Friday, April 15, 2011

My Last Post (Hopefully) on Barry Bonds

Yesterday, I wrote about Barry Bonds' obstruction conviction (and the mistrial that was declared on the perjury charges).

In that post, I said Bonds should not be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but I conceded that he would remain eligible. Based on his performances on the field, I believe Bonds stopped talking steroids when baseball inaugurated its anti–steroid policy — and, consequently, was never in violation of the policy.

Even so, it still doesn't seem fair to me that Bonds' records — which were achieved through artificial assistance that is now expressly prohibited and upon which the case for his enshrinement in the Hall will rest — should be allowed to stand.

It seems (at the very least) inconsistent to me that the same sport that would not recognize Roger Maris' single–season home run record without an asterisk (to indicate that it was achieved in 162 games, not 154) will one day welcome Bonds into its Hall of Fame with open arms, well aware that he never would have done most of the things he did if not for steroids.

But that does not bother me as much as it once would have because, as I said, I am indifferent to Bonds now.

I also expressed my hope that I would not feel compelled to write about Barry Bonds again, but, nevertheless, today I read a column by Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, who defended Bonds' eventual (and, I presume, inevitable) enshrinement in the Hall.

In general, I have a lot of respect for Sports Illustrated. I'm a football fan, and I enjoy reading Peter King's writings on the subject for SI. And I have enjoyed reading the other writers on the staff over the years as well.

Beyond the writing, I appreciate the quality of SI's photography (no, I'm not talking about the swimsuit issue, although it is hard to ignore the quality of those photographs). It often captures the emotions that SI's writers — as gifted as they are — are unable to express adequately.

And Heyman is no wet–behind–the–ears sports writer, either. He covered the Yankees for Newsday. He was a baseball columnist for The Sporting News. He's been with Sports Illustrated since 2006.

I would not question Heyman's credentials or his knowledge. Thus, when he writes that he believes Bonds compiled enough Hall–worthy numbers before he began taking steroids (Heyman thinks Bonds started taking steroids in 2000; I think it was long before that) to make moot the point that "not all his numbers are legit," I accept that his conclusion is based on facts — and what Heyman believes to be facts.

"Unless a voter makes a moral judgment," Heyman writes, "the question voters need to ask ... is whether those drugs helped transform the player into a Hall of Famer."

In Bonds' case, Heyman doesn't think the drugs transformed him. He believes Bonds was already there. I disagree.

We disagree on some other points, too. For example, Heyman writes that Bonds is "one of the three greatest players I ever saw in his prime, along with Alex Rodriguez and Rickey Henderson."

I guess that surprised me more than anything else because Heyman is close to my age, and I can remember several ball players who I thought were better than any of those three.

Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were both far better home run hitters than Bonds or Rodriguez, and they had to bat against far better pitchers. So, too, did Mickey Mantle.

Lou Brock was a better base stealer than Rickey Henderson — who didn't have to steal against the cannon–armed catchers Brock did.

And I know Heyman is old enough to remember guys like Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Reggie Jackson, even Pete Rose (who is deservedly banned from baseball but also deserves to be mentioned in this conversation).

I could keep going, but I think the point is made.

As I said yesterday, though — and as I repeated today — I'm indifferent to Bonds now. I don't feel a need to quibble over when he started using steroids. I have my own opinion about that, and it is enough for me. I don't need to persuade others.

I agree when Heyman observes that the standards for enshrinement in the Hall are much lower than they are in a court of law, and that is as it should be. "Scoundrels and cheats are already in," he writes. "So are foul–tempered jerks. Bonds may be all three."

Granted. When the Hall of Fame balloting takes place, it is hardly the College of Cardinals choosing the next pope.

I would like to think, though, that when someone is chosen for a sports hall of fame, he is being chosen in part because he is the kind of person parents would like their children to emulate. He should be honored for his achievements, but it would be nice if he was not a scoundrel, a cheat, a foul–tempered jerk.

Unfortunately, though, if you make that a requirement, you'll have to eject some Hall of Famers like Ty Cobb, who weren't great people but they were great ball players.

So the Hall of Fame isn't ideal. Neither, for that matter, is the criminal justice system.

The difference is that the criminal justice system does keep trying to improve.

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