BETWEEN THE LINES: Barry Bonds Hall Of Fame Career Baseball's Past Eras Are No More Credible Or Any Less Controversial
The time has come to acknowledge Barry Bonds as baseball's new home run king. Love him or hate him, there's only one sure thing you can say about Barry Bonds-he can hit a baseball. Now you can say he hit more out than any player in major baseball history.
Some people have a problem with saying that. It's easier for them to say that which they know not for sure, but suspect, that Barry was juiced. Some want to call the era in which Bonds broke Hank Aaron's record, the Asterisk ( * ) era, or the Steroids era.
Whatever you call it, so still will have to call Barry, king of the home run-for a minute, at least. We have now officially begun the five year (minimum) debate as to whether Barry Bonds has earned a place among to the so-called, "baseball immortals."
The National Baseball Hall of Fame doesn't exactly house a group of choir boys. "The Hall" is full of thugs, racists and other malcontents. Yes, there's even an "admitted cheat" (or two) in the Hall. Baseball's past eras are no more credible, and it legends no less controversial. Barry Bonds is the greatest player of his era, whatever you call it.
Baseball has had its "live ball" era, its "dead ball" era, its strong pitching era, weak pitching era, long fence era, short fence era, and of course, its infamous segregation era in which it banned black players from competition. It has elected players from every era, and except from betting on your own games (which put lifetime bans on Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose), what you did on the field-however you did it-was the basis for getting into the Hall of Fame.
The asterisk thing came about as a way notating whether a player accomplished their record when the baseball season was 154 games, or the current 162 games they play today. Roger Maris, who broke Babe Ruth's 60 home run season record, was asterisked because he did in a 162 game season (versus Ruth's 154).
Maris was almost certainly punished for breaking "the Babe's" record. Despite an above average career, he's still not in the Hall of Fame. It's well chronicled what Hank Aaron went through in breaking Ruth's all-time. Thirty years later, Aaron is still bitter. Bonds has been jeered, not because of any public affinity for Aaron-but, because they think he cheated to get to the record. Bonds has never been caught using steroids, and the years of its suspected use (2000-2003), there was no ban on steroids or steroid testing in baseball (steroid weren't considered illegal until the 2005 season).
Steroids were no big deal in baseball, historically. It didn't make you hit the ball. In fact, many of the allegations in this so-called Steroids era are pitchers who have added three or four seasons to their longevity (not to mention speed on their fastball). If anything, steroid hitters were neutralized by steroid pitchers-but that would be too much to analyze for those seeking to discredit Bonds. So we have to call it like it is. Baseball has always had questionable and controversial elements to it. And it does now but that doesn't detract from one's greatness.
You can look at every era and make a case for why, or why not, a certain player should be in the Hall. Babe Ruth played in the live ball and segregation eras. Would it have made a difference? Probably not, because Ruth's accomplishments stood out, far and apart, from everybody else. Hank Aaron played in part of the weak pitcher, short fence era. Did it make a difference? It did if your name was Willie Mays, who played the height of his career in San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda estimates he saw 150 home runs Mays hit "blow back in," and that Mays would have easily had over 800 home runs, had he not played half his games at Candlestick. Mays, who is by and large acknowledged as the greatest "all-around" player of all-time (hit, hit with power, run, field and throw) is rarely mentioned in the category of Aaron and Ruth because he didn't get close to "the record." But Willie Mays was the greatest player of his era.
Baseball has always had a racial element to it, though. When Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, he was elected with 94.68% of the vote-the highest percentage since the initial class in 1936 where three players, Ty Cobb (a known racist) who received the highest hall vote ever (98.20%), Ruth and Honus Wagner received 95.13 each. Incredibly, 23 writers (409 out of 432 who voted) left the greatest player of his era (and maybe in the history of the game) off their ballots, for no explainable reason. When Aaron came into the Hall in 1981, he received 97.83%. Since then, you've had four players, with great but less acrimonious careers, receive higher votes than Aaron and Mays. Pitcher Tom Seaver received the highest score ever, 98.84% in 1992. Pitcher Nolan Ryan received 98.79% in 1999. George Brett received 98.19% in 1998 and Cal Ripken Jr. received 98.5% in 2007. Even Mike Schmidt, who had 100 less home runs and a .267 career batting average (compared to Mays .302), was voted in with 96.52%. And I can't write a baseball commentary about the Hall of Fame and not mention the continuing snubbing of Curt Flood, as the father of free agency. There is no justified reasoning for Flood's exclusion-other than residual anger because he ended baseball slavery. My point is that all aspects of the game are not so pure, and are way too subjective. This era will be no different.
Yet, there will be no justified reasoning for Bond's exclusion-even if you include the cloud of steroids. Yeah, they punished Mark McGuire first time around, but McGuire is a Hall of Famer and will eventually get in because he (and Sammy Sosa) helped revive baseball after the strike almost destroyed it. Baseball writers have voted known cheaters before. The most prominent that comes to mind is pitcher Gaylord Perry. The game's purists are questioning a three year period of Bonds career. For Perry's whole 20 year career, he was not just suspected of doctoring baseballs (throwing baseballs with illegal substances, known as "spitballs"), it was a fact that everybody knew that accompanies every bio of Perry. When they ask the question as to why a known cheater was being voted into the Hall of Fame? The response was, "Gaylord never got caught (he actually was thrown out of one game towards the end of his career)."
Well, Barry never got caught either-and he is a much better player. At the end of the day, Barry Bonds hits the baseball better than anyone who has gone before him. He was a Hall of Fame player before 2001. Now that he is the home run king, we may be seeing the end of an era-and the start of a controversy over his place in history. No matter what you think of Bonds, he deserves his place in history, and all to "propers" that will come with it-including the Hall of Fame.