Even before people began suspecting that Barry Bonds might be using performance-enhancing drugs to enhance his performance he was on track to be considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. How voters for the Hall of Fame perceive whether he did anything wrong or not in terms of violating baseball’s substance abuse policy is going to determine what the ballots look like come December 31 when the votes for the class of 2013 are due.
Just as in the case of his compatriot Roger Clemens, the pitching version of Bonds on the ballot for the first time, Bonds compiled monumental statistics and a boggling record of achievement during his lengthy career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. Many voters will convict Bonds in their minds on circumstantial evidence that he did the enhancing, even if, also like Clemens, thorough and expensive government investigation did not prove that he took drugs to help his game.
Bonds’ baseball credentials are remarkable on several fronts. His numbers do make the case for him being the best player of all time. Bonds grew up in Northern California where his father Bobby played outfield for the Giants. He attended college at Arizona State and broke into the majors at 21 in 1986. Bonds played 22 seasons, retiring after the 2007 season.
The two numbers most famously associated with Bonds represent the two most glamorous baseball records. He is the all-time home-run leader with 762 and he set the single-season home-run record of 73 in 2001. Given Americans’ love affair with the big bang, those are hallowed records and because of Bonds’ enganglement with the steroids era and what everyone thinks he did even if they can’t prove it, there has been significant backlash to the accomplishments.
There is one little blemish that also interferes with Bonds’ candidacy: In 2011 he was convicted of obstruction of justice in the case brought against him revolving around the steroids issue. He has appealed that verdict (other charges were dismissed), but right now that conviction remains on his record.
During the course of his career Bonds hit those 762 homers. He also had 1,996 RBIs. His average was .298, although he did win two batting titles. Bonds sent the all-time record for walks with 2,558 and his lifetime on-base percentage is .444, sixth all-time. At the peak of his power prowess teams were so scared to pitch to him that Bonds had consecutive seasons of astounding on-base percentages .515, .582, .529 and .609 in 2004. Bonds walked 232 times that year. The .609 is the Major League record for one year and the .582 he recorded in 2002 is second best.
Bonds’ .863 slugging percentage in 2001 is also an all-time Major League record. So is his being walked intentionally 120 times in a season in 2004. Bonds is the only player in baseball history to record more than 500 home runs (762) and also steal more than 500 bases (514).
Probably the most amazing achievement on Bonds’ resume is that he was chosen as the National League Most Valuable Player a record seven times. He was also a 14-time All-Star, an eight-time Gold Glove award winner, and a 12-time Silver Slugger winner.
Like Clemens, on numbers alone, Bonds walks into the Hall of Fame on a red carpet, with probably 100 percent of the vote. Instead, he is the subject of endless debate and discussion over whether or not his alleged ingestion of performance-enhancing drugs should rule him out. There are about 600 eligible voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who have been voting during December on their beliefs about who should be welcomed into the Hall of Fame this year. A player must receive 75 percent of the vote to be selected.
Given the intense and loud debate that has followed Bonds his election this year is no sure thing. If Bonds is elected on his first year on the ballot it will be because of the quiet majority. Most voters have not said aloud what they are going to do. Whether they are wrestling with how they are going to handle the whole steroids era and on-paper deserving individuals, or are just keeping it private, certainly some feel uncomfortable blessing even great players with their vote in such unusual circumstances.