The 2022 induction class, or lack there of, is an abject failure and will forever tarnish the Hall of Fame. But not for the reasons you are thinking.
At the entrance to the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s plaque gallery, a sign hangs to help guide museumgoers through what they’re about to see. The first paragraph talks about how players are in the Hall for “their accomplishments in the game.” The next paragraph says other areas of the museum “address the totality of their careers.” The final paragraph ties it all together: “The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s mission is to Preserve History, which is what we seek to do throughout the Museum.”
If indeed that is the mission statement of the Hall of Fame, then the voters got this class and the past nine incoherently wrong. Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest hitter in baseball history, inarguably worthy of induction, did not reach the 75% threshold in his final year on the writers’ ballot.
He’s not the only one, but Bonds’ rejection, in particular, epitomizes how all these decades later, baseball is still bungling the PED issue, valuing a lazy, ahistorical moral referendum over the preservation of history.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s most frustrating. Perhaps it’s that there already are players in the Hall accused of using PEDs. Or that the commissioner whose tenure encompassed the entirety of the steroid era, Bud Selig, is himself enshrined. Or that generations of players before Bonds, including manifold Hall of Famers, popped amphetamines as part of their pregame routine. Oh how about that others honored with bronze renderings include multiple racists, domestic abusers and even a player who last year resigned from the Hall’s board of directors after a woman levied credible sexual misconduct allegations.
Maybe we are just complicating the situation.
Maybe it’s just as simple as the guy with the most home runs ever should be in the museum that exists to tell baseball’s story. Or if you want the negative side to be the highlight, the guy who is the face of the biggest scandal in the history of the sport should also be in the museum that tells baseball’s story.
For decades now Bonds and Rodger Clemens have been joined at the hip as the faces of the PED scandal. Fair or not that is the role they took on. But maybe throw the blame at the likes of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire who made a mockery of the sport first.
But for Bonds and Clemens, the two guys who are locks based on their numbers, have been facing campaigns to ensure they never get rewarded with the honor of being enshrined into the Hall of Fame, a place reserved for the 1%.
It starts with Major League Baseball and the blind eye that Commissioner Selig, his office and the game’s stewards turned toward PEDs. From there came the duplicity of riding the steroid wave to new stadiums and bigger TV deals and exponential revenue growth while villainizing the very people who fueled it.
Say what you want about these steroid users, they saved baseball from itself after the 1994 lockout and canceled World Series. Baseball was hated and left behind by its fan base and it took these artificial home run chases to engage the fans again and reboot the sport.
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and everyone else hauled before Congress made for great scapegoats, but the treatment of Bonds by the league has extended well beyond that. Selig hated that Bonds was breaking the home run record of the eminent Henry Aaron, all but affixing an asterisk next to Bonds’ final total of 762 and single-season record 73.
Following the 2007 season, when Bonds, at age 43, remained one of the best hitters on the planet, not a single team offered him a contract. Even though an arbitrator ruled it wasn’t collusion, it clearly was something: Baseball telling Bonds he wasn’t welcome.
The message traveled to Cooperstown: Will voters honor PED users? Among the writers who decide such things, there was confusion. What did the Hall want? Though the institution never lobbies for or against players, it could have offered some sort of guidance on players who had used PEDs. Did the so-called “character clause” — which tells Hall voters to consider a player’s “character” as one of the six attributes when considering worthiness — apply to the use of PEDs? Or should writers take into account that these players existed in an environment where cheating was extremely prevalent?
The voters could have embraced and taken the right stand — that as ugly as this history is, not telling its full story would amount to whitewashing this seminal moment in the game.
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.
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.
We should be able to acknowledge that Bonds is a cheater, hate his actions and argue persuasively that he belongs in Cooperstown anyway. Even those who take the Hall of Fame seriously enough that they believe by excluding Bonds they’re protecting it are obligated to acknowledge that history, the museum’s mission, can be complicated and disappointing and sad.
Messing with history is a dangerous game, especially coming from a group entrusted with writing it. But that’s what the BBWAA did today
We can spend all the time in the world wishing it were less complicated, straightforward, black and white, a hero’s journey. That doesn’t always happen. All these decades later, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose remain pariahs; and with Bonds, Clemens and Curt Schilling, the Hall is uninviting three more — the former two for using PEDs, the latter for saying heinous things.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens need to be in the Hall of Fame if we are going to truly look upon the hall as the most prestigious of them all. There are so many simple solutions, ones that would satisfy the Hall’s stated mission and recognize that it’s possible to celebrate the player Bonds was while bemoaning the choices he made. All it takes is the right words on the plaque.
Pittsburgh and San Francisco 1986-2007
Baseball’s home run king, with 762, won seven MVP awards and walked more than any player in history. With fearsome left-handed swing, set single-season home run record with 73 and redefined hitting for a generation. Use of performance-enhancing drugs muddled accomplishments and epitomized MLB’s steroid era. Hero and villain simultaneously, possessed uncommon power-speed combination made even better by eye that helped lead N.L. in on-base percentage 10 times.
That is Barry Bonds, and that is how you Preserve History.