Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Barry Bonds has four years remaining to convince the Baseball Writers Association of America to give him the necessary 75% vote for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, after he fell woefully short with 56% of the vote in the latest results, announced this afternoon. He's failed to come close in his first six years of eligibility. He's gaining ground, but at this rate (up from 54% a year ago), won't even approach 75% in his 10th and final year.
I would not have voted for Bonds. Yes, he was unquestionably headed for the HOF 14 years into his 22-year major league career. But then he became the biggest and most sophisticated steroid user the game has even seen over his final eight seasons. If you've read Game of Shadows, and Love Me, Hate Me--the superb biography of Bonds, by Jeff Pearlman--you wouldn't question my assumption. All the details are there. All the names of the illegal drugs are there.
At a time when the numbers of every other mortal in the game's history are trending downward, his numbers went through the roof, from age 36 and up. Four of his seven MVPs came while he was juiced. He became a cartoon character, both in appearance and in production. It was a farce, just as it was when McGwire and Sosa combined for 136 homers in the 1998 season. Bonds disgraced the game, disgraced the Giants and disgraced himself. And the Giants organization disgraced itself by looking the other way, for several years, until he broke Hank Aaron's career homerun record. Then they let him go.
Oh, I've heard all the sycophantic arguments for putting Bonds into the HOF:
1. He was a HOFer before he began using steroids.
2. Everyone was on steroids.
3. Steroids were legal.
4. He was never convicted of using steroids.
5. He never tested positive for steroids
6. What about the countless number of players who were on amphetamines?
7. The Hall is full of other cheaters, like Gaylord Perry.
1. Character, integrity and sportsmanship are part of what all HOF voters are asked to consider before casting their ballots. I'm not making that up. It's in the voting instructions. He failed miserably on all three counts. He cheated willfully, flagrantly and defiantly for many, many years. He would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he hadn't decided to become a drug-infested cheat.
2. Pleeeeeeez stop. There is no way of knowing how many players tried steroids, but to suggest that everyone was doing it is tantamount to saying everyone cheats on their taxes, and therefore it's OK. It's not OK. That's a very poor lesson to teach our children. Furthermore, I believe the overwhelming majority of players who dabbled in steroids did just that--they dabbled, some very briefly, like Gary Sheffield (again, read Game of Shadows).
3. Anabolic steroids were never legal. Even baseball banned them in 1991. MLB didn't test for them, until many years later, but they were still illegal.
4. This isn't a court of law. Even so, let's not forget that a federal jury voted 11-1 to convict him of perjury, for lying about the use of steroids (a unanimous vote was necessary for conviction).
5. Bonds DID test positive, according to the Mitchell Report, but the results of that test (or those tests) were not supposed to have been made public.
6. Get serious. Amphetamines allowed players to stay more alert. That's completely different from chemically enhancing one's body.
7. Get serious (again). On the one hand, we're talking about a player who took a wide myriad of illegal drugs to artificially build his body, so he could hit balls further and harder, after having seen the pitches better, with HGH. Gaylord Perry was greasing up the baseball. And please, don't bring up sign-stealing. Is that cheating? Technically, I suppose, in a similar way that I'm breaking the law if I drive 30 in a 25-zone. But we all do it. I'm also breaking the law if I drive 120 on the freeway, but don't know anyone who does that.
The real victim in this HOF debate over whether Bonds belongs is a guy like Fred McGriff. The Crrime Dog. With every voter who does not vote for Bonds, I look to see whether he/she has voted for McGriff. Some do, but not nearly enough. McGriff's numbers would stand out much more if they weren't inevitably compared with the ridiculous drug-laced numbers turned in by Bonds, Sosa and McGwire: He was a five-time all-star, with 493 homers, a .284 average, seven .300 seasons, ten 100 RBI seasons, and .303 in the post-season with 10 HRs in 188 at-bats. McGriff's numbers compare very favorably with those of Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell and Billy Williams, all of whom are in the Hall, and McGriff should be as well.
Yes, Barry Bonds was a better player than Fred McGriff even before Bonds started using steroids. But he made that choice. And he should continue paying the price for it. Every time a writer votes for Bonds and not McGriff, he's essentially telling the latter, "You should have used steroids."