• Jeff Rich

Barry Bonds Belongs in the Hall of Fame, and You Don't Have To Like It

I don't care for cheating. I don't respect cheaters. Cheating is exponentially unfair in the context of competition, where the cheaters and the abiders play on the same allegedly level field. The Hall of Fame understandably doesn't want their museum tainted with anything of the sort. Former Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds checks all of those boxes.

Checks all of the boxes.

Here's a separate thought: There are no do-overs in baseball. You have to enforce the rules in real-time, or else it's too late. Instant gratification is the name of the game. Punitive action occurs right away or not at all, when it comes to the actual sequence of events during play.

Balks, hit batsmen, catcher interference, or the somewhat obscure violation of throwing your glove at a batted ball all result in a base (or bases) being awarded right away. You can't miss it, and then go back and fix it. Other things have happened already. We should have learned this from the Pine Tar Incident.

Of course, George Brett's infamous home run that was, then wasn't, then was again a home run against the Yankees in 1983 sets the precedent. It served as a lesson in what not to do in a situation where a rule violation is not mentioned until after a favorable thing, such as a late-inning go-ahead home run being hit, occurs. It worked out for baseball that Brett being called out for using too much pine tar, which provides zero competitive advantage, ended the game. They were able to pick up where they left off a few weeks later.

Barry Bonds hit at least one home run in 688 games. To actually purge those from the record, even just the 586 he hit as a Giant--presumably, everything in his 7 years with the Pirates was on the level--would be impossible. College football tries this vacating thing, but it doesn't undo Joe Paterno's win total, Reggie Bush's Heisman Trophy season at USC, or Ohio State knocking off an SEC team in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. If you witnessed those things, you know they happened and cannot un-see any of it.

Without trudging up the details, the BALCO trial essentially confirmed Bonds wasn't operating within the boundaries of the rule book. I need to acknowledge that he was a cheater, no denying that. I also need to point out that it doesn't matter. It was the game's responsibility to keep him out of the batter's box to punish such transgressions. Once the home runs were hit, they were hit. No takebacks on this one.

Pete Rose and Barry Bonds are arguably the best baseball players without plaques in Cooperstown. However, their situations are different, though very similar. Rose is banned from baseball, for life. While Bonds, like Alex Rodriguez after him, was made to be very unwelcome as a player in the end, he can still be a part of the game.

Rose's name has never appeared on a ballot, and it's possible, likely even, that it never will. Hall of Fame voters have had opportunities to cast a vote for Barry Bonds since 2013, when he received 206 votes, a little less than half of what was required for induction to the Hall of Fame. In 2020, he was about 15% short of the required tally for a plaque in Cooperstown.

His offensive numbers are far better than anyone with whom he's shared ballot space. He was a great defensive player when he was young and healthy enough to be a great defensive player. No one in their right mind argues merit in their case against Bonds. Obviously, there's a case to be made for the numbers not being organic, but he wasn't a middling, fringe player without the juice. Just speculating, but I'd say he's an average Hall of Famer without the aid.

My point here is never to minimize the severity of the transgressions. Bonds should have to wear that particular shame in the court of public opinion, no question about it. However, if the Hall of Fame wanted to demonstrate a reluctance to take him, he would be left off the ballot. If he were a more likable guy, the voters would likely turn the other cheek and put the best ballplayer most of them saw play in the building that honors the game's best.

If I can inject some opinion here, I don't believe the burden of regulating the game falls on the writers that vote, nor do I think it's a responsibility they should bestow upon themselves. They should be voting for the best ball players, period.

I'm not asking them to be comfortable or proud about it. I sure as hell wouldn't be. The bottom line is, Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. These aren't words about how I'd like things to be, but just downright how they should be.

You do not have to like it either.