Barry Bonds, Bringer of Spring

USA Today recently revealed the news that Barry Bonds will be a spring training instructor for the San Francisco Giants.


Bonds is perhaps the most contentious - and most deserving - of all the Steroid Era players who are now being politically thwarted from the Hall of Fame. Bonds, not Clemens or McGwire, has become the face of the Steroid Era. Bonds, the lanky angry black man who became a bloated angry black man, was never beloved by a press corps that seemed to have made up its mind on how it would depict him no matter what he did or how he did it. Along the way, Bonds put up perhaps the most mind-boggling numbers of any ballplayer. Ever. (His WAR ranks slightly below Babe Ruth's.)

Here's the catch. A lot of the other players suffering from the arbitrary denigrations of the BBWAA weren't Hall of Fame-caliber to begin with. McGwire was a bad first baseman with decent pop without 'roids.  Palmeiro could hit for average and would've been a nice corner outfielder, somewhere along the lines of Kevin McReynolds without the juice. So on and so forth. But Bonds was, to use an overused, but applicable term, transcendent.

There is no question Barry Bonds abused steroids. There is also no question he is one of the greatest ballplayers ever to step on a diamond. There’s a certain poetic sadness to the fact that Bonds– already one of the greatest ever– chose to participate in doping when it was so unneeded to achieve greatness in his abilities. As baseball had no rules against steroids at the time, and Bonds found himself and his innate ability being eclipsed by other lesser players, it comes as no surprise that he used the same tools at everyone’s disposal and in turn, became even greater in terms of statistical prowess. This is not to excuse or condone Bonds’ supposed use, but it does highlight that he was willing to do whatever was demanded of himself and his body to excel at the game he was born to excel at. If Brady Anderson and Luis Gonzalez are all of a sudden hitting 60 homers and however unwisely you (being Bonds) choose to even the playing field, then of course, your numbers will be stratospheric.

This gets into some serious ethical territory, which admittedly I don't have the capacity to answer in a cogent way. But baseball ain't Kant. (For more, see Mark J. Hamilton's essay, "There's No Crying in Baseball (Wink Wink).") 

On a final note, and in regards to the Hall of Fame voting process itself, it seems egregious that a place supposedly reserved as a sacred stomping ground for the best players ever does not include three of the absolute best players of all time – Bonds, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson.  The tenacity in which these players played the game speaks greater volumes than any supposed misconduct they engaged that surrounded the game.  For a game that is dissected and measured so minutely on statistical analysis, the rather subjective votes of the BBWAA and Veterans Committee, coupled with past commissioners' dictums on player conduct, seem to negate the very easy-to-measure accomplishments that should be the mark of enshrinement in the Hall. In turn, it dilutes the pool. If Bonds joins Rose and Jackson in being excluded from the Hall, Cooperstown might want to rethink its charter.

For now though, have fun in Scottsdale,  Barry.