The Hall of Fame released its 2013 ballot recently, and it reads like a who’s who of the greatest players of the 1990′s. The most important player on the list is Barry Bonds, statistically speaking the greatest hitter since Ted Williams and arguably the greatest ever, but Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa will be making their first appearances on the ballot as well and last I checked they could play a little. Bluntly put, all three deserve enshrinement.
Rather than argue for each player individually, I’ll make my argument for them all using Bonds as the example. Once upon a time I’d be able to write: All Time Home Run King, and that would be enough, but Bonds’ obvious steroids use may keep him out of the Hall. The Baseball writers need to be smart enough to avoid that. The argument for Bonds based on his performance is clear. From his svelte days with the Pirates all the way through his masher days with the Giants Bonds was a constant offensive force. Forget all the home runs, the man had an OBP of .456 is 1992! That’s nuts. His OPS+ of 182 is third all time. He is still the all time leader in dingers and walks. He was must-see TV for two decades.
Typically that would be the end of the argument, but for baseball Hall of Fame voting these are atypical times. Let’s be clear, Bonds wasn’t just a steroid user. He was steroid pioneer, and he was in your face about it. Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire tried to conceal their drug use; not so Bonds. Barry is perhaps the ultimate example of a player whose entire physique changed during his career. Bonds famously argued once that he wasn’t on steroids because his head never got any larger. That’s fine, but it was also the only part of his anatomy that remained the same size. He looked like a WWE reject by the end of his career. Steroids alone seem to be the kiss of death in baseball Hall of Fame voting. Such flagrant steroid abuse has made many players pariahs.
In the case of Bonds, and every other icon from that era, it doesn’t matter. What are the writers going to do? Are they really going to keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame without deleting him from the game entirely? One day I hope to have a son who I will then brainwash into being as obsessed with baseball as I am. Will I be forced to explain to him why the home run leader isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown? This “pretend it never happened” approach is untenable. Just ask fans of Pete Rose. No one can edit Bonds or all the other steroids users out of the game’s history. Trying to do so via the Hall of Fame vote is asinine. The smart thing to do would be to acknowledge their accomplishments, tainted or otherwise, and move on, but I’ve come to expect the asinine from the administrators of all sports, not just baseball.
Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, McGwire, maybe even Rafael Palmeiro, should all be elected into the hall of fame because they were all the reason to watch baseball for a decade (maybe not Palmeiro). Speaking as a member of this generation, I don’t like being told that my childhood memories of baseball don’t count because some old guy said so. There is a strong case to be made arguing how hypocritical this stance is. I can only imagine the impact segregation had on the statistics of the players who benefited from the game’s Apartheid, but that is the subject of another post. These guys should be elected into the hall of fame because they were great players who won’t be forgotten. The harder the baseball establishment tries to pretend that they weren’t great the more difficult it becomes to ignore just how great they were. Bonds is the ultimate example.
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