Upon Further Review: Barry Bonds and his Hall of Fame chances
In The Waiver Wire’s second edition of Upon Further Review, Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi come together again to talk Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame. This time, both writers square off on one topic that is going to create a ton of media attention as we get closer to the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot.
Is Barry Bonds a Hall of Famer?
Vinny Ginardi: No, Barry Bonds is not a Hall of Famer.
He has Hall of Fame numbers, yes, but the Hall of Fame is not entirely based on having impressive (or in Bonds’ case, untouchable) statistics. If it was, Pete Rose would be in.
But he’s not in.
Major League Baseball and its Hall of Fame voters have shown that they take steroid use into serious consideration. Just ask Mark McGwire. He’s nowhere near Cooperstown right now and he won’t be anytime soon.
I understand that Barry Bonds has seven MVPs. I understand that he’s the all-time leader in home runs with 762 and holds the single season home run record with 73. I understand that he has put together many of the best regular seasons in baseball history even before his steroid use.
But none of that matters. What matters is that Bonds is the face of the darkest era in baseball history. It doesn’t matter what he did before or after he took steroids. What matters is that he’s linked as a user and is the name most associated with performance enhancers. Those who have taken steroids, regardless of their performance, are seen to have tainted and cheated the sport of baseball. What they have done on the field is irrelevant because their lasting impact on baseball is negative, not positive.
Greg Kaplan:I understand everything Vinny is saying. All of it makes perfect sense. However, before I get into why Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer, I need to explain how his case is so much different from Pete Rose and Mark McGwire.
Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame not because the writers don’t think he’s worthy, but because he signed a binding agreement with Major League Baseball commissioners where he acknowledged he can never be in the Hall. Pete Rose bet on baseball, which is the most egregious act against the game one could make. Just ask the eight Black Sox in 1919. Pete Rose is a Hall of Famer, the writers would certainly vote him in if they were given the chance. But, Rose himself signed a document that doesn’t allow for it. That’s on him.
As for McGwire, again its a different situation. Big Mac was a one-trick pony that was only a slam dunk Hall of Famer because of his home run totals. Had McGwire hit, say, 100 less home runs in his career, there’s almost no way he would’ve been voted in. Its only that he amassed 500+ home runs, the golden number among baseball historians, that McGwire garnered serious Hall of Fame credentials. So, the fact that it came out that he juiced, which fluctuated his only real Hall of Fame talent in baseball, it completely destroyed his chances.
Now, for Bonds, I think its a completely different story. For me, there is a new precedent that Bonds has set for steroids users. It is common knowledge throughout baseball circles that after Bonds witnessed the attention McGwire and Sammy Sosa generated from their epic home run chase in 1998 while juicing, Bonds became incredibly jealous and wanted more of the limelight. So, he got in contact with BALCO, and the rest is history.
However, unlike the likes of McGwire, Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, who weren’t Hall of Famers until they started juicing, Barry Bonds was. Before Bonds ever stuck a needle in his ass, he was a Hall of Famer.
Prior to the 1999 season, Bonds was already a 3-time MVP, four other season finishing in the Top 10 of MVP voting, 8-time Gold Glover, 7-time Silver Slugger, four 30/30 season, one 40/40 season, 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases, seven season of 100+ runs.
That, right there, is a Hall of Fame career. In my eyes, Barry Bonds retired in 1998. Everything after ‘98 is tainted, unclean and not the real Barry Bonds. The real Bonds was one of the most talented all-around athletes to ever put on a Major League uniform. Barry Bonds was a Hall of Fame player. Before steroids. On those pre-1999 seasons alone, Bonds should be getting into Cooperstown.
VG: I don’t disagree that even before Bonds started juicing that he had Hall of Fame numbers. But like I said earlier, you don’t get into the Hall of Fame just because you put up good numbers. Are we supposed to completely ignore that Bonds was is the face of the Steroid Era just because he had stellar seasons prior to juicing? Of course not.
Just because he was an elite player prior to using performance enhancers doesn’t give him a free pass. He cheated the sport. That can’t be ignored.
“Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
That’s straight from the Baseball Hall of Fame website.
While Bonds certainly fulfills the requirements based upon performance, he undoubtedly fails in the categories of integrity, sportsmanship, and character.
When people think of Bonds, they think of performance enhancers first, his head size second, and then maybe his performance. His strongest association is with steroids, not with 762, 73, or anything else. That right there says it all.
The Hall is meant for heroes, not villains.
GK:I was really hoping you’d bring up the point about character. You and I have had many conversations about one of our all-time favorite baseball players to ever grace the field with his presence.
Daddy Cobb, known around the league as “The Georgia Peach” because he was such a, uhm, bad person (See? Sarcasm has been around a long time.). He would sharpen his spikes, was racist, would constantly spit at opposing players and umpires. Pretty much anything dirty that one could possibly do during his era, he tried it. Hell, he may have invented it.
I bring up Cobb because he is proof that villians have a significant place in the game of baseball. There are very few people in the Hall of Fame that weren’t, at one point in time, considered to be a villain. For every Stan Musial or Ted Williams, both generally liked throughout all baseball circles, I’ll give you five Ty Cobbs or Juan Marichals (Marichal once, in a bench-clearing brawl, struck an opposing player over the head with a baseball bat).
In fact, baseball would be such a boring sport if everyone that was great wasn’t a villain. Chipper Jones is a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Fame, but there isn’t one Mets fan on God’s green Earth that doesn’t want to punch him square in the face.
And you mention that Bonds cheated the game. But, did he? There was no rule in place by MLB until after Bonds retired that forbid steroids. And Bonds also wouldn’t be the first Hall of Famer that would be in Cooperstown who would have been accused of cheating. Gaylord Perry is a 300-game winner and Hall of Famer. But, throughout his career, his signature pitcher was illegal. Spitballs, or varieties of them, have long been considered to be illegal, yet Perry didn’t just feature it, he made a living off of it.
Barry Bonds played during an unfortunate era in the history of Major League Baseball. However, for better or for worse, he was the best both before and during the peak of the ‘Roids Era. We can’t just wipe our hands of the late-90’s and early-00’s. They happened. And we should still acknowledge those who possessed such special skills in which they accomplished special things.
I’m not saying I view Bonds’ records as real. To me, Maris is still the single-season leader in HRs and Aaron is still the all-time leader. But, I can’t keep Bonds out of the Hall. He was just too good.
VG:Solid points Greg. But I still disagree.
Just because the Hall has let in bad character players in the past doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do or should be done in the future. Maybe Bonds didn’t ‘technically’ cheat, but he certainly violated the sport. That can’t be denied.
I also want to touch on your point about ignoring the late 90’s and early 2000s. Of course, we can’t ignore that time period completely. But in my mind, if you’ve been linked to steroids, you’re out. We’re not talking about brawls or spitballs or anything else. Yes, those were violations to the game, but they did not nearly have the negative impact on the sport that performance enhancers did (I do realize that performance enhancers also saved baseball temporarily, but their overall lasting impact is negative).
Look, everyone looks down at the Steroid Era, and some people do want to forget it. It’s a horrible, ugly mark on the history of America’s pastime. But there are players from this time period who are clean and can still be recognized.
The Hall is meant for the best of the best. Solely based on performance, Bonds would be in. But his overall impact on the game of baseball is extremely negative. Why would MLB honor him?
GK:At the risk of us beginning to repeat ourselves, I think its time we simply agree to disagree. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think Barry Bonds will be voted into the Hall of Fame. However, I think the perception that Bonds was a marginal player before steroids, or that all of his career accomplishments are thanks to steroids is unfair.
Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he made the grave mistake of juicing. His own arrogance did him in. Bonds would have eventually got to 500+ home runs in his career had he never juiced. Would he be the single-season home run leader? Or the all-time leader? Most likely no. 99.9% positive no.
But, he was one of the greatest players, in his prime, to ever play the game. Anyone who denies that doesn’t understand the whole story of Barry Bonds.
He was great. But, he was too convinced and in need of attention to understand that he was already great. It really is a shame. But, that’s baseball for you.
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