The Case For Cooperstown ’14: Barry Bonds

The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and it is one of the most loaded ballots the game has ever seen.

Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi break down the big names on the ballot this year, and give their opinions on who should be in, who should be out and why. 

Previous Analysis: Jeff Bagwell / Edgar Martinez / Greg Maddux / Craig Biggio

barry-bondsBarry Bonds

Year(s) on ballot – 1 – received 36.2% of vote last year

The Numbers – 22 seasons (with Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants), 2,986 games, .298/.444/.607, 762HR 1,996RBI, 2,227 runs, 2,935 hits, 601 doubles, 514 stolen bases, 182 OPS+, 173 wRC+, 162.5 bWAR, 164.1 fWAR – 14-time All-Star, 12-time Silver Slugger, 8-time Gold Glove winner, 7-time National League MVP, finished in Top 10 of MVP voting six times without winning, two-time National League home run king, all-time career leader in home runs, walks and intentional walks, single-season home run record holder

GK: Well, here we are. It didn’t take us very long to get into this conversation regarding the Hall of Fame, but it’s probably the most important conversation to have about the Hall, and there’s no player more divisive on the ballot than Barry Lamar Bonds.

Do you really want me to throw numbers at you? He’s the all-time home run king. JAWS has Bonds as the best left fielder of all-time, a solid 11.4 metric difference between Bonds and second-best, Ted Williams. Bonds is a member of the 500 home run/500 stolen base club, a club that he’s the only member of. Bonds, at the height of his powers, once posted an on-base percentage of .609 (!!!). Many tend to forget, but he was also one of the premiere defenders in all of baseball, winning eight Gold Gloves in the prime of his career.

And right before we get into the PED discussion, it’s important to remember that Barry Bonds arguably had already established himself as a future Hall of Famer before his juicing began in 1998. But, nobody wants to listen to any of that, because Barry Bonds used PEDs, and that’s that.

To me, if you have a Hall of Fame and it doesn’t include arguably the best player the game has ever seen, what’s the point of the Hall of Fame? Writers and voters say it would taint the game further if Bonds, or any other potential PED user, gets inducted. That’s where I disagree. I don’t think it further taints the game. Instead, it’s recognizing an era that happened, like it or not. I’m old enough (24, much younger than many of the voters in the BBWAA) to know that you can’t go about life pretending that something didn’t happen, which is exactly what the writers are trying to accomplish. The Steroids Era happened, just like the Dead Ball Era, the Segregation Era and the era in which some of the greatest players we hold high and mighty used amphetamines that, if taken today, would get them suspended.

If the goal is to shame Barry Bonds, I still firmly believe the best way to go about is to induct him, then put on his plaque “Barry Bonds was on the greatest athletes the game of baseball has ever seen, but used performance-enhancing drugs during the course of his career.” That sentence, plus every father’s responsibility to explain to their children (and yes, this is a responsibility) why steroids are bad for you and why what Barry Bonds did is not the course to take, should be all we need to set the proper model.

It just doesn’t make sense to keep Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame, an institution that’s purpose is to recognize the best players from all baseball eras. The Steroids Era happened. Writers should know better than to pretend that it didn’t, and they should rightfully elect Barry Bonds.

Verdict: In

VG: Whether or not you think Barry Bonds deserves to be in the Hall of Fame completely hinges on your viewpoint on steroid usage. You can’t look at his numbers and make an argument that he doesn’t deserve to be in. You just can’t. He has a career WAR of 164.1 and outside of a 2005 season where he played in just 14 games, he never had a season with a WAR less than 3.3. He had a career wRC+ of 173. That’s an average! To put that into perspective, only Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout had a wRC+ higher than that last year. And that’s what Bonds averaged over his career (of course a lot of this has to do with steroids turning his decline into a peak).

I honestly don’t know where I stand on letting players who have been linked to steroids into the Hall of Fame. It’s a touchy subject. But I don’t think these players can be ignored completely. The Steroid Era is punishing players who haven’t even been linked to steroids from enshrinement (see: Jeff Bagwell). A solution has to come to surface, because what’s in place now isn’t working. Votes are being made on guesswork and assumptions, and that just doesn’t seem fair.

Like Greg pointed out, Bonds was one of the best players ever before he took steroids (and this, once again, is assuming he probably took them before the 2001 season, given the massive numbers spike). Bonds was fantastic at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field. Pre-steroids Bonds might be the most complete player the game has ever seen, and post-steroids Bonds is the best offensive force to ever play the game. It’s tough to leave that out of the Hall.

So, vote him in. But include in his enshrinement that he played in the Steroid Era and has been linked to usage. Seems like the only way to do it to me.

Verdict: In