There’s little question that Barry Lamar Bonds ranks among the top players in baseball history. As the sport’s all-time home run king, some put him ahead of Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and others as the greatest.
But Bonds will not reach the individual pinnacle of his sport — entry into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
At least not yet.
Fifteen years after leaving the sport and being snubbed each year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA), Bonds was rejected again Tuesday by the association in his final year of eligibility, in no small part to his connection to the Steroid Era that has likewise tarnished the reputations and hampered the Hall of Fame bids of several of the game’s greats.
It’s the writers who vote to enshrine players, who must receive 75% of the vote for election. Bonds missed the cut this year with 66% of the vote.
But in December, baseball’s so-called “Today’s Game Committee” will consider Bonds’ candidacy. That committee consists of 16 members from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, executives and veteran media members.
The group forms an electorate that considers players no longer eligible for election by the BBWAA.
On accomplishments alone, Bonds’ induction to Cooperstown should be a foregone conclusion. A seven-time National League MVP and eight-time Gold Glove winner, Bonds and his fearsome, sweet lefty swing stands as baseball’s all-time home run leader, with 762 bombs over a career that lasted more than two decades. He also set the single-season home run record with 73 in 2001, a year in which he also drew 177 walks.
What separated Bonds from sluggers like Ruth and others, though, was maybe the best hand-eye coordination ever. He drew a mind-boggling 2,558 walks over his career, including 626 intentional free passes. So feared was Bonds, pitchers would intentionally walk him with the bases loaded.
But many have lumped Bonds in with others in the shameful Steroid Era, and writers have repeatedly shunned players such as Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire who are strongly suspected of steroid use during the 1990s.
However, unlike McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Jose Canseco, who have either been caught or eventually admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds had always denied usage and has never been disciplined for illegal drug use.
Detractors point to the year after Bonds’ playing days ended when a federal indictment charged him with perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a grand jury during the federal government’s investigation of BALCO, a steroid and performance-enhancing drug laboratory in San Francisco.
Leaked testimony revealed he admitted to unknowingly using “the cream” and “the clear,” and a former girlfriend testified that he used steroids for an injury.
But Bonds’ snub appears to run deeper and it cuts with a hint of jealousy and racism.
When Bonds set the single-season home run record, then-Commissioner Bud Selig went out of his way to demean the accomplishment, citing alleged but unproven steroid use.
However, a few years earlier, Selig and others cheered McGwire and Sosa’s steroid-fueled assault on the same record.
Baseball writers — the individuals tasked with casting Hall of Fame votes — jeered Bonds at every turn. With typical dog whistles, they often described Bonds as “surly,” “aloof” and having “a bad attitude.”
Bonds mostly ignored the media and its rhetoric, and during 22 years in two of the most challenging parks for hitters — Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium and San Francisco’s Candlestick Park — he excelled.
His refusal to engage media members over the years only served to anger them, and the dog whistles continued at a relentless pace.
Bonds once explained that the pressure he experienced as a young man as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates led to his combativeness with the media. He recognized that he could have done more to better the relationship.
“I’ve created this fire around me, and I’m stuck in it, so I might as well live with the flames,” he stated during a 2016 interview.
Still, with just about a half-dozen Black members in the more than 700 member BBWAA, Bonds stands little chance of any recognition for his peerless accomplishments.
“The simple truth is that Barry Bonds is the story of the steroid era. He is a player whose physical gifts knew no limits – and whose desire for something beyond greatness took him to a place he never needed to go,” wrote ESPN journalist Jeff Passan, who nevertheless backed Bonds’ election to the hall. “His greed mirrored the league’s: the ceaseless pursuit of bigger, better, more. This is the history that demands to be told, and there is no better place to tell it than in the plaque room at the Hall of Fame.”
Barry Bonds’ career statistics: 2,986 games played; 2,227 runs scored; 2,935 hits; 601 doubles; 77 triples; 762 home runs; 514 stolen bases; 2,558 walks; 688 intentional walks; .298 batting average; .444 on base percentage; .607 slugging percentage; 1.051 OPS.