Regular visitors to Fenwaynation will all agree that I’m no baseball genius – I often have to ask someone to explain things to me and today is no exception. This year’s Hall of Fame voting results have just been released by the venerable Internet Baseball Writers’ Association of America (of which I am privileged to hold membership) and to this Internet Baseball Writer, one result is quite surprising – Barry Bonds received almost 51% of the vote.
The Baseball Writers’ Association has a charter and that charter lists the rules for Hall of Fame selection – Rule 5 simply states: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Winstrol notwithstanding, it can’t be denied that Bonds possessed significant playing ability and it is a fact that he amassed some impressive stats, (including the single season home run record) – and all this crowned by what should have been a most joyous occasion throughout the baseball world – the Career Home Run Record. But this is not his legacy – nor should it be – the manner in which he attained those hallowed milestones has irreversibly damaged the game and I would expect that any right-thinking writer or analyst couldn’t help but recognize that fact. Yet, Bonds has received a not-insignificant proportion of the IBWAA vote his first time out and this confuses me.
Take another look at Rule 5. Right after ability, you’ll see integrity and sportsmanship. In January 2007, it was reported that Bonds had tested positive for amphetamines. Under MLB’s weak-kneed amphetamines policy, which had only been in effect for a year, anyone testing positive would be required to submit to an additional six tests and undergo counseling. When Bonds was made aware of his test results, his immediate reaction was to blame the whole unsavory mess on a teammate – he asserted that the test results must’ve come from a substance he’d taken from the locker of his fellow Giant, Mark Sweeney. And even though Bonds later retracted this claim and apologized to Sweeny, it speaks volumes about the man’s integrity – or lack thereof. Incidentally, this is the same guy who withdrew his membership from the MLB Players’ Association licensing agreement, believing he could make more money elsewhere. He is, to date, the only player to do this.
I’m sure that Bonds apologists – if they exist – would argue that cheating has existed in baseball pretty much since the Elysian Fields. And that’s true - cheating has even been tolerated to a certain extent, but as far as this writer is concerned, there can be no reasonable comparison between spitballs and sandpaper and The Cream and The Clear.
I’ve been privileged to visit the Hall of Fame on several occasions and each time, I’ve been mightily impressed with the reverence applied to the true heroes of America’s Game. There now exists a tenuous, yet tenacious connection between Hall-worthy achievement and the recorded feats of those who used drugs. Enshrinement of Barry Bonds – indeed, of any player tainted by the steroid era will only serve to strengthen that nexus and weaken the prestige of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, not to mention the Game itself. And for this baseball fan, that would be a catastrophe, made all the more tragic by being completely avoidable. If it eventuates that Bonds does do well on the ballot, I would hope that those journalists who understand and appreciate Integrity and Sportsmanship will ask some hard, unvarnished questions of their voting colleagues. Because, sportsfans, this is one issue that will not simply fade away.