Barry Bonds at the podium in Cooperstown, making his Hall of Fame speech as if nothing ever happened.
I would cringe. I know some of the Hall of Famers would cringe. And I imagine a good number of fans would cringe, too.
Does that mean I am dead set against voting for Bonds? Nope. In 2012, Bonds’ first year on the ballot, I wrote that I was wavering on whether to vote for confirmed users of performance-enhancing drugs or even certain alleged users. I’m still wavering, to be honest. The issue is complex and personal to each voter, much more gray than the increasingly shrill red-state/blue-state rhetoric would have you believe.
Bonds, 49, took a major step Monday, returning to baseball for the first time since 2007 to begin a weeklong stint as a special hitting instructor with the Giants.
Naturally, a reporter asked him if he belonged in the Hall. Naturally, Bonds did not hesitate with his answer.
I would not have expected Bonds to say anything less — we’ve yet to hear a player say, "I cheated; my career was a fraud." Mark McGwire did not go that far even when admitting in 2010 that he used PEDs. But baseball allowed McGwire to work as a hitting coach for the Cardinals and then the Dodgers, and Bonds should be treated the same.
Bonds has not admitted to using PEDs — he is still appealing his obstruction of justice charge, seeking to clear his name of a felony. But like McGwire, Bonds never was disciplined by baseball. He is eligible to work for a team, eligible for the Hall, eligible for anything the game has to offer. So, for that matter, is Roger Clemens, another major star who allegedly used PEDs, and spent time as a spring instructor for one of his former clubs, the Astros.
Why, then, do I not vote for Bonds or Clemens, who are inarguably two of the game’s all-time greats?
Because in my view, eligibility for the Hall does not automatically lead to election, even for the best of the best.
As I’ve written before, election is not a right; it is a privilege, an honor. To me, certain players abandoned that privilege. And while we do not have absolute proof on Bonds, Clemens and many others, this discussion is not taking place in a court of law. The Hall instructs voters to consider character, integrity and sportsmanship; subjectivity is encouraged.
Of course, you’ve heard all of these arguments before. You’ve also heard the arguments on behalf of Bonds, Clemens and Co., arguments that I respect and view as legitimate.
We do not know exactly who did what, and to what extent. The only known truths are the statistics of each player. It’s possible a PED user or two already is in the Hall, along with other cheats and miscreants.
I might counter that Bonds, as the best player in the game, bore a greater responsibility than say, the 25th man on the roster fighting for his professional life. Yet, for every point, there is a valid counter-point. Which is why I am not entirely comfortable with my position, not at all at peace.
I struggle with the idea that some of the best players of this generation might never be enshrined in Cooperstown. I question whether that is right for the fans of those players, right for the Hall, right for the sport. But in the end, each voter must simply decide what he or she believes.
I hate when some in favor of Bonds’ and Clemens’ candidacies disdainfully describe voters like myself as "gatekeepers of morality." Guilty as charged, I guess, but I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe in five years I will view my current stance as too harsh. Opinions evolve, perceptions soften over time.
Bonds is eligible to remain on the ballot for 13 more years — he received 36.2 and 34.7 percent of the vote in his first two years, well short of the 75 percent needed for induction. The crowded ballot probably isn’t helping him any, but if Bonds cannot get elected by 2027, I doubt many will complain that he did not receive a fair hearing.
One more thing:
At least for me, this is not about Bonds’ poor relationship with the media, a relationship that on Monday he admitted to regretting. No voter should base a Hall of Fame vote on whether a player cooperated with reporters, and I do not believe that many do. Eddie Murray once threatened to sue me, and I voted for him on the first ballot without hesitation. Murray got in, Steve Carlton got in, others who scorned the media got in, too.
For me, it’s about the podium; I can’t get past the idea of seeing Bonds on the podium. Maybe one day my position will change. I sort of hope it does. Heck, I loved watching Barry Bonds play, too.