762 career home runs, over 2500 career walks, nearly 3000 career hits, and 514 career stolen bases. You could probably take any two of these four statistics and argue that a player with those numbers is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Barry Bonds has all of these numbers and more. The two numbers that stand out in particular are his all-time records 762 career home runs and 73 home runs in 2001.
Every time he stepped in the batter’s box, everybody held their breath waiting for something only this freak of nature could do. As a result, he was given intentional walks at an unfathomable rate. His career total for free passes, 688, was more than the next two on the list (Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey) combined. Someone may never reach these numbers again. No hitter has ever been feared more than Barry Bonds.
We can’t put these numbers solely to the incredible talent and work ethic of Bonds. He transformed from a base-stealing, power hitting, all-around threat to a purely lethal home run hitter, something very unusual. Although never convicted, in the midst of the infamous steroid era, Bonds stolen base totals began to decrease dramatically. Prior to 1999, he had averaged 34 stolen bases a year. In 1999, he had 15 stolen bases and averaged less than 8 stolen bases a year for the rest of his career. He was losing his speed fast, and trading it for bulk.
Miraculously, the 14-time All-Star saw an increase in home run totals, peaking at age 37 in 2001 with the 73 home runs, an age where most players consider retiring. That’s not the only thing that increased during this time. Compare his head size as a rookie in 1986 to that in 2001. Bonds head grew in size from 7 1/8 to 7 3/4 and his shoe size grew from 10 1/2 to size 13. These numbers are as inhumane as his baseball statistics, and there is a correlation, namely anabolic steroids.
After all, Bonds himself admitted that he took steroids.
After all, Bonds himself admitted that he took steroids.
Bonds undoubtedly felt pressure from the home run hitters around him. McGwire and Sosa, the other premiere home run hitters of the steroid era both cheated the game. McGwire eventually admitted to steroid use and Sosa tested positive in 2003. Both players passed Roger Maris’ home run record multiple times each from 1998 to 2001. What was the response of an extremely competitive Barry Bonds? An impossible 300 home runs after the age of 35 speaks for itself.
As a Bay Area native and lifelong Giants fan, Barry Bonds was and is my baseball hero. Hearing Duane Kuiper bellowing home run calls day after day during baseball season is something I will never forget. Kuiper’s home run call when Bonds passed Hank Aaron is as good as it gets—words cannot describe the emotions that are attached to what we know simply as 756. Listen for yourself – there are few things in the entire sports world quite like this moment. And as a Giants fan, this moment embodied the epitome of pride in our sports hero.
Now fast forward to 2012. One year from Bonds eligibility for the Hall of Fame. The divide in support and for Bonds is complex and not even all Giants fans support Bonds’ induction. If I saw him inducted into the Hall, I would be excited. One of the best players of my generation, no less a man who had been my favorite player on my favorite team…how could I not be excited? But as a baseball fan, the asterisk that taints his record would still give me a twisting sensation. He cheated…so is it right to give him recognition along with legends like Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth?
If I were a sports writer who voted for Hall of Famers, I would not vote for Barry Bonds induction. In response to the final question of the previous paragraph, he does not deserve recognition alongside Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Robinson, Cobb, and the like. You can’t look at his numbers prior to 2000 (roughly when he began using performance enhancing drugs) and argue that they are Hall of Fame numbers, thus he should be inducted. You can’t choose part of his careers body of work and ignore the subsequent and most famous accomplishments. He is known for 73 and 762, not for being the skinny base stealer on the Pirates.
So finally we arrive at the strongest argument for Barry Bonds induction: Major League Baseball did not implement required steroid testing until June 2004, and Bonds never failed a drug test (including the one Sosa failed in 2003). Technically speaking, Bonds never “broke the law” of Major League Baseball like, for example, Pete Rose did when Rose bet on baseball and was sentenced to a lifetime ban from baseball. However, in 1991, before the “steroid era,” MLB Commissioner Ray Vincent “sent a memo to each team announcing that steroids have been added to the league’s banned list.” And in April 2001, baseball implemented a random testing program and a penalty for steroid use at the minor league level. Why wasn’t this implemented at the Major League level? Commissioner Bud Selig had no reason to stop the home run records that were being broken left and right at an inhuman rate. Everybody loves home runs, so Selig took the easy way out and turned a blind eye to something that was right in front of his face. Players like Barry Bonds took advantage of the system. They artificially increased their power and home run capabilities. But the artificial capabilities in combination with the fact that steroids were on the banned list for baseball means Bonds should not be immortalized in Cooperstown.
Most importantly, inducting Bonds sets precedence for future inductees. If Bonds is elected a member of the Hall, so should the other steroid era greats like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez. The Hall of Fame will become as tainted as the home run records Bonds holds. Baseball does not want that. As America’s pastime, we need to keep the Hall of Fame baseball’s sacred ground.