Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Barry Bonds Deserves Hall of Fame Enshrinement

A highly controversial former MLB superstar will again be eligible for Baseball Hall of Fame voting this year, and he deserves to be elected and inducted.

There is little doubt that Barry Bonds is one of the most controversial figures in Major League Baseball over the last few decades.
Along with players such as Pete RoseMark McGwireSammy SosaRoger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez, Bonds is a player who would be a slam-dunk Baseball Hall of Famer if only statistics and career achievements were considered.
Bonds is in a category with all of those players other than Rose. Issues with gambling on the sport are keeping the game's all-time hit king from being enshrined at Cooperstown as a ball player. The issue with Bonds and the others is performance enhancing drugs. Use of PEDs appears to have been chronic throughout the 1990s and into the early part of this century.
The problems for Bonds can almost certainly be traced to the 1998 home run chase in Major League Baseball between McGwire and Sosa. That summer, the pair captured the attention and hearts of fans as they chased the single-season home run record of 61. That record was set by Roger Maris all the way back in 1961.
MLB was still trying to recover from the devastating effects of the strike of 1994.
Most seemed to turn their collective heads away from the obvious physical changes to the bodies of both McGwire and Sosa.
Big Mac would end up setting the new record that season with 70 home runs. Sosa fell just short of him at 66 long balls.
The generally accepted narrative goes something like this: Bonds sees all of the adulation heaped upon McGwire and Sosa, knows he is a better player, believes they are using some type of substance to help their performance, and decides to use it himself.
This is the exact narrative that serves as the basis for the book Game of Shadows by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters.
A further book, Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Anti-Hero, puts forth that following that 1998 season, Bonds told a dinner crowd at the home of Ken Griffey Jr. that he was going to "start using some hard-core stuff" to increase his power.
What he used exactly, when he used it, and even whether or not he exactly knew what it was that he was taking are all in dispute. There has been conflicting testimony. The worst that Bonds has ever publicly admitted to was ignorance.
But it has all been enough to severely tarnish Bonds, who in March of 2005 stated the following:
"You're talking about something that wasn't even illegal at the time. All this stuff about supplements, protein shakes, whatever. Man, it's not like this is the Olympics. We don't train four years for, like, a 10-second. We go 162 games. You've got to come back day after day after day. ... There are far worse things like cocaine, heroin and those types of things."
Bonds has also never been helped by what was always perceived as an aloof, entitled, sometimes abrasive personality.
All of that said, Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. It is an easy call for me. The fact is that like Mike Piazza, who was elected a year ago, Bonds has never been convicted of anything.
The fact also remains that if you completely ignore every statistic in Bonds' career beginning with the 1999 season, he would be a Hall of Famer.
If Barry Bonds had died in a plane crash, or of some disease or illness, or in a boating accident during the offseason between 1998 and 1999, the following would be his legacy.
Over 8,100 plate appearances in 13 seasons he crushed 411 home runs. During that time he produced 1,216 RBI, and had 1,364 runs scored.
Bonds wasn't only about power; he also stole 445 bases. He was the ONLY 400/400 (homers/steals) player in Major League Baseball history.
By that point he also had a career .290/.411/.556 slash line. He had won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards, eight Gold Glove Awards, seven Silver Sluggers, and was an 8x NL All-Star. Eight Gold Gloves for defensive excellence! And these weren't honorary due to his offense. Bonds may have been the best left fielder in the history of the game.
In yet another season he was the NL MVP runner-up, and finished in the top five of NL MVP voting in three further seasons. Anyone who watched baseball during the 1990s knows for a fact that Barry Bonds was a wonder, the greatest all-around player of the decade.
I have been watching baseball since 1971, and can say without qualification that Bonds of that era was the greatest player that I have ever seen personally. While what Bonds did at some point after that 1998 season may indeed be tainted (though again, we don't know when or how much), you cannot simply ignore every single thing he accomplished.
There is no doubt that had Bonds taken no questionable substances, his career would not have ended there at age 33 years.
No, Bonds would not likely have finally satisfied his massive ego by passing McGwire when he set the single-season home run record of 73 in 2001.
No, Bonds would not likely have passed, even approached, Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. Bonds now holds that mark with his 762 career homers.
No, Bonds would not have likely won four straight NL MVP awards from ages 36-39. He also added on six more NL All-Star appearances and five more Silver Sluggers after the 1998 season.
But we don't know any of that for sure either.
What is obvious from any honest evaluation of Barry Bonds' career is that he was a Baseball Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players of all-time.
In last year's balloting, the voters ignored rumors of Piazza's possible PED usage and elected the catcher to the Baseball Hall of Fame. On that same ballot, Bonds received 44.3 percent of the vote, finishing with the sixth highest percentage in his fifth year on that ballot.
In 2015, Bonds received 36.8 percent of the vote. In 2014 it was 34.7 percent, and in 2013 he received 36.2 percent in his first year on the ballot.
In other words, there was a noticeable uptick in voting for Bonds last year. It is time now to stop the sanctimonious punishment of the man, and elect Barry Bonds to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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