Major League Baseball gives the impression that it has the integrity of the game in mind when making decisions on who they believe deserves enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. They hold sway over the Baseball Writers Association of America, the group entrusted with voting players in when they achieve eligibility. But, when they act in a manner as they do in blackballing Barry Bonds, it reveals the hypocrisy of the league.
Barry Bonds Was Hall of Fame Worthy Before Steroid Era
What people may not remember is this: Bonds was dominating the league long before the steroid era began. He made his major league debut in 1986 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and by 1990 he received his first league MVP award. In that 1990 season, Bonds hit .301 with 33 home runs and 114 RBIs. He had a .970 OPS and stole 52 bases. He also won his first gold glove that year for his incredible defensive prowess in left field. If you are interested in BetRivers odds on who the leading candidate to win this year’s MLB MVP is, you can check it out at BetRivers Bonus.
He followed that up with another impressive season in 1991, finishing second in the MVP race. But in 1992, after the Pirates had let fellow slugger Bobby Bonilla leave via free agency, Bonds showed his true dominance. Without Bonilla to protect him in the lineup, Bonds hit .311, slugged 34 home runs and drove in 103. All this while pitchers constantly worked around him. He drew a league-leading 127 walks, had an OPS of 1.080, stole 39 bases and won his second league MVP award.
He signed with the San Francisco Giants as a free agent following that year, and won his 3rd league MVP award after hitting .336 with 46 home runs and 123 RBIs. Over the next four seasons he hit 37, 33, 42, and 40 home runs. It was during this time that the steroid era began, with nondescript players such as Baltimore’s Brady Anderson launching 50 home runs in the 1996 season. However, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were popular players and started out on their march to break Roger Maris’ home run record of 61 in a single season.
MLB Celebrates Home Run Chase of McGwire and Sosa
The 1998 season will go down in history as the year McGwire broke the long-standing record of 61 home runs in a single season. The Cardinals slugger launched 70 that year, with Sosa finishing second with 66. Bonds, once again, put up Hall of Fame numbers, batting .303 with 37 home runs, 122 RBIs, and a 1.047 OPS. Despite that dominant showing, he finished a laughable eighth in the MVP voting.
Bonds Decides to Even the Playing Field
It is around this time that Barry Bonds decided to start using PEDs. Allegedly. He saw how baseball was celebrating players like McGwire and Sosa, players Bonds knew he was much better than, and was being shoved into the background while the league basked in the glory of record TV ratings and revenue as a result of the home run chase.
Basically Bonds decided, if the league wants to put lesser players on a pedestal, I’ll show them what’s up. When he “allegedly” started his PED use, his numbers soared to a level never seen before in MLB history.
In 2001, Bonds slugged an insane 73 home runs in only 476 at bats. Teams refused to pitch to him, as he drew 177 walks. His OPS was 1.379 and he won his fourth MVP award. This was done, as is generally accepted, while he was using PEDs. Bonds demonstrated his greatness to the league for many years but decided he was not going to play second fiddle to players who were nowhere near as talented as he was.
It’s as if he told the league without saying out loud, “Okay. You want to celebrate the accomplishments of players using PEDs, I’ll show you what happens when the best player in the league uses them too.”
Read more about why you can’t talk about baseball history without Barry Bonds.
Why MLB Should Spearhead the Effort to Get Bonds Voted Into Hall
Barry Bonds made a decision based on the fact a large number of players started using PEDs, which at the time were not prohibited. He saw lesser players increasing their numbers, and decided to go with the direction that the league was heading. MLB did not have a problem collecting the revenue that was coming in on the backs’ of players who were using PEDs. It was only after the fact, when the league saw inferior players inflating their statistics that they decided to act.
But this was essentially closing the barn door after the horses had already escaped. The damage had been done, and in an attempt to save face the league did a 180-degree turn and went after the players it suspected of using.
It has led to a number of Hall of Fame worthy players being left out. Players such as Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Curt Schilling. Bonds fell short of the required 75% vote to get in this year, his 10th and final year on the ballot.
Instead of letting this fester, the league needs to step up, admit their own guilt in turning their cheek during the steroid era, and allow a special vote to get Bonds in based on what he had accomplished prior to his PED use.
His pre-steroid era numbers merit selection on their own, and that’s what the league should focus on. In doing so, they can step up and accept responsibility for what they allowed to happen by simply stating something along the lines of, ‘Barry Bonds made a decision to act once he saw what other lesser players were accomplishing. It is during this time his numbers also escalated, which led us to act as a league in order to maintain the integrity of baseball and preserve its glorious history. It is clear that Bonds was not only a Hall of Famer without the use of PEDs, but one of the best who ever played the game.’
Only then will baseball be able to start moving towards a resolution of what to do with the players of the steroid era. The players the league celebrated and profited from.