end of their careers. They just applauded the heroes who saved the quickly diminishing sport of baseball. When the 40 year old Roger Clemens pitched hard-throwing, shutout baseball for the Yankees in the twilight of his career, no one raised a finger to bring about more stringent testing. But, when Bonds broke the home run record three years later after bulking up and adding 20+ home runs to his best year, people questioned him. They should have celebrated the best player of a generation because that is what Barry Bonds was, the best baseball player who played in the 80s and 90s. Instead, they questioned whether he was clean. He was not the charismatic All-American guy like McGwire or the fiery leader that Clemens personified. He was the mercurial star who delivered on the baseball diamond every time, but dodged interviews after the games. Bonds was not likable and his personal reputation hurt his individual accomplishments. Baseball writers and historians disliked him so he was scrutinized more harshly.
And, that is the crux of the argument against this great baseball player. People do not like Barry Bonds, so he can not carry the mantle of savior of the sport and he can not be considered one of the best players that the game has ever seen. Beleaguered stars like Alex Rodriguez, Raphael Palmero, and the aforementioned Sosa and McGwire all failed drug tests and are still accepted by baseball fans, but Bonds has become the poster child for cheats. There is tangible proof of their deceit and nothing implicating Bonds of any wrongdoing, yet he remains outside the Hall of Fame with little hope for any resolution in the near future. And, this is the hypocrisy of baseball. Baseball was founded on players slipping outside the rules of the game to win competitions, but historians huff about the integrity of the game whenever someone appears to be guilty of cheating. Players of yesteryear corked their bats to get more power on hits, scuffed baseballs with sandpaper for more control on pitches, and used amphetamines to boost their reaction times hitting and fielding the baseball. Cocaine pushed baseball players in the 80s to run faster, play harder, and to compete at a higher level for longer periods. Furthermore, steroids were created in the 1930s, and there is no proof that the great athletes of past eras did not use these drugs to reach their lofty numbers. The point where most hitters begin to lose power is the age of 35, but Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams had some of their most productive years hitting the long ball after 35. Hank Aaron’s most productive season came at 37 years of age. He had 47 home runs, with an on-base percentage of .410, and a slugging percentage of .669, all career highs. Babe Ruth hit 49 homers at 35, 46 of them at 36, and knocked 41 more balls over the fence at the age of 37. And, Ted Williams had the second best season of his illustrious career at 38. He hit .388, had an on-base percentage of .526, and racked up the second highest home run total of his career with 38 home runs. No one questions these seasons. No one questions the accomplishments of these men. But, people call Bonds a cheater outright. Players today are bigger, stronger, and faster than the men from decades before, however they are not surpassing the production of their less talented counterparts. No one asks why.
It is a travesty that Barry Bonds was not voted into the Hall of Fame the first time his name was submitted as a candidate. He was the player of a generation before his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, and though he probably did break some rules at the end of his career, he was never proven to have used any substance illegally and exonerated of any wrongdoing in all his court cases. Cooperstown is full of guys who admitted to throwing spitballs or taking amphetamines. The absolved Bonds should be there too.