Barry Bonds is trending up on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. The all-time home run king has already seen his vote total jump prior to induction day. And though those totals will fall when every ballot is released, Bonds is still on track to one day be elected to the Hall.
Whether he should remains a contentious issue. On stats alone, Bonds should have been a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer. He should have coasted into Cooperstown easily.
But stats don’t make up his full case. Bonds’ career is marred by his alleged steroid use. While he never tested positive, his rumored use is enough for many to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. His accomplishments, while impressive, have been tainted by his willingness to cheat.
That argument may not hold for much longer. As the years have passed, the voters have slowly become more lenient toward players from the steroid era. If this year’s early returns are to be believed, Bonds, the face of that era, will get the call in the near future.
It won’t happen this year, but Bonds’ induction is inevitable. When he does get in, it will signal a major shift in how players from the steroid era are viewed. Their implied use hasn’t necessarily been forgiven, but it has been accepted.
In his fourth year on the ballot, Bonds saw his vote total jump to 44.3 percent. That increase was fairly significant, as it was the first time Bonds has seen that figure jump above 40 percent since he’s been on the ballot. Bonds received 36.2 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot. He received 36.8 percent of the vote during his third year. Last year ballot was the first time Bonds saw a significant uptick in his vote totals.
Until this year, of course. According to Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable ballot tracker at the time of this writing, Bonds has already gained 20 votes in 2017. On the 157 ballots Thibodaux has collected, Bonds has received 69.9 percent of the vote. That figure will decrease once all the ballots are counted, but it still represents a huge uptick for Bonds.
WHAT THE SUPPORTERS SAY
762: The amount of home runs hit by Bonds over his career. That’s the most in Major League Baseball history.
164.4 fWAR: That figure is second in MLB history, barely behind Babe Ruth.
Over 22 years in the majors, Bonds hit .298/.444/.607.
He won seven MVP awards, was elected to 14 All-Star games, received eight Gold Glove awards and won 12 Silver Sluggers.
His 2,558 walks is the most of any player all-time. Same with his 688 intentional walks.
Of those 688 intentional walks, 120 of them came in 2004.
That wasn’t even his best season, according to fWAR. In 2002, Bonds hit an incredible .370/.582/.799, with 46 home runs, over 612 plate appearances. That performance earned him a 12.7 fWAR, making it the fifth-best single-season performance of all-time. Bonds’ 2004 season ranks 11th on that same list.
Based on stats alone, there’s not really a case for keeping Bonds out of the Hall. He’s the best player of his era and one of the best players of all-time.
WHAT THE SKEPTICS SAY
None of that matters because Barry Bonds allegedly took steroids during his career.
Let’s investigate that claim for a minute, though. It’s generally assumed Bonds took steroids despite the fact that he never failed a test from MLB. Why is that?
Most of Bonds’ steroid rumors come from a leaked grand jury testimony back in 2003. Reporter T.J. Quinn, now of ESPN, overheard the testimony and wrote about it for the New York Daily News the following day. Quinn detailed exactly how he heard the testimony roughly a decade later.
In that testimony, Bonds admits to using substances known as “the cream” and “the clear,” though he denies knowing they were steroids. According to Bonds, he believed he was taking flax seed oil and using arthritis cream.
Bonds was also closely connected with BALCO trainer Greg Anderson, who was charged with distributing steroids to athletes. Anderson was the trainer who gave Bonds “the cream” and “the clear.” In 2005, Anderson reached a deal with federal prosecutors so that he would not have to reveal the names of any athletes he supplied with steroids.
There have also been a number of books written about Bonds that further delve into his alleged steroid use. “Game of Shadows,” written by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada in 2006, is the most prominent of those.
It’s important to note that the biggest piece of evidence regarding Bonds’ steroid use, his grand jury testimony, was always supposed to be kept secret. His testimony was protected by law, and people have faced jail time for leaking it.
It makes for an interesting question. Should voters consider this testimony as fact even though it should have never reached the public? Or is it too important to ignore?
The Big League Stew writers don’t have Hall of Fame votes, but if we did, here’s where we stand on Barry Bonds:
YES — Barry Bonds’ career may have been aided by steroids. Gasp! That the only thing keeping baseball’s home run king out of Cooperstown right now. Any other way you look at it, he’s a no-brainer. His numbers are up there with the all-time greats and anyone who watched him play can attest to his dominance, particularly in the 2000s. He was intentionally walked 120 times in one season! That’s something we will never see again. As far as the PED issue is concerned, I don’t think the Hall of Fame has to be perfect. Flawed players have already been enshrined in Cooperstown. Let Bonds in, but find a way to acknowledge his era and the fact the he (and many others) may have taken PEDs. Having a Hall of Fame that excludes players like Bonds ignores the issue, and I don’t think that’s wise. We can’t just conveniently erase steroids from the game. Regardless of the era in which he played, Bonds was one of the best and most dominant players of all-time. I don’t see how you can have a baseball Hall of Fame and not include him.
YES — Yes, it would be great to have a Hall of Fame that only honors the best players and best people of baseball. Just like it would be great to put on a brand new pair of sneakers and never have them get dirty. Neither are a reality. The Hall of Fame, its process and the people who vote for it will always be flawed, just like the men who play the game are flawed. That being said, yes, Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. The numbers are there. You can’t tell the story without him. And if you’re tripping over yourself to keep him out, you’re doing it wrong.
YES — Come on. Just come on. It’s Barry Bonds. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Whether you look at his numbers pre or post PED usage, the answer is clear. Just looking at his stats makes you wonder if such a baseball player could have existed. But he did, and we watched him. At this point, PEDs alone shouldn’t be a reason to keep anyone out of the Hall of Fame. And with Bonds, who is one of the greatest, most talented players of all time, it makes no sense to keep him out. What does the Hall of Fame even mean without him?
YES — Just put him in already. Bonds was a Hall of Fame talent the moment he debuted and had already established a Hall of Fame resume before the PED questions came in. Beyond that, while his numbers were the most absurd of the accused, he would not have been the only one using during that time period. So where do we draw the line? It was a regrettable time in the game’s history. It will always draw emotional responses, but it’s time to move forward.
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