The Case for Cooperstown: Barry Bonds

With the release of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot, Waiver Wire writer Greg Kaplan will explore the candidacy of numerous names on the ballot. Points for and against induction will be presented, and we’re forcing him to make a decision at the end of each post to decide if that player should be placed alongside the immortals that have played baseball throughout history.

Previous Cases – Jack MorrisJeff BagwellLee SmithTim RainesAlan TrammellEdgar MartinezFred McGriffLarry WalkerMark McGwireDon MattinglyDale MurphyRafael Palmeiro – Bernie Williams

barry bondsBarry Bonds

Year(s) on ballot – 1st

Credentials – 22 years in MLB (15 with San Francisco Giants, seven with Pittsburgh Pirates), career .298/.444/.607, 762HRs (all-time record), 1,996RBI, 2,227 runs, 601 doubles, 514 stolen bases, 2,558 career walks (MLB record), career 182 OPS+, 14-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner, 12-time Silver Slugger, seven-time MVP (MLB record), single-season HR record holder with 73, career 158.1 WAR (2nd best all-time, behind Babe Ruth)

The Case For –

Do…do you want me to copy and paste everything that I wrote down under ‘credentials’? Alright, we’re going to look at Bonds’ career in a couple of quick bursts to better understand just how spectacular a baseball player he was.

In the late-80s and early-90s, there were four levels of outfielders in baseball: bench guys, league-average starters, All-Stars, and then Bonds/Griffey. Bonds spent his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh establishing his place among the greats of the game, even if he wasn’t snagging all the headlines while doing so. After his rookie season in which he only played 113 games, Bonds scored a minimum of 95 runs the next six seasons, twice breaking 100. He also posted two 30HR/30SB seasons, including a 33/52 campaign in ’90. He led the league in OBP twice, slugging percentage twice, and OPS three times. He also took home his first two MVP awards (1990 and 1992, Bonds also finished 2nd in the 1991 voting, finishing two first place votes behind Terry Pendleton), had a trio of Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and led the Pirates to a Game 7 in the NLCS (also the last time the Pirates had a winning season, think about that).

We’ll get more into the different levels of Bonds’ career later on in this post, but I wanted to make sure everyone read those accomplishments in Pittsburgh before we got any further in this discussion. Now, as for other career highlights that further underline his excellence, let’s rattle those off so we can move forward.

Bonds’ career 158.1 WAR is easily the second-highest in the history of Major League Baseball hitters, behind only Babe Ruth’s 178.3, and third all-time behind Ruth and Cy Young’s 160.8. When Bonds turned 25 in 1990, Bonds never posted an OPS+ lower than 156, and topped six times.Bonds led the league in walks 12 times, including 232 in ’04 (120 of those were intentional, including the time Buck Showalter intentionally walked Bonds…with the bases loaded. And everybody thought that was the right move). Bonds scored 100+ runs 12 times in his career, is the only member of the 500HR/500SB club, led the league in slugging seven times and is one of only eight players to play the game and have a career OPS of 1.000 or higher. His OPS+ career mark of 182 is also third all-time, behind Ruth and Ted Williams. He won two batting titles, once in 2002 (.370) and once again in 2004 (.362). During Bonds’ stretch of four straight MVPs from 2001 to 2004, he reached base at least .515 each year, including a .609 OBP in 2004. 60% of the time Barry Bonds came to the plate in 2004, Bonds reached base. Let that sink in for a second.

The Case Against -

Steroids. Lots of them. However, this is the part of the post where I try to convince you that Barry Bonds should still be a Hall of Famer.

It has been documented that Bonds, who always played very much aware of his place in the game in terms of value, saw the attention Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were getting for their chase of 61 in 1998 and became infuriated and jealous that he, once again, wasn’t getting the attention he felt he deserved. 1999 is generally considered the year Bonds met Victor Conte and started his doping program. However, this next point is one I’ve used before but it needs to be repeated, let’s say something happened to Bonds after the 1998 season when he was 33 and never played another game again. These would be his significant numbers through his first 13 seasons.

Bonds would’ve retired a .290 hitter, with 411HRs, 1,209RBI, 445 stolen bases, 1,364 runs, an eight-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove award winner, seven-time Silver Slugger and a three-time MVP. Bonds would still be the only member of the 400HR/400SB club, scored 100+ runs in seven seasons and led the league in walks five times. You know what you generally call someone who put up those kind of numbers in such an extended period of time?

A Hall of Famer.

For me, it really is that simple. Before Barry Bonds was ever introduced to steroids, knowingly or unknowingly, he was already an all-time great and a Hall of Famer. He and Ken Griffey Jr., were the definitions of five-tool megastars and were the only comparables during their peaks.

Did Barry Bonds benefit from taking PEDs? No question. However, the drugs didn’t make Barry Bonds an all-time great. He already was. Where steroids made league-average players All-Stars, they made Barry Bonds a perennial All-Star into literally a monster. Bonds went from great to godly. And that is an important distinction. Without the drugs, Bonds easily cruises to 500 home runs (he averaged 31 in his first 13 seasons), which right there would’ve been more than enough to give him a plaque in Cooperstown.

Everything becomes tainted because Bonds juiced up and cranked out some historic pieces of the MLB history books. However, Bonds never broke a rule like Rafael Palmeiro or Pete Rose. Bonds benefited greatly during a time where baseball was home run obsessed and didn’t really care how the numbers were accomplished until after. Yes, Bonds was an absolute tool and a douchebag. But Ty Cobb is still thousands of times worse than even Bonds could ever be, so please don’t tell me he’s not a Hall of Famer because of his attitude and ego.

Whenever I have kids, and my kids have kids, I’ll be glad to tell them about the times I saw Barry Bonds play in person. I’ll tell them about the massive accomplishments he achieved during his long career. I’ll also tell them about how Bonds changed the way we forever looked at performance enhancing drugs and how different things were doing that time in baseball history. We all talk about putting an asterisk on Bonds’ career because of the drugs when in reality, we already have. We can’t mention Bonds without mentioning steroids. That’s more of an asterisk any little symbol can designate. And after I tell me kids all of these stories, I’m going to take them to my parents house in Cooperstown and to the Hall of Fame.

And I’ll show them Barry Bonds’ plaque.