The ball Barry Bonds whacked into the centerfield bleachers for his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. One day, Bonds should be enshrined in the Hall as well, regardless of the outcome of his perjury trial that has begun in San Francisco.
Baseball waited far too long to introduce drug testing. It would be unfair to make Bonds—one of the greatest players ever—a scapegoat because Commissioner Bud Selig and other officials looked the other way while performance-enhancing drugs were rampant in baseball. The last two decades in baseball history are known as the steroid era. Bonds was part of that era, not its founder.
Bonds is charged with lying to a federal grand jury in 2007 when he testified that he did not knowingly use steroids or other illegal drugs. Some members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA), the group that votes on Hall of Fame candidates, believe a guilty verdict would be sufficient reason to keep Bonds out. Those members are wrong.
As a sleek, 185-pound leadoff man for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1986-1992, Bonds was a bona fide superstar. In 22 seasons, he was a 14-time all-star and a seven-time National League Most Valuable Player. Certainly, Bonds aroused suspicion when he became a 230-pound, home-run-hitting machine with the San Francisco Giants from his late 30s to early 40s. He hit a single-season record 73 home runs in 2001—at age 36. But countless other players, including pitchers against whom Bonds competed, also likely used illegal drugs.
If the San Francisco jury of eight women and four men, including two African-American women, find Bonds guilty of perjury, he still should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Put on his plaque that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career but claimed to have done it unknowingly. The public could then make up its mind about Bonds and his place in baseball history.
BWAA members might decide to vote against Bonds during his first year of eligibility to send a message against illegal drugs that may still taint the sport—for example, baseball doesn’t test for human growth hormones because that requires a blood test, and the players union has not agreed to that. But the statistics Bonds compiled are Hall of Fame worthy. The Hall would be diminished as an institution if Bonds is kept out.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Call the Yankees My Daddy: Reflections on Baseball, Race and Family.
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)