Barry Bonds and the Baseball Hall of Fame

On April 14th, 2011, Sports Illustrated writer Jon Heyman posted an article on SI.com explaining his reasoning for supporting Barry Bonds for the Baseball Hall of Fame. In doing so, Heyman reached a level of abandoning responsibility not achieved since Edward VIII abdicated the British throne to marry Wallis Simpson. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and Hall of Fame voter, Heyman managed, in just under 1.500 words, to duck and hide behind every metaphorical rock he could find in order to justify his view. When I first read his article, I emailed Heyman my reactions to five of his points. As you can imagine, my reactions were not positive. In fact, I would have found the article much more meaningful if the author had just said, “I don’t care if Barry Bonds injected himself with Captain America’s Super Soldier Serum- I’m voting for the guy.” Upon re-reading the piece, I realized there were many more than five things wrong with Heyman’s view. As the article had no place to leave public comments, I guess I will resort to my trusted Associated Content page to express my outrage.

Here are Heyman’s points which I find ludicrous, and my responses. I originally thought about paraphrasing Heyman, but I don’t want to be mistakenly identified with any of his points. It would be too embarrassing. Instead, I just give you his exact words from the article in italics, with my rejoinders in regular text beneath…so, with that, I give you the arguments pro and con regarding Barry Bonds and his induction into Baseball’s Hall of Fame…

(All italicized comments direct quotes from Jon Heyman’s piece “Why Bonds Belongs in the Hall”, posted in SI.com on Thursday, April 14th, 2011 )

“Barry Bonds doesn’t belong in jail. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

No, he does not belong in the Hall of Fame- and here’s why…

“The standards are high in a court of law, as they should be. For the Hall, it’s a judgment call. Scoundrels and cheats are already in. So are foul-tempered jerks.”

Yes, there are jerks, racists, louts, and assorted other personality malfunctions already in the Hall of Fame. But they didn’t cheat by using performance enhancing drugs.

“A baseball Hall of Fame would be empty without Bonds.”

What? If Bonds is doesn’t have a plaque, then nobody should have one? Are you saying the Baseball Hall of Fame should just dump all of their stuff on Ebay and shut the doors if Bonds isn’t inducted?

“While I do believe Bonds took steroids (whether it was knowingly or not doesn’t much matter to me, though if I had to guess, I think he knows everything that goes in his body)…”

Then why are you dodging the responsibility of your role as a HOF voter, who is supposed to uphold the integrity of the Hall itself.

“I don’t believe all steroid users should be excluded from the Hall of Fame. I’m not here to sit in moral judgment of another human being.”

No, you shouldn’t sit in moral judgment of another human being- that’s not your job as a HOF voter. You should, however, sit in moral judgment of a baseball player regarding their actions in the game of baseball- that is part of your job. Bonds’ actions affected the integrity of the outcome of games- that is reason enough to keep anyone out of the Hall of Fame.

“Of course I don’t condone any usage, but I will point out Bonds’ steroid taking was never flagged by MLB. He never failed a test (he passed the 2003 survey test) and he was never proven to have used after testing went into effect. I also believe the anecdotal evidence that suggests he didn’t start using until 2000.”

So the fact that his lawyers- in open court- just admitted that Bonds used the “clear” and the “cream” means nothing to you?

“Unless a voter makes a moral judgment (and I won’t judge voters who do that, either), the question voters need to ask, beyond whether a candidate ever used PEDs…”

Which should really be the only question a HOF voter needs to ask on this topic.

“… is whether those drugs helped transform the player into a Hall of Famer.”

No, the question the voters need to ask to ask is, “Did a player’s actions hurt the integrity of baseball?”

“If there’s a reasonable chance that player would have fallen short of the Hall without the extra help, I won’t vote yes. I vote no on Mark McGwire, who I like much better than Bonds. While I believe McGwire’s achievements are clearly Hall worthy (it’s a copout to say they aren’t), I have strong reason to suspect the drugs helped him reach those heights.”

Agreed- finally.

“As for Bonds, I don’t think anyone could reasonably make the case that he needed drugs to be a Hall of Famer.”

Again, agreed- then why did he do them?

“The case has yet to be made that steroids enhanced Bonds anytime before 2000. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he started using sometime before that season. He was so annoyed to see lesser-lights such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa overtake him due to their drug regimens that Bonds decided to join the drug club. That’s the story, and I believe it. Bonds knew he was the best, and he didn’t want anyone stealing that title from him. So he started using.”

Then you just made the case that Bonds did consciously and knowingly used PEDs.

“It wasn’t a good decision on his part. Although the ‘roids enabled him to become the pseudo alltime home run king, it put a taint on everything he did in his career beginning in ’00.”

How was it a bad decision? What did Bonds lose? He kept playing, starring, and making money. He set new records for both seasonal and career HR’s. The felony conviction is a joke- he won’t do any hard time, even if the conviction is not overturned on appeal. And now you want him in the Hall of Fame. So I ask you again, how was it a bad decision?

“I’ve seen some lawyers quoted saying Ilston must show that the big fish doesn’t get preferential treatment. But it’s the opposite, I think. Already, they only went after Bonds in the first place because he’s the big guy. There were plenty of baseball players who did steroids and plenty who were customers of BALCO.

Not everyone was doing it. Plenty were, most weren’t. Those that were using cheated, and they knew it. If they didn’t know it was cheating, why did they hide it? Why not just come out and say, “Yup, I’m using steroids, HGH, and a bunch of other stuff- they make me stronger, better able to recover from injury, and an overall better player- you should try some!”

But he is one of two on trial.”

That’s because he lied to the grand jury, not because he used PEDs- if had told the truth to the grand jury, he wouldn’t have been brought to trial.

“Technically, because he wasn’t convicted of lying, perhaps some Bonds supporter can try to make the case that the feds didn’t prove he took steroids. And that may be so. But what proof did we need? Even if the bigger body and head aren’t quite proof that Bonds did steroids, his power totals late in his career are. Nobody improves their slugging numbers after 35 the way Bonds did. It just isn’t humanly possible. We didn’t need a long trial and millions of dollars and hours of manpower spent to tell us Bonds is a cheat.”

Look at those last four words- “Bonds is a cheat”. You wrote them yourself, Heyman. You have just gave yourself all the reason you need to keep Bonds out of the Hall of Fame.

“It’s fair to say that not all his numbers are legit. But enough of them are, in all great likelihood, to suggest he was Hall worthy before he became a steroid user. As I said, I believe he didn’t start using until the 2000 season, by which point he had already:

• Won three NL MVP awards

• Won eight Gold Glove awards

• Hit 448 home runs

• Made eight All-Star appearances

• Had the highest WAR in baseball six times”

So? No one is saying that Barry Bonds was not a great player. People are saying he should not be in the Hall of Fame because he cheated.

“It’s probably easier just to promise not to vote any steroid users into the Hall. But I am not ready to wipe out an entire era. I can’t prove that a majority of baseball players used steroids in that era, but the evidence suggests that many of the best players did. Just look at the MVP winners who have been linked to PEDs or have admitted using: Ken Caminiti, Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez.”

And look at the guys who didn’t win the MVP those years because someone using PEDs beat them out for the award. You don’t think it mattered to them?

“The Hall already inducted spitball pitcher Gaylord Perry without a stitch of uproar. Perry wrote the book (literally) on how to deface baseballs to get hitters out. A case can be made that Bonds’ type of cheating is worse.”

You think? And please drop the Gaylord Perry comparison. Perry’s cheating was done between the lines, where baseball has an enforcement arm in place- the umpires. It is in the same class as corking bats or stealing signs. Bonds cheating was outside the lines- what was an umpire supposed to do, hand Bonds a plastic cup when he came to bat and ask for a urine sample to test?

“But unlike Perry, I’d say he did it at a time when many were doing it, and he didn’t start doing it until he already had a Hall of Fame career.”

So Bonds and his PED usage was more like, say, Joe Jackson and gamblers in 1919?

“I don’t admire Bonds as anything other than a ballplayer. But that’s what he was — a ballplayer, probably the best I or many of us have ever seen.”

Then you should watch more baseball.

It doesn’t matter that Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer before juicing. Pete Rose was a HOF’er as a player before his gambling as a manger was uncovered. The only difference is that A) baseball stated that gambling would get you banned, whereas they didn’t say that regarding PED’s, and B) Rose was officially banned, whereas Bonds, Palmeiro, and the rest, were unofficially banned. What, no team was willing to give Bonds a shot after he broke the home run record? The challenge here is that- of the three organizations that could settle the HOF issue for the Steroid Era once and for all, those three being Major League Baseball, The Hall of Fame itself, or the BBWAA- none have stepped up and taken a concrete position on the topic. Not one has said, ‘We don’t care about PED use- we’ll consider ‘rioders and non ‘rioders one and the same.” Not one has said, “You juiced, you cheated, you’re out- end of story.” Instead, MLB hides behind the view that it is up to the Hall of Fame to set the standards, the Hall of Fame says to leave it up to the writers who vote, and the BBWAA says that MLB should be the ones who decide whether or not a guy is eligible.

And before you ask, yes, I would also ban the rest of them- from HOF’ers like A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, to scrubs like Alex Sanchez, Randy Verlarde, and Jason Grinsley-all of them. I would not put them in jail. They can keep their stats, their records, and their money. But they cannot be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. They used PED’s knowing it was cheating in order to stay in and/or excel at baseball. They lived the dream, were very well compensated for it, and had careers most of us would happily trade ten years off of the back end of our lives to have. Good for them- but that doesn’t mean they still get inducted into the Hall of Fame as well. That’s their punishment, since they weakened the integrity of baseball by their decision to juice. If they didn’t, then why is this conversation being held throughout the world of baseball? That’s the bed they made through their own decisions, so that’s the bed they should get to lie in now.

(Tim Johnson is the author of the ebook “Who Da Man- the Quintessential History of the NBA Draft 1947-2010”, now available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and soon at the Apple IBookstore and Sony Reader Store. His next ebook, which will be about the Baseball Hall of Fame, will be available late summer/early fall 2011.)