Barry Bonds is essentially the cover image for the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame vote.
Is he getting in on the first ballot, or will voters penalize him for steroid use, an enhancement that many believe fueled Bonds' quest for MLB's all-time home-run record?
Support seems to be increasing for players associated with steroid use during their careers. But it seems likely that Hall of Fame voters will try to enact some form of punishment on perceived and proven PED users by keeping them out of Cooperstown for at least one year, depriving them of "first ballot" status.
Because of this, Bonds almost certainly won't be part of the 2013 Hall of Fame class. Yet his career absolutely warrants the "first ballot" status that ostensibly separates the elite from the great among baseball's greatest players.
Let's start with the obvious reason why Bonds deserves to be inducted into Cooperstown: The man has 762 home runs, more than any other player in the history of baseball.
Yes, Bonds may have been aided by performance-enhancing substances. He admitted taking steroids—introducing "the cream" and "the clear" into the sports lexicon—but he claims to have done so unwittingly.
However, if all it took to hit home runs was taking steroids, wouldn't other players have joined Bonds atop the all-time and single-season lists?
We don't know exactly how many other MLB stars took PEDs from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. But documents such as the Mitchell Report suggest that many players used steroids to boost their performance. In that environment, Bonds still stood out among his peers as one of the best players of his era.
According to the book Game of Shadows, Bonds began taking steroids in 1998 after the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa resulted in both players breaking Roger Maris' single-season record of 62 homers.
But Bonds played 13 seasons prior to that, accumulating 411 home runs and posting three seasons in which he hit more than 40 homers. In six of those seasons, he hit .300 or higher, compiling nearly 2,000 hits (1,917, to be exact).
During that 13-year span, Bonds also led MLB in on-base percentage four times and had the top OPS in the majors in five of those seasons.
Additionally, Bonds was named to eight All-Star teams, earned eight Gold Gloves and won two National League MVP awards.
If Bonds had ended his career after 13 seasons, he was a Hall of Fame player. But in the nine seasons to follow, he established his place in MLB history.
Bonds hit 45 homers or more in five of those seasons. In the 2001 season, he broke McGwire's single-season record with 73 home runs. He won two batting titles. He led MLB in walks seven times, on-base percentage six times and finished first in OPS four times.
Eventually, Bonds became the top slugger in MLB history, overtaking Hank Aaron by seven home runs.
As I've written in a previous article, the Hall of Fame would ideally be an institution that both honors baseball's greatest players and serves as a chronicle of the sport's history.
Bonds should be inducted into Cooperstown under both of those circumstances. But as baseball's all-time home-run leader, he is a significant part of baseball history and has to be acknowledged for that. An entire era of the sport can't simply be ignored because voters don't approve of how some players may have reached their accomplishments during that time.
MLB hasn't wiped Bonds' achievements from the record books. No asterisks accompany his numbers, even if many baseball fans and Hall of Fame voters feel there should be.
If those in charge of running the sport haven't made a statement on Bonds' statistics, how can another organization take on that responsibility for itself?
As mentioned above, Hall of Fame voters will likely use their ballots to penalize Bonds while MLB has chosen not to. He won't be inducted in his first year of eligibility. Also not helping Bonds' cause is that he wasn't particularly kind to the media during his career, and writers hold a grudge over that sort of thing.
But after the voters make their statement, presumably on behalf of everyone who thinks alleged and admitted PED users should be punished for cheating, it's time to let inevitability take place. Resistance will wear down.
Bonds will be in Cooperstown because he is one of the greatest players we have ever seen take the field. So will Roger Clemens, as my fellow MLB lead writer Zach Rymer wrote. Others associated with the steroid era will eventually join them.
The Baseball Hall of Fame cannot serve its dual purpose without Bonds having a place in there. His plaque belongs with the sport's other legends. His achievements deserve their own exhibit. His career cannot be simply redacted.
Bonds' faults can be mentioned. Suspicions about how he accomplished his records should be a part of his story. To deny them would also do a disservice to baseball history.
But the Hall of Fame can't be a proper documentation of the sport it's supposed to honor without including Bonds as a part of that grand archive.
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