Hall of Fame comes under fire over Bonds exclusion
The all-time MLB home run leader being blacklisted by the BBWAA reveals a yawning chasm between baseball fans and the self-anointed king-makers
When Barry Bonds was in his heyday, he was already a controversial figure. A significant portion of baseball fandom felt that a sizeable chunk of his career home run stats were tainted by steroid use, even then. Had he finished his career just shy of Hank Aaron’s previous record of 755, there would still be grumbles and groans out of certain quarters, but it is likely that the BBWAA would have voted him into the HOF.
So what is the difference now? Once the record was broken, logic would dictate that, like him or not, he must go into Cooperstown. Even Hank Aaron thought so. Famously, Aaron didn’t really like Bonds, but still thought that he belonged in the Hall of Fame. Maybe we should all take a note from Hank’s playbook.
You see the Hall of Fame isn’t about being likeable. I mean, it is filled with terrible human beings. Ty Cobb was by most accounts a despicable individual. Rogers Hornsby was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Charles Comiskey was criminally corrupt, something akin to a mafia don. What the Hall is all about is baseball excellence. You can dislike a man, but to show the ultimate respect to what he did on the playing field, you set that personal dislike aside and vote him into his rightful place in Cooperstown.
Barry Bonds isn’t the first great to be kept out because of a perceived character flaw, nor will he be the last. Roger Clemens was as dominant on the mound as Bonds was at the bat. Pete Rose hit more base hits than anyone else in history. And with the emphasis in the modern game on power hitting, Bonds’ record is not as unlikely to be broken as Rose’s. The thing that all of these men have in common is that they are not very likeable. They rub people the wrong way. Long-time Rose teammate Johnny Bench is adamant that Rose deserves his ban for life and possibly forever. There is a clear personal dislike there. And this is perhaps the key to the issue.
In making the BBWAA all-powerful in this HOF selection, it is often reduced to a popularity contest. Should the fans have a say? What about limiting votes to former players? Maybe a tripartite ballot, between writers, fans and the players association? There must be a better way to eliminate the fickleness of fandom and still balance the bias of personal dislike to give us a more balanced view. But in a baseball world that is still ruled by a commissioner who wields almost unlimited power, that may be too much to ask.