Barry Bonds and the Hall of Fame hypocrisy

By Matt Cowlishaw
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Another year has passed, and still no Barry Bonds in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Aug 24, 2012; Aspen, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants former player Barry Bonds in attendance during stage 4 of the USA Pro Challenge from Aspen to Beaver Creek. Mandatory Credit: Ford McClave-USA TODAY Sports

While this was probably to be expected with the public proclamation of so many anti-Steroid Era-leaning voters, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

Let’s take a minute to digest the absurdity of it all, and take a quick look at a few hypocrisies – there are too many to list in detail – that the anti-Bonds sentiment perpetuates.

A common, and the most benign gripe about Bonds – and Clemens, for that matter – are that they were total jerks.  While that seems to be the case – based on just about everyone’s account, I’ve never met the man – I think most would agree that that isn’t reason enough to exclude him from a ballot.

How many players before Bonds’ time had even worse attitudes about more important things like race, for example?  I fail to see a real crusade lately, by well, anyone, to recall the generations of players already voted in that didn’t have to play against African Americans, whether said players were bigots or not.  If you want to talk about an uneven playing field and a need for an asterisk next to records, that is the ultimate example.

Yes there have been some grand efforts to right that wrong, but in this current climate of “what if” or ” was it enough?” that we live in and how it relates to performance enhancing drugs, it is a completely appropriate point.

What if X-players had to play against Y-players on a daily basis in the 1920’s? Would their numbers have been what they are?

The answer is simple: We will never know.

The same can be said for the “Steroid Era”, although its implications aren’t nearly as significant.  Who was using performance enhancing drugs?  Who wasn’t using steroids but was using some designer drug that isn’t even tested for to-this-day?  Who the heck was doing what, and what would happen if we found out everyone was doing something?  Who was 100% clean?  The questions and speculation go on…

July 10, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; National League batting coach Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals before the 2012 MLB All Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports via USA TODAY Sports

How can you vote for one guy that looked like a bodybuilder but leave off another?  Favoritism?

The fact is, again, we will never know.  So many questions, so many “what ifs”  Let’s not forget the excitement players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and yes Bonds, brought to the game at a time when it was widely reported as “struggling”, and let me propose my own “what ifs”: What if the game continued its purported downturn in the 1990’s and the great HR chase never happened?  Would many of these same voters still have the opportunity to even have jobs writing about it?  Would players be making the grandiose salaries they are today?

Which brings me to this tweet I came across the other day from ESPN’s Buster Olney, yet another valid point that shows the hypocrisy of it all.

Teams and Major League Baseball loved the attention, sure, but I bet the money didn’t hurt either.  And, you can’t forget the “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” Nike commercials that were widely celebrated at the time.  Congrats to Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, by the way.

*Again a hat tip to Buster Olney for posting the link on his Twitter account.  Had totally forgotten about that commercial.  Check out a post by our editor Melissa Felkins that dives further into Olney’s reasoning and shows his ballot, which I largely agree with.  Click here for that info.*

The fact is we don’t know who did what.  While it was obvious some were doing some kind of performance enhancer, who are we to say another player wasn’t?  Just because a player didn’t look like The Incredible Hulk, doesn’t mean he wasn’t taking something to help his career, and vice versa.

So what makes this era of players so different from other eras that had similar or far worse circumstances?  These are only a couple of the issues surrounding this controversial vote – and just a small snippet for the purposes of keeping this more brief – but what about “greenies”, or the cocaine and gambling eras?  The scandals are abundant throughout the history of the game.

Let us get back to Bonds.

OK, we get it.  You don’t want to vote him in because he did steroids (or for whatever reason).  So when did it become obvious that he was taking them? 1999? 2000?

Barry Bonds’ career started in 1986.  If we take away every season after 1999, for argument’s sake, is he still a Hall of Famer?  He played a career low 102 games that year – minus an injury plagued 2005 campaign – so let’s use that as a stopping point.  And yes, I do think Bonds used performance enhancing drugs starting around that time, which is where I join the speculation party along with everyone else.

Bonds’ stats from 1986-1999. Bold indicates he led the league in that category.

Here is a current Hall of Famer’s stats through the first 14 years of his career:

Apr 6, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Mays tips his cap to the crowd during the MVP ceremonies before the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT

Those are the numbers of Bonds’ godfather, Willie Mays, through the first 14 years of his Hall of Fame career and they are strikingly similar.  Mays had some great seasons after that and made 8 more All Star teams until his career’s conclusion in 1973, but for the most part his numbers declined after his 2nd and final MVP season in 1965.  Could Mays have had the same success as Bonds in his latter days as a player had he taken performance enhancers? Maybe so, but again, we will never know.

For those that may argue that i’m spitting on Mays’ and others careers by avoiding the fact that Bonds didn’t let his stats and career dwindle down naturally, I say to you, since we’re speculating: If you take away 2000-07, he still hit 445 home runs, stole 460 bases, won the 1986 Rookie of the Year award, won the National League MVP award in 1990, ’92 and ’93, was named to 8 All Star teams, won 7 Silver Sluggers, 8 Gold Glove Awards… the list goes on.  And this isn’t even considering what he may have added on if he continued “naturally” post-1999.

Another part of this era is instant information — often times disinformation — and instant consumption via the internet and now social media outlets like the aforementioned Twitter. Did players before this day-and-age have to deal with these things?  Would we be equally disgusted with many of them if we had access like we do now?  I think we just might be.

Phot Cred: SFGate.com

These points have been argued before and will be argued again.  We all love this game, but I think some things need to be reiterated about the history of baseball, however simplistic they may seem.  Steroids are not the first, and certainly not the worst problem it has ever known.  In fact it can be argued that they saved it.

Do I think anyone is saying the “PED Era” is worse than the era of segregation?  Of course not, or at least I hope not.  But I do think many blow this current era way out proportion and miss the point in the grand scheme of things.

Judging by the “eye test”, Barry Bonds may have been an obvious user.  He also is an obvious Hall of Fame baseball player and it’s a travesty he continues to be excluded.

To his credit, via MLB.com, Bonds wishes he had done some things differently.  “But I can’t turn back the clock now,” he said. “Time has passed. Wounds for me have healed.”

Voters can do something differently.  It starts with making the right decision and voting for one of the most impressive all-around players to have ever stepped foot on a baseball field, on next year’s ballot.

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