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San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds just picked wrong “era” to error

By Mark ONeill
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With Melky Cabrera’s name thrown into the mix this week as a possible fit for the San Francisco Giants’ left field position, emotions once again heated up as fans remember his lack of character, when it came to owning up to his transgressions in 2012. Dishonor is not an attractive quality in anyone, let alone a popular baseball player who garnered a great deal of love and affection in his short tenure in San Francisco.

Speaking of players netting love and affection from San Francisco fans, Barry Bonds is now in his third season of eligibility with little or no chance of ever entering baseball’s Hall of Fame, a startling development from a player who established himself as one of the best in baseball, with hitting home runs being only one aspect of his overall game. Yes, he is suspected of using a banned substance and will possibly never be voted into the Hall.

The reality is that substance abuse in baseball is as old as the game itself, and if baseball heroes are to be held to higher standards than others, that is a fairly recent development. From the era of booze in baseball, while it was illegal everywhere else during Prohibition, to the more modern use of chemicals, players have enhanced their game in any way possible because that is human nature, especially in professional sports where there is more than “just” money to entice guys to pursue the game.

The term “era” gets bandied about, as in the methamphetamine era (early sixties-2000) and the cocaine era of 1970’s/80‘s. And then there is the era currently under the microscope, the steroid era, informally begun in 1991 when Commissioner Fay Vincent sent a memo to all teams, announcing that steroids were added to the list of banned substances.

MLB sent a memo to teams in 1991, adding steroids to the list of banned substances. The problem is that no one got the memo.

It wasn’t as simple as that, however, as collective bargaining played a huge role in postponing the ultimate ban until 2004, leading up to the present, where players on all levels of baseball are routinely caught and suspended, a la

Melky Cabrera

, for continued attempts to improve their game.

This means that many players used steroids during a period of time when they were not officially banned and therefore not technically illegal, resulting in a nebulous and misleading interpretation as to who actually deserves entry into the Hall of Fame and who does not. There are players not in the Hall simply because they played during the steroid era and may have ingested banned substances, and there are players in the Hall who routinely cheated in a different era, and got away with it.

Babe Ruth was caught using a corked bat in 1923, and habitually abused alcohol, especially when it was illegal. Gaylord Perry openly admitted doctoring the ball and he is in the Hall of Fame, and Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter while on LSD. The documentary film on Ellis focuses on the era of “greenies,” with players such as Enos Cabal asserting openly that “everybody used them.”

How is it that players were able to establish so many records for endurance, such as complete game victories, or consecutive-games-played streaks, when modern players can not? Before testing procedures were in place, players did what they wanted and no one questioned their athleticism, only praised it, even if performances were routinely enhanced by the drug du jour.

Mar 10, 2014; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants former outfielder Barry Bonds laughs during batting practice prior to the game against the Chicago Cubs at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Without even getting into the debate about how much steroids contribute to hitting with power, what about the other components that ensure a ticket into the HOF? Having speed no more guarantees the ability to steal bases, than having a baseball bat in one’s hands ensures getting a hit or drawing a walk. Examine the following numbers, if you will:

* Barry Bonds is second on the all-time list of MLB players with 514 stolen bases, being the member of the 500/500 Club, the only player in history to hit 500 home runs and steal 500 bases.

* Bonds won eight Gold Gloves.

* He had an on-base-percentage of .609 for one entire season.

  • Bonds became the first player in history with more times on base (376) than official times at-bat (373). He had 135 hits, 232 walks, and was hit by a pitched ball 9 times to account for the 376 appearances on the base-paths.

* At the time of his retirement, Bonds was second in doubles with 601, compared with all active players.

*He is listed at #6 on the Sporting News’ list of the 100 all-time best ballplayers.

* He shares an MLB record for reaching base fifteen consecutive times.

*Bonds drew an all-time 2,558 walks, 688 of them intentional.

* He shares an MLB record for being walked seven consecutive times.

*At the time he retired, Bonds led all active players with 1,996 RBIs.

All of those records involving stolen bases, defense, on-base-percentage, drawing walks, and knocking in runs are elements of skill and training. Bonds was a fanatic when it came to conditioning and it was reflected in his mastery of so many different elements of the game. Whether or not he actually used steroids is immaterial. He was too overwhelming of a presence on the field to shunt aside simply on the basis of a suspicion that cannot be proved, especially when there are so many nebulous cases involved.

What many consider Bonds was really guilty of and what he is being penalized by the media for doing, is being rude and arrogant for a long time, while he relaxed in his recliner in the locker room, and dispensed ill feeling towards national press figures, as well as local beat-writers. There are a lot of long memories out there, and some of them may lodge deeply embedded hostility towards a man who was once openly supercilious towards them.

Now the taste of revenge is just too intoxicatingly sweet to let go, so Bonds remains shut out, as well as Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling and many others who did what so many others did, but got nailed by the fact that they were just superior players, whose numbers stuck out above the rest.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame is filled with players of questionable moral character and to continue to focus on players from one negative era over another, by excluding them from the Hall of Fame, is just plain wrong.

Do you keep Babe ruth out of the Hall because he was a boozer at a time when alcohol was illegal?

Twenty years from now, when talk of steroids goes the same route as that of cocaine or greenies, how bizarre will it seem that one of the game’s greatest players was excluded because he MAY have done something sketchy?

As bizarre, I guess, as Pete Rose being left out of the Hall because he bet on baseball. After all, Ty Cobb bet on baseball and he’s in the Hall.

But that was just a different era.

The folks responsible for electing MLB players to the Hall of Fame, have turned their collective back on BarryBonds: Payback? Photo Credit: Mark Constantini, San Francisco Chronicle

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