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Examining Barry Bonds’ Hall of Fame Chances

Bonds’ HOF chances may not look great, but the gap he has to make up is not insurmountable. In fact, most players in his position succeed. Photo by Kevin Rushforth.

The seven year, one-sided pissing contest between the Baseball Writers ? Association of America and Barry Bonds is still going strong.

Yesterday, the BBWAA announced another terrific Hall of Fame class. Mariano Rivera was a lock, but Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina probably would not have made the cut a decade or two ago. Their inclusions are well deserved and should be celebrated. This is one of the largest and best classes of all-time. But there are a couple glaring omissions: Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. Bonds received 59.1% of the vote — 16 points and 68 votes shy of induction.

As players, these three should have been inducted years ago, but some writers like to invoke the ?character clause. ? After all, we have to protect the Hall from bad apples like Ty Cobb and Kirby Puckett, and these three aren ?t boy scouts. Clemens was named in the Mitchell Report and had a decade long affair with a 15 year old girl. Schilling is an Islamophobic, pro-journalist lynching bigot who has spent his retirement hosting talk shows on Breitbart and conning the Rhode Island government out of tens of millions of dollars. Bonds used steroids, which clearly makes him the worst out of the three. That ?s why Schilling and Clemens received more votes than him. For their character.

I get Bonds ? Hall candidacy is a touchy subject. It doesn ?t matter that he was a Hall of Famer before the cream, the clear and the injections. The answer for many is, and forever will be, ?no. ? Jeff Passan has a story hot off the Internet presses on that.

Well, you can dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives. Bonds will be a Hall of Famer someday, either through the Veterans or Modern Game committee. In the 21st century, every player (besides the same trio who keep showing up in this post) who received 55% of the vote in any year is in the Hall of Fame. The only one who wasn ?t elected by the writers was 2018 Veterans Committee pick Jack Morris. It’s not a question of if for Bonds, but rather when, and by whom?

Pittsburgh has some skin in the game here, too. Unless the Pirates acquire a future Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career over the next couple seasons, Bonds is going to be the only Bucco alum who has a serious chance at Cooperstown until Andrew McCutchen. There is going to be about a decade of voting cycles where no ex-Pirates are given any real consideration. If you want a new Pirate in the Hall anytime soon, saddle up with Bonds.

If there is any good news for Bonds, it ?s most players usually get a boost in votes in their final years of eligibility. The best comp for Bonds ? year by year vote totals — besides Clemens and Schilling — is Martinez.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Click to enlarge.

The first three years are near carbon copies of each other. Bonds ? first vote surge came sooner than Martinez ?s, so he ?s as close to the Hall after year seven as Edgar was after year eight. The difference is Martinez ?s enshrinement was a late rally, picking up double-digit percentage points each of the last four years. Bonds ? chase has been a death march.

Let ?s widen the field. There have been nine players in the 21st century who have been elected in their seventh year of eligibility or later. Here is how their year by year vote totals compare to Bonds ?:

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Click to enlarge.

If players were still eligible for 15 years, Bonds would probably get in like Jim Rice. Unfortunately for him, he only has 10 years to work with. Dawson, Bagwell, Sutter and Gossage all made the jump from 50-something percent of the vote to the Hall of Fame within a three year span. Raines and Martinez overcame deeper deficits. There are obviously unprecedented circumstances surrounding Bonds, but the leap he has to make to get to 75% is precedented.

The next couple ballots are not going to be as stacked as this year ?s. Derek Jeter will flirt with being a unanimous pick next year, but he ?ll probably be the only newcomer to reach Cooperstown on his first try. Bobby Abreu will stick around on the ballot and might even get elected in year nine or ten, but besides them, it ?s pretty thin. 2021 ?s class is even worse, with Tim Hudson and Mark Buehrle being the only ones who should get any consideration. Bonds probably wasn’t squeezed off anyone ?s ballot, but perhaps some will decide they would rather vote for him than nobody.

Then things get interesting in 2022. That will be David Ortiz ?s first year on the ballot. That will also be Bonds and co. ?s final year of eligibility. Enshrining Papi in his first year and leaving Bonds out in his 10th would be beyond egregious. BBWAA, you have no one to blame but yourself for the mess in store if it comes to that.

There ?s a storm cloud is lingering over this HOF class, just like the previous six. The discussion is not just about the four who were elected, but also the three who weren’t. Keeping Bonds out isn ?t making the Hall better. If the BBWAA had a point to make, it has been made. Right now, they are losing a battle nobody can win.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

4 Comments on Examining Barry Bonds’ Hall of Fame Chances

  1. For a long time, I was a no on Barry. Mostly because I just can’t stand him. I didn’t like him when he was with the Pirates (even though I cheered hard for his team and was destroyed by the Sid Bream thing) and I don’t think any of his teammates or his manager did either, so I’m not alone.

    I also didn’t buy into the “character” thing because of Ty Cobb and others who weren’t the most upstanding human beings at times (although even Ty is complicated).

    But BOY did you open my eyes when you compare Barry to Clemens and Schilling. I mean, I already despise those two for the frauds they are but for some reason just seeing it all laid out in the same paragraph and with a healthy dose of sarcasm really resonated with me.

    Barry was obviously an amazing talent and I get why writers are hesitant to put him in, but he needs to be there. The only thing I’d say is Palmiero needs to go in too if you’re gonna put Barry in. His numbers don’t lie. And then what do you do with Sosa?

    Great article, Alex!

  2. I would disagree with the notion of Martinez–or, for that matter, anyone— being a good comparison for Bonds. First of all, the closest statistical comps to Bonds are the guys on the game’s Mount Rushmore: Aaron, Mays, Ruth. Second, and most importantly, Bonds and Clemens are unique in that they are embroiled in significant scandal without being permanently ineligible; there is simply no historical precedent for their candidacies.

    I’m not sure Bonds’ enshrinement is a done deal if he does not get in via the BBWAA route. The special committees are made up of people who have not exactly been of a forgive-and-forget mindset when it comes to PED users, especially when it comes to the Hall of Fame players on these committees.

    As far as the all-too-nebulous character clause…for myself, the question in terms of that clause is “Did the player take actions that damaged the game itself?” Look, Curt Schilling is a jackass of the highest order and a Grade A unsavory human being–but his post-career jackwadery has damaged Curt Schilling as opposed to the game of baseball. Bonds and Clemens…that’s a different story. Do their actions rise to the level of the Black Sox or Pete Rose? I would say no, as I see a huge difference between doing things to enhance your performance and gambling, which is predicated on negative performance. That said, I see that as a matter of degree. If I had a vote for The Hall, I would withhold mine for Bonds and Clemens.

  3. Bonds had domestic abuse allegations during his career.

  4. Phillip C-137 // January 29, 2019 at 3:24 AM //

    First off, I think we can agree that over the years the voting for the HOF has been tainted by agendas, grudges and inconsistencies.

    For example, John Schuerholz and Bud Selig being elected as Executives (2017) while George Steinbrenner waits is off the scale biased.

    Harold Baines is in and 2 time MVP Dale Murphy is out. 2 guys with very good careers, but per the “in the old days” creed neither Hall worthy. While IMO Murphy is more deserving, Baines had a former owner and former manager in the room voting for him. Can you say “Agenda”?

    Now regarding Bonds. I believe the “character clause” is just a convenient way to get around having to discuss the blatant cheating. Talented players sometimes have great seasons, but to have a season 25% better than the best ever 3 years after peaking at age 34 (Or was it 5 years after peaking at age 32?) just screams cheating, regardless of the number of deaf ears turned towards it.

    As one who roots for good to triumph over evil I hope Bonds never gets in and applaud those who refuse to reward his cheating.

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