By: Nate Gatter, KCOU Sports
Yesterday was Hank Aaron’s birthday. The great Hammerin’ Hank turned 81 and—albeit unknowingly and unintentionally—poured gasoline on one of baseball’s most inflammatory debates. Many fans still bristle over Aaron having been dethroned as Major League Baseball’s all-time home run leader by Barry Bonds on August 7, 2007 when Bonds belted his 756th career home run. Others argue Bonds was a product of the steroid era in baseball, and that it is time his greatness be accepted and recognized with an induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds is the single best baseball player of all-time; there is not a shred of doubt in my mind. But he is not MLB’s home run champion, and he does not deserve consideration—let alone induction—from the Hall. I hate that I had to write that; Bonds’s abilities were unparalleled in major league history. Unfortunately for him and every fan of the game, he decided to throw his potential greatness aside in favor of greed. The saddest piece of the Bonds saga is that he would have almost certainly been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he had only maintained his integrity and, more importantly, the integrity of the game.
Unfortunately, how good he was, or could have continued to be without the help of performance-enhancing drugs, is not relevant to his Hall of Fame candidacy. He cheated, plain and simple. No way around it.
Let’s go through the Bonds defenses one-by-one.
“But everybody was juicing back then; he’s a product of the steroid era.”
That’s the worst excuse in the book. The right thing is the right thing; the wrong thing is the wrong thing. What everybody else does is irrelevant. Apparently Bonds’s parents never taught him that flowing with the current is not an excuse, but a sign of weakness. Plenty of “steroid era” players have gone on to earn a plaque in Cooperstown and more of Bonds’s contemporaries will follow. Clearly, not every player was forced to break the rules. His decision to blatantly and consciously damage the integrity of baseball and the on-field product is among the greatest insults a player can make to the game. The rules are simple, and cheaters do not belong in a Hall with men who have the utmost respect for the game.
To address the issue of who ranks atop MLB’s home run charts, nobody was juicing when Hank Aaron played. Perhaps having to face steroid-aided pitchers disadvantaged Bonds slightly, although proven steroid-using pitchers were few and far between. In reality, Hank Aaron earned each and every home run he hit; Barry Bonds bought and injected a significant portion of his. Bonds did not need those home runs to cement his place among the greatest to ever play, but it is not my responsibility—or the Hall of Fame’s responsibility—to explain away his poorly conceived actions.
“Well how come baseball includes managers who managed steroid-using players? Are you planning on defacing Tony La Russa’s plaque for having made his name managing the likes of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire?”
If there were proof that La Russa ever had knowledge of any steroid use and ignored or concealed it, I would be the first to advocate for his removal from the Hall of Fame. The same goes for any other enshrined managers. Until that proof presents itself, however, I refuse to make the unsubstantiated assumption that any manager actively cheated by concealing the illegal actions of his players. Players using performance-enhancing drugs knowingly tarnished the reputation of baseball and all those who play, coach, or love the game. If it becomes evident that managers did the same, swift and strict action should be taken.
“But don’t you advocate for Pete Rose’s induction into the Hall of Fame? You’re going to let one rule-breaker in while leaving another out?”
Yes, I advocate for Rose’s immediate enshrinement in the Hall. However, I find it illogical to lump Rose and Bonds together in the same category of rule-breakers. And yes, I know MLB rule 21(d). For those who do not, the rule states, “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Simply put, the rule is garbage. I recognize Rose’s terrible missteps, and that he marred the integrity of the game, but the rule is outdated. It does not account for performance-enhancing drug users and their brutal transgressions that far surpass any claims against Rose. If the punishment for players who intentionally maimed the on-field product of MLB is expulsion from baseball for life, it is unfathomable that Rose should suffer the same penalty. Bonds, and all steroid users, chemically affected the game itself.
Moreover, Rose never bet on games as a player. Considering the Hall of Fame recognizes managers independently from their playing careers—and vice versa—why should his mistakes as a manager impact his Hall of Fame eligibility as a player?
I firmly believe Rose deserved to be punished severely. I would not have opposed Rose’s disqualification from ever managing again and do not oppose MLB continuing to withhold Rose from all affiliated professional baseball. But barring him from Cooperstown—as a player—is clearly punitive, and his punishment has gone on long enough.
Rose’s wrongdoings can be forgiven, Bonds’s cannot be.
Barry Bonds should have been a Hall of Famer. Barry Bonds should have been one of the, nay, the greatest baseball player of all-time. Barry Bonds should have been a player I reminisced on with my grandchildren. Barry Bonds threw all of that away. Not me, not you; Barry Bonds threw it away. Now let him live with it.