On June 3, 1985, the Pittsburgh Pirates would make a selection that would change the history of baseball forever. With the sixth pick in the 1985 MLB Draft, Pittsburgh selected an outfielder named Barry Bonds from Arizona State University. Bonds would go on to play for 22 seasons with Pittsburgh and San Francisco and set numerous MLB records including home runs (762), walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688). Unfortunately, for Bonds and baseball, his illustrious career will forever hold an asterisk.
The slugger’s career was clouded with swirling rumors of steroid and other performance enhancing drug (PED) usage. Although nothing was officially set in stone, and Bonds was never suspended during his career, there were a number of ongoing investigations involving Bonds and other major league players’ use of PEDs.
In a 2020 article by Christian Reed entitled “Former Feds say Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens Steroid-Use Evidence Indisputable,” it is revealed Bonds was using PEDs from 2001-06. “The BALCO and MLB testing records reflected Bonds’ use of multiple doping substances, from 2001 through 2006, including injectable anabolic steroids, injectable human growth hormone, post cycle therapy drugs and amphetamines,” said Reed, a contributor for Forbes.
The use of performance enhancing substances has scared many Hall of Fame voters away from voting for Bonds. While cheating is an understandable reason for keeping someone out of the Hall, I believe that a closer look must be taken at Bonds’ career before steroids.
For this exercise, Bonds’ stats will be nullified for the last six years of his career, 2001-07. It would be as if the slugger retired after his age 35 season in 2000. Important stats and awards that will be taken away from Bonds include 778 hits, 150 doubles, 268 home runs, 591 RBIs, 43 stolen bases, 1,011 walks, 368 intentional walks, a 51.4 WAR (wins above replacement), four NL M.V.P. awards four NL All-Star appearances and four NL Silver Slugger awards. Bonds also loses his record breaking 73-homer season in 2001.
So, now that the stats from 2001-07 are gone, Bonds still puts together an extremely impressive Hall of Fame resume (all the following stats from this point on will be from 1986-2000 unless said otherwise).
His 2,157 total hits rank him 155th between Larry Walker and Yogi Berra. Hits and walks are the only two major categories Bonds ranks below the average hitting member of the Hall of Fame. Bonds’ 451 doubles puts him in a tie with Jim Thome for 64th and ranks him higher than the HoF average of 401. His 1,405 RBIs slots him 18th between Robin Yount and Ted Simmons and comes in well above the HoF average of 1,196.
Bonds’ 471 stolen bases ranks 20th among the rest of the Hall and notches him between Roberto Alomar and Tommy McCarthy. The HoF average for stolen bases is 215. He is first in intentional walks by a landslide with 320, and remember this is before teams began intentionally walking him with the bases loaded.
For his trademark statistic, Bonds hit 494 pre-2001 home runs which ranks 18th among HoF players between Eddie Murray and Lou Gehrig. Finally, Bonds tallied a WAR of 111.3 from 1986-2000 which ranks 12th between Lou Gehrig and Rickey Henderson. The Hall of Fame average for WAR is 67.
The outfielder also tallied three NL M.V.P.’s, five other top-10 M.V.P. voting finishes, nine All-Star selections, eight Golden Glove awards and eight Silver Slugger awards in his first 15 seasons. If those numbers do not scream Hall of Famer, then I do not know what does.
People want to punish Bonds for his role in baseball’s steroid epidemic, but do not look at the raw numbers. Barry Bonds was clearly and easily a sure-in for the Hall of Fame before he even began to use PEDs. 2022 is his final year on the ballot and there is a good chance he is robbed for a tenth consecutive year because voters are too stubborn to look at his entire career and only focus on the PED usage.
I encourage everyone, including the voters, to look at not only Bonds’ career before PEDs, but all players suspected of PED usage and then make an informed decision. Some players may not have good enough numbers pre-steroids to make baseball’s most exclusive club, but others, like Bonds, just might.