Barry Bonds is undoubtedly the most infamous name in Major League Baseball. Despite being the all-time leader in home runs, Bonds has found himself looking into the historic doors of Cooperstown. He was officially locked out presumably for good in 2022. The argument against Bonds’ complex history is simple: His linkage to steroids and the overall embarrassment he exposed the league to will forever be. The denial he displayed on the matter alone is enough for fans to want nothing to do with the prospect of honoring Bonds’ legacy. These are all valid viewpoints on the career of Bonds, but this is still not enough reasoning to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. His case includes being a major part of baseball’s financial growth, greatest resume and hypocrisy. Cooler heads were beginning to prevail as the percentage of voters grew through the years, but he wasn’t able to maintain enough momentum to secure his spot in Cooperstown.
There comes a point in every baseball fan’s mind that they realize baseball is about money. The league continuously sets revenue records on a yearly basis. In 2019, the league set a record for annual revenue with $10.7 billion. It has been a gradual climb to these types of numbers. Bonds was a part of one of baseball’s biggest injections of revenue when the MLB inked a six-year, $2.5 billion contract with Fox. This was a 50% increase in annual revenue from the previous deal. Performance-enhancing drug usage was evident to all watching baseball during the 1990’s. Owners were also clearly aware of the usage, but were more focused on the financial gains that were the result of players using PEDs. That financial growth is unlikely to have been as significant if Bonds wasn’t around during this time period and MLB player salaries are unlikely to jump from an average of $1.57 million in 1999 to $2.6 million in 2007, when Bonds retired. That increase was easily the most overall financial growth over a seven-year span. The story of baseball’s financial peaks simply could not be told without Bonds’ involvement.
Legitimate or not, Bonds carries one of the most illustrious baseball resumes of all time. Bonds holds a record seven career MVPs, which smashes the second-best which includes Albert Pujols and Stan Musial, who both have three career wins. He didn’t just own the 1990’s, but he was an MVP for nearly half a decade. Bonds won the NL MVP award for an unprecedented four times in a row from 2001-04. He smacked 209 of his record 762 career home runs during that four-year span.
Bonds also holds the most base on balls, which is a stat that isn’t aided by PEDs. Too many fans assume that the mere injection of a steroid is going to transform them into freak-athletes capable of putting up the numbers that Bonds did.
According to recorded facts by the courts, Bonds began using PEDs before the 1999 season. By that point in his career, Bonds already totaled 411 homers and was well on his way to the 500-home run milestone. He was already an owner of three MVPs, which would have been tied for first all-time, even without his additional four MVPs he received from the assistance of PEDs. He already accomplished these feats by the age of 33 and was able to secure eight Gold Gloves by that age, establishing himself as one of the better defensive outfielders during his time period. He was also able to steal 445 bases all while already hitting the 2,000-hit mark. Before the PEDs, Bonds had already secured his Hall of Fame case and was one of the most well-rounded baseball players of all time.
Perhaps the biggest factor keeping Bonds out of the Hall of Fame is the sheer amount of hypocrisy from the baseball writers that kept him out of it. Bonds making the Hall of Fame would submit his legacy as the undisputed greatest of all time. The aforementioned $2.5 billion deal with Fox and overall growing ratings during the steroid era was the big break the MLB was waiting for and it would not have happened without its greatest hitter.
“If the commissioner’s accomplishments shouldn’t be clouded by his legacy as overseer of the most notorious period in post-integration baseball, then why are the era’s best pitcher and hitter shutout?” Bud Selig said. “This disturbing rate triggered a more rigorous disciplinary testing program in 2004.”
The rate of PED usage was disturbing because there was no policing set in place to deter it, considering the league was profiting at extremely high levels from it. Bonds reportedly tested positive for PEDs three times without punishment. It is only a natural effect for other players to ultimately follow suit. These are well-documented facts that baseball writers are well in the know of, but are somehow willing to ignore the reasoning for in their deterrence of keeping Bonds out of the Hall of Fame. This hypocrisy keeps baseball’s history undefined. Keeping Bonds out of the Hall of Fame isn’t going to erase the embarrassment the league withstood.
Allowing PEDs in baseball is one thing, but it doesn’t hold a candle to some of the things Ty Cobb has done in relation to assaulting a minority groundskeeper and respective family members. The Hall of Fame currently sends the message that violence is morally more acceptable than using PEDs. Granted the writers who once voted in Cobb aren’t around to vote in Bonds, but the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly a holy sanctum.
We can’t blame the writers of today for Cobb being in the Hall of Fame, but we can point out their irony as recent as January 2022. Ironically, David Ortiz, who reportedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, was voted into the Hall of Fame as a first ballot honoree. The valid argument for Ortiz’s Hall of Fame case is that he could have taken a false positive and had only failed one reported drug test. Others say he could have taken PEDs mistakenly via over the counter vitamins, which is another fathomable reason. Ortiz was a great player and was deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame, despite failing a drug test. The issue here is that his innocence is maintained essentially by speculation. It is yet to be confirmed that Ortiz knowingly took PEDs, but he failed one drug test, just like Bonds also failed one drug test under the proper policy. There are some differences in the Bonds and Ortiz situations, but is it not hypocritical to vote one in during their first-year on the ballot, while letting the other fall off the ballot for over a decade?
The willingness of the Hall of Fame voters to twist and turn their reasoning for who should or shouldn’t be voted in is anything but consistent. They are controlling a narrative, which is a phrase that has been misused over the years as it pertains to the media. However, it’s blatantly true as it pertains to the Hall of Fame ballot. This is the same group of writers that voted Mariano Rivera to be the very first unanimous Hall of Famer in MLB history in 2019. This means there was a percentage of writers in this group that didn’t see all time greats like Ken Griffey Jr, Hank Aaron and so many others as non-first ballot Hall of Fame players, despite putting up all time great numbers without PEDs.
The chances of Bonds to be inducted into the Hall of Fame has been shutdown until at least 2023 with a chance to be voted in by the Today’s Game Committee. Hopefully the committee will be able to turn off the bright light that will keep shining on the steroid era for as long as its greatest hitter is out of the Hall of Fame. Bonds deserves an asterisk next to his resume, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has a Hall of Fame resume.