In defense of Barry Bonds

Dear Reader,

Before you dive into the article below, I want to reiterate that Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, is by no means a perfect statistic, the only statistic, or the be-all-end-all statistic. It is merely a shorthand for a lot of important comments and observations about the on-the-field attributes of a player. I merely use it to illustrate a point, not to claim the point is definitive. WAR, and its derivative statistics, as utilized in this article, is calculated using Fangraph’s version of the metric.

Yesterday, something moderately historic-ish happened. No one was voted into National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum by the BBWA. This is the first time this has happened since 1996. It is also only the eighth time since the establishment of the Hall Of Fame in 1936 that this has happened (although two players were elected by the Veterans Committee that year).

In 1996, the top 10 vote-getters were (asterisks denote that the player was eventually inducted into The Hall, not that they used steroids):

Name Postion(s) Career WAR # Seasons Career WAR Vote Population
Phil Niekro* SP 84.6 24 3.5 68.3%
Tony Pérez* 1B/3B 67.8 23 2.9 65.7%
Don Sutton* SP 89.8 23 3.9 63.8%
Steve Garvey 1B 42.5 19 2.2 37.2%
Ron Santo* 3B 79.3 15 5.3 37.0%
Tony Oliva DH/OF 48.6 15 3.2 36.2%
Jim Rice* DH/OF 56.1 16 3.5 35.3%
Bruce Sutter* RP 22.3 12 1.9 29.1%
Tommy John SP 78.7 27 2.9 21.7%
Jim Kaat SP 71.2 25 2.8 19.4%

This ballot in 1996 was pretty shallow. The only other “notable” name (as a player) worthy of entering The Hall was Curt Flood, and he deserves recognition in the sport for entirely different reasons.

This year, only two players crossed the 60 percent vote threshold—first time eligible second basemen (slash catcher, slash outfield) Craig Biggio and Jack Morris. Neither really deserves entry, though Craig Biggio is borderline worthy in my book.

Despite this fact, however, I could easily pick out five Hall Of Fame caliber players in this year’s eligible mix, and 10 I would likely vote in. Even before considering the steroid issue, I would, without a doubt in my mind based on the evidence in front of me, vote for Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines (whose drug addiction in the 1980s and skin color may have more to do with his failure to receive enough votes than his on-the-field production), Edgar Martinez (Mr. DH), Alan Tammell and Larry Walker, whom I have previously defended. I am still on the fence with respect to Kenny Lofton (a world class lead off man) and Craig Biggio. That’s five to seven arguably deserving players before you even get to the steroid cloud that surrounds Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling (the world’s most opinionated pitcher (that was also pretty great)), Mike Piazza, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire (but not Sammy Sosa)… and Barry Bonds.

A lot can be said about Clemens, Schilling, Palmeiro and McGwire, but I want to focus on Barry Bonds. Bonds, along with Clemens, is one of the two scapegoats of the industry of a tainted era. Records were broken, amazing feats were accomplished, and asterisks with footnotes have been affixed.

But here is the thing I feel that a lot of people forget. Barry Bonds was great before he allegedly took steroids. By most accounts, this began sometime in the mid-1990s. Time Magazine posted an interesting article titled The Evolution of Barry Bonds a few years back that profiles his physical and baseball stats by season.

In the first 10 years of his career (1986-95), Bonds did something that very few players in the history of major league baseball have ever accomplished by WAR’s measure of value—he crossed the 10 wins plateau. He did this not only once, but twice in those 10 years of play. The way we measure the value a player contributes to his team in a single season with his glove is a fickle thing, so take this somewhat arbitrary threshold with a grain of salt, but, by way of perspective, both Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez have each only done this once in their careers. In fact, only two of the 26 players elected to The Hall since Mike Schmidt in 1995 has posted a single 10 WAR (or higher) season in their career—Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson. In 2010, no major league player even accumulated 9 WAR. Mike Trout, who unquestionably deserved the AL MVP, reached the 10 WAR plateau this past year at age 21, which is almost ineffably impressive, but the last player to post a 10+ WAR spot in a season prior to Trout this year was… Barry Bonds, in 2004.

Bonds was also a perennial all around player and 40/40 threat prior to his 40/40 1996 season. In his first 10 years of major league play, Bonds crossed the 30/30 mark three times, and missed it twice by just a single stolen base. Over the first 10 years of his career, Bonds batted .286/.398/.541 (.938 OPS), averaging 34 home runs, 39 stolen bases and 107 walks per 162 games played. By the close of the 1995 season, Bonds had accumulated 73.7 WAR. That’s more value than such great modern players as Kenny Lofton, Jim Edmonds or Larry Walker accrued in their entire careers.

Still not impressed? If you were to combine the single-season WAR values of the top 10 hitters in baseball last season, their collective WAR would total 76.7.

Without any doubt in my mind, Bonds was headed to The Hall before the specter of steroids and BALCO began to haunt his record. Had he retired before the 1996 season, he would have gone down as Kofauxian in how brightly he shined. But he did not retire before 1996; instead, he went on to accomplish something only a three other players have ever done—hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases. I should probably note here, however, that two of those three other players, Jose Canseco and Alex Rodriguez, admitted using steroids at some point in their careers.

What happened in and after 1996 in Bonds’ career is infamous, and hardly needs retelling. He shattered Mark McGwire’s home run record less than five years after it was set. He walked 232 times in 2004 with a .609 on base percentage (OBP) that was greater than all but five other baseball player’s slugging percentages (SLG). Bonds’ SLG between 2001 and 2004 was greater than the major league average OPS. Yada yada yada.

By the time Bonds hung up his glove after the 2007 season,demonized by the media, he accumulated 168 WAR. That averages out to more than 7.5 WAR per season. Only five players in all of baseball last season posted a single season WAR greater than what Bonds averaged over his entire career.

Only one other player produced more value, according to Fangraphs, in the history of baseball. And that man is Babe Ruth (177.9 career WAR). Bonds is exclusively part of a group of only five players in the history of baseball to accumulate 150 or more WAR over their career. The other three are Willie Mays (163.2 career WAR), Ty Cobb (163.2 career WAR) and Hank Aaron (150.4 career WAR). Ted Williams (139.8 career WAR) would also likely be in that mix but for being such a great American and fighting for his country during his peak physical years.

Assume for a moment, somewhat arbitrarily, that steroids double a player’s potential (note that I call it potential, because you cannot just take steroids, sit on the couch and each chips and instantly become great at sports). If we were to accordingly slash his career WAR in half, his 84 career WAR would still be greater than the career WAR of any single player on this year’s Hall Of Fame ballot. Such “half-slashing” of Bonds’ whole career would put his value on par with Jeff Bagwell in terms of career value added to his teams. Not a single one of the five baseball players inducted into the Hall Of Fame over the past three years has value equal to or greater than our mythical “Half Bonds.”

Still not convinced? There is a a statistic called Wins Above Excellence, or WAE. This statistic subtracts three wins off of any single season of a given player (if a season would then produce negative value, it is zeroed out) to measure how much better than “All Star caliber” a player was over the course of his career. This adjustment also removes value added by not being great, but from being healthy (which itself, quite honestly, is a valuable tool).

By WAE standards, Bonds produced 104.2 wins of value for his career in excess of All Star caliber production. Putting this figure into perspective, only 30 hitters (soon 31, with Albert Pujols on the horizon) in the history of baseball even accumulated 100 wins by WAR standards in their career. Cal Ripken (99.7 career WAR), Wade Boggs (91.9 career WAR) and Chipper Jones (90.3 career WAR) all fell short. Mike Schmidt (110.6) and Rickey Henderson (113.9) are the only modern era players to be elected to The Hall with even 100 wins by WAR standards over their entire careers. By WAE standards, Schmidt and Henderson only produced 64.4 and 56.0 wins-worth of career value above All Star production over the course of their careers, respectively. Barry Larkin (70.5 career WAR) and Ron Santo (79.3 career WAR), the two latest inductees to The Hall, likewise produced 25.7 and 42.7 career wins of value in excess of All Star caliber production, respectively.

What WAE roughly tells us is that Bonds’ level of “super star” production—that is, the amount of value he added in excess of being a mere All Star caliber player—was substantially higher than the career value provided by almost every player that ever played the game. And yet, despite all this data, Bonds’ career barely convinced one out of every three of the BBWA writers to vote for him. That’s just downright ridiculous. It might even be racist, considering that Clemens, equally vilified for steroids and substantially less valuable by WAR standards than Bonds (then again, almost all pitchers are inherently less valuable than their hitting counterparts), received more votes.

Bonds was not just really good. He was not even just great. He was downright amazing—steroids or not. He did things we’ll likely never see again. And many of his amazing accomplishments cannot be entirely explained by steroids. He was beyond great before steroids came into the conversation. And that is why I would vote for him.

Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.
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11 years ago

To the above comment, you think everybody in HOF are good, friendly, wholesome people? Give me a break. Your comment is an insult to the article and the work that went into. “Inflated” numbers? Did you even read the article? Hurr durr, roids, black guy who was mean. That’s your argument. It’s weak and you should be ashamed for posting it.

Bill Rubinstein
11 years ago

Agreed that Bonds should have been elected yesterday- but all of his greatest achievements came when he was 35 or older. That is absolutely without parallel in baseball history. If Bonds hit 73 home runs when he was 36 or so, why didn’t he hit 83 when he was 26-28 and at his peak?

Pete Davis
8 years ago

hey he got the 400 400 before the age of 36!! He was the only player in that club!! Now he is the only player in the 500/ 500 club!! The best MLB player ever!!!

11 years ago

It’s extremely offensive to accuse people of being racist on the basis of no evidence that race has played any role in their decision making or beliefs. It reduces a topic about which reasonable people can disagree to an unreasonable lot of name calling. Please don’t do this in the future.

11 years ago

To be clear, comment above from me is at Ram, not this article.

Mike Ziller
11 years ago

Do the people who post comments read the article? It clearly explains why even if you throw out his steroid tainted numbers he still is a HOF.

Also, where did Ram call anybody a racist? Also the vote was a bit racist. 8 people voted for Clemens but not Bonds, what exactly is their reasoning for that? Bonds didnt kiss their butt enough? Bonds had a problem with the media from the onset of his career because of the way they treated his father.

11 years ago


Dude where did I call him a racist? Never said those words.

11 years ago

I would hope that the difference between the voting for Clemens and Bonds was based on his relations with the media rather than the color of his skin, but since we don’t know for sure, it’s only fair to assume that all the voters were tainted by the era and dismiss any positive contributions they may or may not have had to journalism.

Jason S.
11 years ago

For what it’s worth, I’m sure that Bonds will eventually get in.  Whether it takes 5, 10 or 15 years – who knows?  But given human nature I expect opposition to him to drop every year, eventually getting him in.

I like Bill’s comment.  It reminds how when he played that nobody in the press was asking this and all I ever remember reading were the writers saying that nothing was fishy about him getting better over age 35.  He was simply the exception to the rule and how he’d never failed a drug test, unlike Sosa and others, blah blah blah. 

Mike – Clemens failed to be convicted in court of lying or using PEDs.  That is one difference between him and Bonds.  That might account for 8 votes.

Bill Rubinstein
11 years ago

If Bonds had shown a normal aging pattern, he would have started to run downhill around 1999, and then been only a good player for the rest of his career. Had this been the case he would probably have been elected yesterday. Instead, from 35 or so on he put up numbers without parallel in baseball history, even for Ruth. He didn’t do anything like this ten years earlier. No one in baseball history ever did anything like this- certainly not Mays or Aaron, or Mantle or Schmidt. The closest parallel is probably with Ted Williams, who hit .388 when he was 39- but he had hit .406 when he was 23, and might have hit .430 except for WWII. The evident implication is that Bonds used PEDs to do this. This is why he wasn’t elected. I would have voted for him, but a majority of the BBWAA didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt.

11 years ago

For the life of me, I don’t understand why so many fail to see nuance with Bonds (or the “cheaters”) but see it everywhere else in baseball (one of the reasons we all probably love the sport so much) or in life.  Bonds took designer stuff that most of us could never afford.  Believe him or not that he was told it was flaxseed oil.  He took this designer stuff in addition to so many things we know baseball players have going for them and many more things we’re unable to ever quantify.  Just a few:  smaller strike zones; different bats; year round strength training; better nutrition; fewer smoke or drink like fish; lasik; quick surgeries to repair themselves; TJ surgery is now commonplace. And on and on and on…

Bonds HR totals went up during years when most players are out of the league.  He’s an outlier folks.  Know who else is?  Hank Aaron.  Look at Aaron’s numbers as he got older (and played in Atlanta).  Did he take steroids?  Greenies for sure, even if he says he didn’t.

And Ryan, a “fungus”?  Why the animus toward the person you don’t know.  He wasn’t friendly to everyone all the time, or didn’t pretend to be.  So.  Then don’t “like” him.  But, if you’re a baseball fan, don’t pretend he (and others) didn’t exist and weren’t great.  They did and they were.  Bonds was pushed out of baseball when he could still hit and his strike zone management was otherworldly.  Don’t forget that folks.

Two questions—I’m interested in the arguments of others:  1) If Ruth and Maris could do what they did “back in the day,” why is it not possible that players in a more modern time might somehow surpass them?; and, 2) how many of baseball’s (or the writers’) heroes took what were subsequently deemed to be PEDs back in the 60s and 70s and we turn a blind eye to them.  (Anyone ever read the SI article from the 60s [70s?] wherein the likes of Bob Gibson and others discuss their pill use?)

I get it, people want to send a message about any number of things in life and baseball is someplace where we can vent and Bonds is an easy example of someone we can vent on.  Fine, I love the game and think I understand the anger.  That said, the best players were the best players and none took a “magic pill” to video game their numbers.  I’m just not for whitewashing a decade or so of baseball history.  I’d rather see the best players and even those suspected—unfairly imo—get in and the HOF use the time to explain to fans part of what we think went on and what some of the numerical consequences may have been.  Then again, baseball writers are the same dopes who think Goose Gossage merits inclusion and Tim Raines doesn’t.  So, maybe my opinions are the outliers.

11 years ago

“Neither really deserves entry, though Craig Biggio is borderline worthy in my book.”

Stopped reading after this.  Biggio is a HOF both on peak and longevity.  Stud.

11 years ago

Kent has ended this discussion. Damn man, don’t think anyone can put it better than that.

Steve, you are a moron.

11 years ago


You accused him of racism right at the part where you said that his argument included consideration of his race: “Hurr, durr, ‘roids, black guy who was mean.” Maybe you hadn’t intended that as an accusation that being black was part of his reasoning, but it sure sounded like it.

Marc Schneider
11 years ago

I agree with philosofool and would broaden that to include the statement in the article suggesting that Tim Raines was not voted in because of his race.  It has become much too easy for people to demonstrate their enlightenment by ascribing racism to an amorphous group of others, especially when they have no evidence as to the thinking of that group.  This is not to say, obviously, that racism has not been present in baseball or society in general, but that doesn’t mean that everything can be reduced to that and I think it’s unfair to tar voters with “racist” without any more evidence than their vote.

David Brown
11 years ago

Lets start with the reality of the matter, which is Bonds & Clemens (And probably Arod as well), will be like Sosa, McGwire and the rest, not get 75% of the vote to be elected to Cooperstown. These guys are tainted like Lance Armstrong and Ben Johnson. I would have no problem if MLB said their numbers are null and void (Like Armstrong, Johnson & Joe Paterno). Then there would be no debate a year from now about if they belong in the Hall of Fame or not? (I do not hear a lot of cries for Paterno supporters to get his wins back (And he did not use illegal players or anything else illegal to help him win)). My biggest problem is with Biggio, Bagwell, Raines & Piazza. I believe the writers failed to elect any of them, because they believe they most likely knew stuff was going on (Such as with Ken Caminiti, who played with Biggio & Bagwell). The key word is “believe.” There is no evidence of a situation like Paterno covering up for Sandusky. Until there is at least a Preponderence of the Evidence against these guys (Particularly Biggio & Raines who have no allegations against them), then all we have is writers is covering their you know what’s against the “Possibility” of a steroid user being inducted. Here is what someone from Cooperstown said (It is related to Paterno).
“But once that tribute is bestowed and a Hall of Famer made, can it be rescinded and undone?
“It would be unprecedented,” said Brad Horn, a spokesman for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
  Maybe the way to do it, is to actually let everyone know in advance we can and will remove people on the grounds their numbers are bogus. Maybe then, writer will feel better about electing deserving players like Biggio, while players already in (Who are clean), will feel better knowing they are not sharing space with cheaters.

11 years ago

As a lifelong Pirates fan, I’m glad to see someone pay attention to what Bonds did before the mid 1990s. He won two MVP awards as a Pirate and another the first year he joined the Giants. He put up back-to-back seasons of 200+ OPS+ (204 and 206). It’s absolutely true that he was a terrific player before the steroids debate began, and I think “halving” his career is an extremely generous nod to the possible power of steroids (I understand that number was chosen to make a good point). I would think 10 percent (if they do anything at all) to be more likely.

As for the possible racist aspect of the vote, there’s contradictory evidence and even that is largely circumstantial. I could note that (I’m supposing) the membership of the BBWAA is overwhelmingly white (and probably overwhelmingly male, too, FWIW) and Bonds was a very large very black man who was famously indifferent (at best) to the media. One could make the case, I suppose, that this is White Man’s Revenge, except then you would have to explain why the same organization voted him the MVP seven times, including four straight after 2000, including one year when he drew 100 percent of the vote. He wasn’t any LESS grumpy or LESS black during those four years, was he?

The four MVPs after 2000 also raise the issue of why members of the BBWAA (and granted, it’s not made up of exactly the same people as in 2004, but …) saw fit to turn a blind eye to PED use in 2001-2004 but now two-thirds use their suspicions to keep him out of the Hall. Seems contradictory at best and hypocritical at worst.

Unless it all just hinges on his perjury case.

11 years ago

Further to what Kent said above,  PED’s were invented and used long before Barry Bonds was even born.  It is widely known about “greenie ” use in the 60’s and 70’s.  We’d all be very naive to believe that is all they used. Look up Lyle Alzado, highly doubt he was the only pro athlete of his time doing roids.  Not saying Bonds does belong, just saying he was not the first “cheater”.

11 years ago

Joe Jackson was great too, and Bonds et. al have done more damage to the integrity of the game and its 100 years of history than Jackson or Pete Rose EVER did. Those who took PEDs, those who looked the other way, those who refused testing for years in favor of inflated paychecks don’t deserve anything more from the game. All the stats in the world don’t change what Bonds did- other than to render his earlier accomplishments moot, and I would rather every player from the steroid era snubbed than see one juicer in the hall.

Mike Erickson
11 years ago

Why there are so many apologists out there trying to defend Bonds and to get him in the HOF? The biggest word in the English language is IF.  IF Bonds didn’t do steroids he would have made the Hall of Fame. But he DID do steroids!!! IF OJ Simpson wasn’t a murderer he’d be beloved and wouldn’t be in prizon. IF Junior Seau hadn’t committed suicide he’d still be alive today – IF IF IF. You can’t toss it under the rug. Bonds and others like him contributed to scarring the sport forever – the biggest black mark on the sport since the Black Sox scandal. Bonds WAS amazing before ‘roids – no question about it – and it’s a DAMN SHAME he threw his career in the dumpster along with those steroid syringes. But he DID. Stop trying to forgive him for that.

11 years ago

You are better at stats than I am. But I am really quite disgusted that the saber community is spending more time/effort trying to defend a generic statistical judgement re Bonds/etc than it is trying to uncover the possible impact of PEDs abuse on those very statistics. Statistical analysis can be very powerful. When used merely to glorify/excuse cheating and engage in flawed hero worship, it becomes repugnant.

It is IMO no surprise that non-stats oriented baseball writers can just dismiss Bonds/Clemens/etc. Because the stats-oriented part of that community is positively poisonous when it comes to assessing them.

Jeffrey Gross
11 years ago

Thanks for all the feedback everyone! I will go through everyone’ comments later.

I think my friend Mathieu LaFontaine said it best:

“At the end of the day, it is a museum for baseball. To exclude parts of it’s history is simply being revisionist. The dialogue should occur when fathers take theirs sons, and daughters to visit it. I would equate it to being a American History museum but excluding slavery. Just because it was an ugly side of the game, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

I will go through the above comments

11 years ago

@Ryan Hall – Right.  Because the Hall of Fame doesn’t already have people in there who used drugs, doctored baseballs, cheated on (or beat) their wives, dodged alimony payments, were horrible fathers, or grade-A grumpy SOBs.  Can’t have that.

Marc Schneider
11 years ago

“Joe Jackson was great too, and Bonds et. al have done more damage to the integrity of the game and its 100 years of history than Jackson or Pete Rose EVER did.”

That’s one of the more ridiculous comments I have read.  Ignoring whether Jackson actually threw the Series or not, the central tenet of the game’s “integrity” is that the games are between two teams that are trying to win.  That’s why people pay to go see games.  If you have one team or a player that is not trying to win or, who in fact, is trying to lose, that is nothing but a fraud on the paying customers.  That’s far more damaging to the integrity of the game than players taking steroids IN ORDER TO PLAY BETTER.  It’s exactly the opposite; these guys were doing EVERYTHING in their power to win.  What Bonds and others did was designed to improve their performance; what the Black Sox did was designed to lessen their performance. I certainly don’t approve of steroid use-primarily because of the health risks involved-but I don’t see what harm it did to the game’s integrity-people were still trying to win; no one was throwing games. 

As for the “hero worship” referred to in another comment, I don’t see any such thing.  Most people acknowledge that Bonds was not a nice guy but the question is whether he was a great player, steroids or not and the fact is, he was.  No one is trying to “glorify” cheating but merely stating the obvious-Bonds was one of the best players of all time.

Personally, think the uproar over the records and statistics is absurd.  Records are always contextual.  Babe Ruth played in an era with no black players and no relief pitchers. He also benefitted from the lively ball, which guys like Home Run Baker did not have. Numbers have gone up and down throughout baseball history.  And if we are going to talk about cheating, maybe we should consider voiding the NY Giants’ 1951 NL pennant, which seems to have been accomplished at least in part through an elaborate sign-stealing scheme.  How about that for violating the “integrity of the game” when one team is stealing signs from its clubhouse?

Michael Bacon
11 years ago

In an article in the NY Times Sunday magazine,
Baseball Without Metaphor By David Grann,Published: September 01, 2002,( 2002/ 09/ 01/ magazine/ baseball-without-metaphor.html?pagewanted=all &src=pm)it is written that Barry Bonds said,’‘My grandmother wants me to get her some wheelchair that drives like a car. Why do I need to get her some wheelchair when she’s gonna die anyway?’‘
So much for the “character” part. Defend that, Jeffery!

11 years ago

>>At the end of the day, it is a museum for baseball. To exclude parts of it’s history is simply being revisionist. The dialogue should occur when fathers take theirs sons, and daughters to visit it.

I actually agree with this. And to that end, I hope that once A-Rod becomes HoF eligible (whenever), that the BWAA will vomit out all the HoF caliber PEDheads in one year. Bonds/Clemens/ARod/McGwire/Sosa/etc all deserve to be inducted together. They all deserve to share the same spotlight and the same headlines (whether that is—“Drug dealers converge on Cooperstown” or “Best Class Ever”) on induction day.

Until then, the last thing I want is for PEDheads and PEDs stories to vacuum up the news oxygen on other induction days merely because the PEDheads aren’t all eligible at once.

Jeffrey Gross
11 years ago

Michael Bacon,

Why not just read the very next sentence in that article instead of quoting things out of context?

The article is about bonds’ relationship with the media and one reporters attempt to get to explain/explore this relationship. Read the WHOLE article:

In contrast to Kent, there were unofficial rules, I was told by reporters, to get to Bonds. Don’t talk to him when he is getting dressed. Don’t talk to him just before or after batting practice. Don’t talk to him when he is sitting in his chair. Don’t talk to him when he is talking to the trainer or to his son.

One day I decided to break the rules. I approached Bonds as he was reclining in the chair next to his conditioning coach. His shirt was off, and I could see the muscles along his stomach. Circling one of his giant biceps was a chain-link tattoo. He normally fell silent when a reporter intruded, but now he became vocal, nodding and complaining about all his vacation houses, how he has so many he doesn’t know what to do, how he has a place in the mountains and a place in the Caribbean, how he has his own private ski slope and how in addition to keeping up his properties he also has to support everyone in his family.

For several minutes I stood there, listening. At one point, without a hint of remorse or self-consciousness, he said in a loud voice: ‘‘My grandmother wants me to get her some wheelchair that drives like a car. Why do I need to get her some wheelchair when she’s gonna die anyway?’‘

The next morning, when I warily approached him again, Bonds looked at me for a long time. Then he began to smile and said: ‘‘Dude, I was just dawging you yesterday. I was just testing you, man. I wanted to see if you’d write that stuff in the paper.’’ My first thought, beyond realizing that Bonds mistakenly thought I was a reporter for a daily newspaper, was that he had suspected that he’d been too loud and too obnoxious, and now he was manipulating me. But as I considered this, Bonds went on to describe what appeared to be an elaborate and mysterious defense mechanism. The theory, as far as I could tell, was that it was always better to strike first, to manipulate his own image, even if that meant creating a caricature of himself, than to be misunderstood and misrepresented by somebody else. ‘‘No writer can ever know me,’’ he said, as if to finally explain.

When I asked him why he had devised such an elaborate ruse, especially since it only made him look worse, he seemed surprised. ‘‘When you come to the ballpark,’’ he said, ‘‘you’re walking into a place that is all deception and lies.’‘

‘The truth is,’’ Bobby Bonds tells me one day, ‘‘whatever you put down, whatever you say, that’s what the world is going to believe about Barry. Not his friends, not me, not his family—we know who Barry is—but the world. You can make my son into a hero or you can make him into the devil.’’

11 years ago

If only he had his dad’s personality, he’d been America’s hero and not heel.  Too bad.

11 years ago

I’ve said more or less what Mathieu LaFontaine said when I was commenting on another article here at THT, but not nearly as eloquently. Maybe you could persuade him to expand that into a separate article.

Dave Graziano
11 years ago

Bringing out Bonds’ pre-juicing credentials is besides the point. It all comes down to what you’re going to do with the cheaters.

This was MLB’s and MLBPA’s mess and they’re dumping it on the writers to square it with the fans, not fair. I understand the writers not wanting to do anything with the juicers and suspected users until a little more time passes and we understand more…I think that’s fair. nobody’s entitled to a 1st ballot pass unless they have an unblemished stud career, and PEDs is a clear blemish no matter what anyone thinks. We may get more leaks like with the 2003 tests, who knows? I suspect as time passes views will soften.

But the best way to get past this is for Bud and the MLBPA to come clean, air all the dirty laundry and provide some guidance on how voters should view this era. and whether it’s to put a hypo needle on their plaques, create a new wing or put up a permanent PED exhibit, I don’t care. MLB brass needs to get out in front of this thing rather than leave to the writers to make judgment (which is what it is at this point). Of course won’t happen but it’s the right thing.

11 years ago

I like the notion the HOF is a “museum of baseball.” To exclude Bonds/Clemens (and Rose) is to blindly ignore part of the game’s history.

Why not let everyone in on baseball merit but dedicate a section/display/whatever to the stain that is PEDs? It DID happen, the games DID occur, and these guys STILL were better than all the other guys juicing.

At least if there was an area that evenhandedly addressed the period, those caught, etcetera, and that display stood next to Bonds’ bust forevermore…then it would let visitors view the REAL history of baseball and come to their own conclusions.

Ryan Hall
11 years ago

Sorry, no. Barry Bonds was a clubhouse fungus who cheated with steroids and ran off kids who wanted his autograph with a bat (I’ve personally seen this happen more than once.) There’s more to being in the Hall of Fame than simply inflated numbers on the field.

11 years ago

Bonds should be in, not even close.

I’ve seen no claims yet that steroids helps a hitter see the ball better and to hit it hard. All they talk about is body bulk, and there are 250 pound behemoths that hit lollipops while a lanky 180 pound stick with good wrist action can become the career leader in homeruns (Aaron; of course, he got legal cheating as the Braves brought in their fences, coincidentally enough, right when he was getting close and they brought them back out when he left the team and set the new record; why there was no outrage about that as the reason Ruth was beat, I don’t know). Bonds was universally agreed to be a Hall of Famer before he reportedly started using. This non-vote is meant to be punitive.

That’s funny, I thought the Hall of Fame was suppose to celebratory, not an instrument of punishment.

What makes it even more sad is that the writers have had over 20 years to get down to business and actually DO THEIR JOB as journalists. Eric Walker, of A’s and Sinister Firstbaseman fame, keeps up a website to sell his baseball analytics service and, first, he discovered that the offensive era looks like it was caused by a juiced ball (, and second, because people claimed he was wrong and started claiming steroids did certain things, he researched the heck out of it and concluded that steroids did very little to benefit baseball players ( and gave further evidence that the ball was juiced during that period.

He did the investigative journalism that was necessary to show that steroids didn’t do much of anything, instead of copying the “journalists” who just spread the same misconceptions that another “journalists” claimed was true. Read through his steroid’s website, look at all the associated subsites that cite even more things in detail ( ).

Makes a very strong case that the general public, including reporters, got it all wrong, yes, they might have cheated (definition slippery, since the drugs were technically not against MLB rules), definitely took something illegal, but it apparently didn’t help players out that much in performing better.

In other words, whatever PEDs players might have used were not much better than a placebo. They cheated with today’s version of snake oil. They are no different from the Asians today who eat rhino horns, thinking that would give their bodies some sort of boost.  So basically, these writers want to punish these players for being stupid, as there was no benefits from PED usage (please read the link above, it is very eye opening).

Journalists could have done this type of investigative journalism work long ago, not some OCD baseball analyst, if they were really interested in the truth and not in a witch hunt.

Here is how I view this: the writers felt greatly embarrassed by the steroids era because they did nothing while it was going on, and thus many of them feel the need to punish the players who used or allegedly used PEDs. When, really, they should be embarrassed twice over now, first for not only missing the steroids rise, but really, overlooking it – it is not like it is a shock, McGwire was suspected of using long ago, yet no reporter ever thought of investigating him closely, particularly after the 1998 Creatine incident – and second for spreading false “truths” about steroids, and then taking their anger out on star players like Bonds and Clemens, and really, since nobody got in this year, all players, as there were players who appeared clean and who should get in, like Biggio. They should be ashamed.

11 years ago

We do like having ‘a’ person, or entity to blame, but it isn’t the media OR the commish that did these things.

Go look at the start of drastic salary increases. Know who the first two big contracts went to? Canseco and Clemens. If PEDs helped them recover, stay on the field, provide better return on investment…who here thinks the majority of owners weren’t all for it?

The OWNERS are the ones who cashed in collectively more than any other party involved. Perhaps they ‘bought’ Selig’s loyalty, but nothing new there when power is involved.

Tuna companies didn’t go dolphin-safe because they’re environmentally concerned. They did so after public outcry and profits were at risk. Same with the sudden turnaround from ‘baseball’ once the secret of steroids was out.

If owners could have kept it from becomming public knowledge I believe they would have. Player health, competitive balance be damned. Greed is their master.

11 years ago

is there anyone typing on this site, who understands baseball?
serious question.
bonds was one of the four greatest hitters in mlb.
why care about the how, or why?

PJ Thompson
11 years ago

Dave Graziano-  I completely agree with your assessment.  What you outlined is, however, in my opinion, all the more reason that steroid users should be allowed in the Hall of Fame.  Major League baseball showed gross neglect in regulating its players – this is not the writers’ fault.  However, it is also not the writers’ job to draw conclusions in the absence of evidence.  Their job is to induct the players whose exploits on the playing field made them the most significant baseball players in the history of the game.  It is on Major League Baseball to police the game.  They didn’t.  Consequently, many of the most significant players in baseball history that have come from the 90s were likely (note: in most cases, not proven, but likely) rampant steroids users.  MLB sacrificed the purity of its product, and in doing so, it sacrificed the purity of its Hall of Fame. 

I haven’t seen one comment which questions whether Biggio did steoids.  Why?  Because his body didn’t change?  Because he never tested positive?  Is it possible for us to be 100% sure?  Of course not.  To me, you can’t pick and choose the players to which you apply the “guilty until proven innocent” philosophy. 

To all those all too willing to crucify Bonds et. all and brandish them cheaters, to deem them unworthy of the “honor” that is to be included in the MLB hall of fame:  get up on your high horse all you want and claim that you can determine who is clean and who isn’t, who is worthy of inclusion and who isn’t.  You can argue that alleged steroids users disgraced the game, and that a “disgrace” shouldn’t be allowed in the HOF.  The real disgrace is Major League Baseball itself.  They didn’t make it a priority to keep steroids out of its league, yet writers with a HOF vote are on a crusade to keep steroid users out of the MLB Hall of Fame.  They’re protecting the purity of an entity that rejected cleanliness until it was a good public relations move to suddenly embrace it.  The MLB created the Barry Bonds of the late-2000s; and MLB should have to live with the consequences:  An renowned steroid user in its beloved Hall of Fame.

Dave Graziano
11 years ago

I cant’ argue with any of that, I just want to hear MLB make a pronouncement, this is what went on and why, if they want to give a pass on PEDs because they were too busy counting the money, that’s OK. I’m not trying to be a moralist, they’re the ones who make the rules for the game. They should probably say that PEDs shouldn’t be a barrier to the HOF but they should have a PED era exhibit so people can mindful of the skewed stats.

And I agree about Biggio, who knows? As for some of these guys like Piazza and Bagwell, besides the obvious signs people need to look at the types of injuries (Piazza—groin ripped away from bone) and the way they hit an injury wall (Bagwell, McGwire, now A-Rod?). there are a number of signs and believe me, people inside including writers know.

But you’re 100% right, it was greedy owners with Bud doing their bidding cheering on juiced players and showering them with fat contracts. I just don’t want to see any of those owners or Selig in the Hall…that would be a travesty.

Marc Schneider
11 years ago

The reality is that in a competitive game-and competitive society-people will do anything to succeed, up to and including ingesting drugs harmful to their health.  College students take ADD medication to stay up and study harder.

If there is any blame to attach, it’s for having a hyper-competitive society that encourages people to do whatever it takes-whether in business or sports or whatever-to succeed. I mean, you have CEO and people like Madoff that are willing to destroy the lives of millions of people to make a buck.  Compared to that, it’s hard for me to get outraged over guys using steroids-except to the extent that it incentivizes others to risk their health. Certainly not every player used steroids but enough did and it’s almost certain that a lot of players from previous generations would have done so if steroids had been available.  That’s just the nature of competition. If you want to stop hyper-competitive behavior, then you have to take away the incentives for it.  And I don’t think anyone wants to do that.

I suspect steroids had some effect on the hitting numbers but was far from the only factor.  And, as someone said, given how baseball manipulates the rules, the ball, and stadium fences to encourage or discourage offense (strike zone was increased significantly after Maris’ 61 homer season), it’s hard to see how you can treat records as sacrosanct.

Bonds and Clemens and the rest should be in. The Hall of Fame is as much a House of Regues as anything else-but these are great baseball players. They didn’t cheat any more than Gaylord Perry did in throwing his spitball or that the 1951 NY Giants did in stealing signs from the clubhouse.

Dave Graziano
11 years ago

I’m afraid we’re still turning a blind eye to the evidence that’s out there on a lot of these guys. Besides some of the obvious signs look at some of the injuries that are telltale signs…Piazza has a groin muscle rip away from the bone…user. Plantar fasciitis is a well-known ‘roid sign…McGwire had it. know who else? Schilling, that’s what the heroic bloody sock was all about…I fully believe blowhard, juice-baiter Schill was a juicer. Albert Pujols also had plantar fasciitis early on, same for him. If we’re really fair about these things and we care to know about who was using, really have to look at the signs…injuries are a real telltale, both the specific injuries and the endgame, the way the player just hits an injury wall beyond what an aging player usually hits. I think A-Rod has been juicing since high school and after 20 years of controlled juicing is hitting that wall now.

11 years ago

Dumb question – What MLB rules did Bonds, Clemons, Sosa, and all steroid users break exactly? Is it true that steroids were not officially banned by MLB until AFTER the BALCO scandal?

Look, I get it – they took PEDs. But if they’re not specifically banned, you would be stupid not to.

Finally, as much as I think he took them, Roger Clemens was acquitted of lying to Congress regarding his use of PEDs, Mitchell Report be damned.

Oh, and Bonds was a shoe-in before he started taking PEDs. It was asinine not to vote him in first-ballot.

11 years ago

Everyone seems to agree that Bonds used PEDs at some point. We keep hearing, though, that he was a Hall of Famer before he began using. He’s never admitted to using so we can’t know when it began. As such, it’s all noise. He could just as easily have started using in the late 80s, after seeing all the love heaped on Canseco for 40-40 as he could have begun in the mid 90s after seeing all of the love heaped on McGwire/Sosa for their power binge. Bonds was desperate to be loved by the fans (odd, since he spent so much time dissing them in person) and he seemed to have chased fame just behind the curve, in my mind.

I do believe that he surrounded himself with people who understood PEDs and their effects and I believe that he likely was able to combine skill, chemistry and physiology/kinesiology better than any player in history allowing him to accomplish things others who used could not.

Bottom line is that if we assume he used, we should forego the debate on when it started. We have no idea how much longer he was able to play because of that use, how much better his recovery/endurance was or what trajectory his career path might have taken. Look at his dad. Their first five full seasons in the league are pretty similar in terms of total fWAR. Nobody talks about Bobby as a Hall of Famer.

11 years ago

Not a dumb question at all Trevor. Even after the ban, there are specific penalties for violating the policy and those are meted out according to the stated rules (and then the people charged with upholding them are fired if mlb doesn’t like the interpretation). If the penalty were a lifetime ban from the sport and exclusion from the HoF, then that would be a reasonable expectation from those that used. Otherwise, it’s the voters acting of their own accord and imposing their own penalties for transgressions (proven or not) that already have explicit penalties within the framework of mlb.

To be complete, it should be noted that some substances that folks were using that weren’t specifically banned by mlb were illegal in the US at the time.

There was a time when I felt there was a degree of unfairness in the availability of the various substances, but if you look at who actually tested for PEDs, the minor league ranks are rife with suspensions and if a guy in single A ball in a small town can get PEDs, that inequity simply doesn’t exist. Now I imagine that the superstars can access higher quality substances, more effective routines, and better chances at evading getting caught, etc., but now we’re talking a matter of degree, not a binary.

Marc Schneider
11 years ago

“I’m afraid we’re still turning a blind eye to the evidence that’s out there on a lot of these guys.”

Just what evidence is there other than anecdotes and untrained observation?  All the injuries you mention have non-steroid causes as well. This is really no more than rumor and anecdote.

As for A-Rod, he is what 38?  Wouldn’t you expect him to be having injuries at this point in his career. 

To attribute everything that happens to steroid use without any real foundation is extremely unfair.  Look at Lyle Alzado, the football player, for example.  When he was dying of a brain tumor, he claimed that it was due to steroid.  But it is my understanding there is no scientific evidence that steroids cause brain cancer.

Dave Graziano
11 years ago

as we can see with the comments the attitudes and the approaches to this subject are all over the lot depending on your own point of view…and I suspect the writers come with similarly varied approaches.

what I’m telling you is that I’m using facts and my judgment, and aside from aging and injuries we’re seeing things we’d never seen before…as far as I’m concerned I believe a lot of these instances are steroid-related. I’m convinced enough that I believe these guys are users. that opinion isn’t any more valid than any other.

I offer them to open eyes for people who might not have considered or might not be aware. for the people who have no problem with PED use, then that’s their opinion, nothing is going to shake that. this is like a debate on politics…for those seeking info there is info, for those who are dug into positions where nobody’s changing anybody’s mind, that’s that and I respect that.

Paul G.
11 years ago

@PJ Thompson: Actually, someone did insinuate that Biggio was unclean in the comment threads of a different THT article.  Furthermore, some people (not necessarily that commenter) are very much of the opinion that everyone of the generation is guilty until proven innocent.  Personally I think Biggio is clean.

As to my opinion on the matter, I would not have voted for any of the known chemically-enhanced ballplayers on the first ballot.  Whether I would vote for them on a later ballot… maybe.  It is kinda like a judge giving a prison term and deciding whether the guilty deserve the possibility of parole at some point.  I will agree with Marc Schneider that this is not the Black Sox.  This is not attempted murder of baseball.  But it is serious. 

Is there hypocrisy flying around?  Absolutely.  But then again when the drug addict tells you not to use drugs, the hypocrite has a point.  Just because the sportswriters failed to do their jobs then says little about what they should do now.

Finally, and with all due respect, the injection of racism claims is ill-advised without actual evidence.  Such things are very serious indeed and should not be cheapened by the casual accusation.  This seems especially unfortunate with Raines.  Since he has been on the ballot the writers have elected 4 African-Americans (out of 7 total) including Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, both of which are, in my opinion, inferior to Rock.  Tim’s problem is he has an odd skill set and writers historically underestimate lead-off men.  As for Bonds, actually getting convicted of something might have cost him just a few votes….

Michael Bacon
11 years ago

      I did read the WHOLE article. As a matter of fact, I’ve read it several times. Has it occured to you that maybe Mr.Bonds may have discussed what he said about his grandmother with someone who told him how awful it sounded and that maybe he should “correct” it? Or that maybe he reflected upon how honesty may have sounded and hoped to correct it? My mother told me to “Listen to what a man says but watch what he does.” Did his grandmother ever get that needed wheelchair? You are so busy with your statistics that you cannot see the forest for the trees, sir.
I will say that since I have been a Braves fan since they moved to Atlanta in 1966, I am glad it was Barry Bonds in LF that day the one-legged Sid Bream rounded thirdbase, heading home for the winning run in the 7th game of the LCS! What an arm!

11 years ago

The Hall is an honour as well as a recognition of outstanding ability. Use of steroids systematically robbed some clean players of the chance to get to the majors, of substantial amounts of money, of opportunities to be everyday players or to win awards. Such cheats not only debased the game and harmed the league, they also effectively were thieves. It is appropriate to draw the “character, sportsmanship and integrity” line somewhere.

Yes, there have been other cheats who have been inducted into the Hall, but there are many problems with this argument: for one, its structure is the same as arguing that the playing standard should be set at Freddie Lindstrom, since he’s already in the Hall. Secondly, it relies on a facile moral equivalency which is pretty clearly wrong.

Now, it’s reasonable to think that the Hall should only consider the playing records of candidates. But it doesn’t and never has- it’s right there on the ballot.

Marc Schneider
11 years ago


I understand your point but the fact is what you are citing is nothing but rumor and innuendo.  Unless you have some credentials to pronounce that certain injuries are specifically steroid-related, you are doing nothing but spouting uninformed opinion. 

Michael Bacon,

I’m so tired of the “Barry Bonds is an asshole so don’t let him in the HOF.”  I’m certainly willing to grant he is an asshole. He is not a nice guy.  But look at others in the HOF.  That Ty Cobb was a great guy for sure.  Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and screwed everything in a skirt.  If you are going to keep people out of the Hall because they are jerks, there won’t be many people there.

11 years ago

Oh, stop it. Not to stray too far off topic, but that throw didn’t sail to the backstop or go 20 feet up the first base line. That Bonds didn’t hit Lavalliere square in the chest but instead threw three or four feet to his right, on the run and under pressure? Jeebus, you have high standards.

Bream was slow, but with two outs he’s running at the crack of the bat, no hesitation to see if the shortstop catches it or anything. And he just barely beat the throw anyway.

No, it wasn’t a TERRIFIC throw, but cheeze, over the years it’s been turned into the worst throw in history, and it just wasn’t.

11 years ago

it doesnt matter how good his number were….he cheated.  period.  end of story.

Dave Graziano
11 years ago

although I am acknowledging there are different viewpoints on such a topic, of course you’re welcome to insult my post as “uninformed opinion”, that’s the nature of such an online discussion. and of course too I say that’s your opinion, that’s where you’re coming from.