In wake of Barry Bonds missing out on the Hall of Fame for yet another season, I decided to put this piece together that I’ve been thinking about for a while.
Barry Bonds is arguably the most polarizing figure in the history of professional sports. His historic stats paired with his shameful steroid allegations make for heated arguments between baseball purists and analytical feens. With the exception of Brady/Belichick multiple cheating scandals and Pete Rose’s gambling problem, Bonds is the most notable disgrace to sports due to the magnitude of his records.
First let’s go over what Bonds HAS done, in case anyone forgot. The iconic numbers we are all familiar with are:
2,935 hits, 601 2B, 762 HR, 1996 RBI, 514 SB, 2558 BB, .298 BA, .444 OBP, .607 SLG, 1.051 OPS, and 688 intentional walks. If you want to really dive into all these stats and see where they all rank, head here:
Bonds played his final game in 2007 at the age of 42. That year he was an All-Star and also broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Milestones and accomplishments aside he was relatively productive that year, playing in 126 games while batting .276, hitting 28 home runs and bringing in 66 RBI. He also led the MLB in OBP at .480 as well in walks with 132.
He finished with crazy numbers, but if it wasn’t for a little backroom drama, he would have finished with even better ones. Bonds, and many others, believe there was heavy collusion after that 2007 season to not sign him to any team because he was such a toxic distraction anywhere he went. Not only was he a bad teammate (he needed four lockers to himself and didn’t talk to anyone), but his perjury and steroid investigation was becoming too much for any team to handle or be associated with. With his play slowly declining, his worth no longer outweighed the risk.
But, let’s say somebody had taken a chance on him, thrown him in a comfortable DH role in the American League, and he rode out 1 year contracts until he couldn’t do it anymore. We would probably have seen the first, and only, 800 home run career. He would continue to Gretzky his intentional walk record (second is Pujols and it is not even a little close). He is behind Aaron in RBI by 301, and while I’m not sure he would’ve caught up to that I think it would’ve been close.
My point is that like Tom Brady, there was really no end in sight for Bonds. He is already statistically one of the greatest player of all-time, but if baseball hadn’t turned a cold shoulder to him in 2007 then it would not even be a question.
Yet, he remains in the likes of players like Tony Womack, Eric Gagne, Jorge Posado, Fred McGriff, and the other 99% of professional players that never made it to the Hall of Fame. That’s the way it should be, in my opinion, for anyone who used steroids. You cheated, therefore your stats are simply not what they would be were you playing at everybody else’s level. It’s like when the 12 year old in Little League hit a growth spurt and was 6 ft 4 batting against little Timmy who didn’t reach puberty until sophomore year of high school. Like the 12 year old giant, Bonds and all the other players had an incredible STRENGTH advantage. Yes I get hitting a baseball is hard, but everybody else is playing the same exact game so don’t give me that argument.
I would like to raise the question of what if Barry Bonds never took steroids? Would he have been enshrined already in Cooperstown? Would he be locked into baseball immortality? I think yes.
I am basing that statement off this ESPN article which gives an in-depth timeline of Bonds’ steroid usage. In it, it suggests nothing started being fishy with him until 1998. Ironically, that is also the exact year you saw his stolen base numbers start to dip dramatically. People forget Bonds was a 40/40 player at one point, and even stole 52 bases one year. In 1997 he stole 37 bases, in 1998 he stole 28, and then in 1999 he stole 15. Every following year it went lower and lower. This drop off could certainly be attributed to old age, but I have a feeling that ESPN article and his decrease in speed is not a coincidence.
So, for the sake of argument, we are cutting Barry Bonds’ non-steroid career off after the 1997 season. That would put his statline after 12 seasons at the below:
374 HR, 1094 RBI, .288 BA, 417 SB, .406 OBP, and THREE MVP awards.
For reference, here are Hank Aaron’s numbers after 12 years:
398 HR, 1305 RBI, .319 BA, 149 SB, .375 OBP, and ONE MVP (He only won once)
Following the 1997 season, Bonds was 32. As stated above, he finished when he was 42. Let’s say the steroids not only let him hit the ball farther, but also gave him an extra year or two down the line in terms of career longevity. We will halt his steroid-less career at 40 then.
In order to predict his stats, I’ll take his annual career averages and add them onto 8 more seasons. Therefore:
HR: 31, RBI: 91, AVG: .288, OBP: .406, SB: I will not be counting because this is something that would decrease with age regardless of steroids, so I don’t think there’s a fair way for me to measure it.
Taking those averages and making 8 extra seasons out of those numbers, Bonds would finish with:
595 HR, 1822 RBI, .288 BA, .406 OBP and we’ll say one more MVP award, considering A-Rod was nasty and Griffey was dominating.
That would place Bonds in the TOP 10 in home runs. THE TOP 10! He would also be 21st on the RBI list, only 14 simple RBI behind Ken Griffey, Jr, who by the way received 99.32% of the Hall of Fame vote his first time around.
Bonds was a Hall of Fame caliber player his entire career, well before the steroids (again, presumably). He was headed to a first-ballot Hall of Fame ending, a member of Cooperstown forever. But, he got caught up with the wrong people, and probably got greedy.
Would he be considered the greatest home run hitter of all-time? No, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth would hold that honor still, the way it should be. Would our jaws be dropping at the sight of his 2001 stats? No, I doubt it. But would we be talking about how Barry Bonds, the man with the video game numbers, might be a forgotten member of the Mt. Rushmore of baseball? Nope.
Barry Bonds was going to be a Hall of Famer without steroids.
Bonds went big when he chose to do steroids. It was a time when nobody thought anything would happen. Everybody was doing it, so what’s one more. But a lot of other players did not have the incredible gifts Bonds was given, that he was already putting on display on a daily basis. Look at his numbers with Pittsburgh and you’ll see. So when Bonds decided to start juicing, it almost made him TOO good that it became suspicious. He was already miles ahead of the rest of the MLB, and this put him well out of reach. That’s why he hit 73 HR, knocked in 137 RBI, batted .328, and got on base over half the time. That is not supposed to happen.
That is also why I firmly believe Bonds should never touch the Hall of Fame. He had a talent level people can only dream about, but he tainted it. He got too hungry. He went too big. People could know his name now like they know somebody like Jim Thome or Albert Pujols. Respectable legends of the game. But instead they look at his name and they instantly think cheater.
I personally think what a shame it is that a Hall of Fame career was blown because his ego got in the way. Even though he is the “Home Run King”, he’ll be chasing Hank Aaron’s legacy for the rest of his life.