Steroids are germane to the question of whether Barry Bonds belongs in the all-time outfield, but not to whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He belongs in Cooperstown, but the steroid rage of non-users kept him out.
The Hall of Fame election results were just announced on MLB Network and for the eighth time, nobody was elected. An elector for the 16th year, I voted for a personal-record eight players.
Craig Biggio was the leading vote recipient, appearing on 68 percent of the ballots. A player must be on 75 percent of the ballots to enter the Hall of Fame.
Back to Bonds. He doesn’t belong in the all-time outfield because with Willie Mays in center, flanked by Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, there simply isn’t room for Bonds, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb or Oscar Charleston. If Bonds’ numbers were not steroid-inflated, they would merit him a spot in the all-time lineup.
Keeping Bonds out of Cooperstown because he juiced so mightily his head swelled and made it look as if he were auditioning for a part as a Klingon in the next Star Trek flick ignores what a great ballplayer he was before cheating.
A lousy baseball player, I learned to trust my ears more than my eyes when covering the game and did have a skill for knowing where to go to get the unvarnished truth. Bobby Cox was one such source of knowledge. The guy doesn’t have time for nonsense. I’ll never forget the Bonds conversation I had with Cox, one of my favorite managers in his dugout.
I asked him if I were correct in my belief that Ken Griffey Jr. ranked No. 1 in the game at the time. He held up two fingers, meaning someone ranked ahead of him.
“Griffey’s great,” Cox said. “But if you put it in just the right spot, you can get him out. Bonds doesn’t have a spot. The best pitchers in the game can throw pitches exactly where they want them and he’ll go down there and get them. I don’t know how he does it.”
This was before Bonds’ cap grew three sizes. The only fair way to vote is to make as informed a guess as possible as to whether a player juiced — a Hall of Fame ballot is an opinion document, not a legal one — deflate the numbers of those you think cheated and go from there. But automatically ban them because they were doing what at least half the hitters and many pitchers were doing? Please.
Keeping Bonds out of Cooperstown because he grew modern muscles in the latter stages of his career is even more foolish than keeping John Hadl out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his poor play with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Oilers after having an exceptional career with the San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams.
Bonds was the first name I checked on my Hall of Fame ballot and Roger Clemens was the second, not just because that happens to be the alphabetical order of the (personal-high) eight players for which I voted.
The others: Edgar Martinez, Mark McGwire (first time), Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines (first time) and Curt Schilling. Every one with the exception of Piazza was a tough call. So were exclusions Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
Sammy Sosa? Easy call. He was one player when his body called to mind the Michelin Man, a much weaker force when he looked like an old-fashioned ballplayer.