All-time home run leader sees small uptick in third year of eligibility
By Barry M. Bloom
NEW YORK -- For Barry Bonds, this was his third year on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and although he was optimistic going in about his chances of eventually being elected, it didn't happen this year for the Class of 2015.
"I love Major League Baseball. I always have and I loved playing the game," said Bonds, the former Giants slugger. "I don't have any doubts that I'll get there in time. I'm bothered about it, but I don't sit here going, 'I'm not going to make it.' I don't see how it stays the way it's going. In my mind, in my head, I'm a lot more positive about it than I am negative. I think eventually they'll do the right thing."
Once again, eligible voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America didn't embrace Bonds' candidacy. The all-time leader with 762 career homers and 73 in a single season (2001) upticked slightly to 36.8 of the vote. He had 36.2 percent in 2013 and 34.7 in 2014 class balloting.
Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez were elected, the Hall announced Tuesday, the trio of pitchers all in their first year. Biggio, like Bonds, was in his third year. As in any election to the Hall, a player must garner at least 75 percent of the vote to be elected, this year 412 of the 549 ballots cast.
A change in the rules for the BBWAA ballot by the Hall's board of directors has reduced the period of eligibility from 15 years to 10 years, giving everyone a 33 percent smaller time period to be elected. A player must still be named on 5 percent of the ballots each year to remain eligible. Bonds now has seven more years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot rather than 12. After that, he can be elected by the Expansion Era Committee when it meets every three years.
Bonds, who faced allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during parts of a 22-year career with the Pirates and Giants, believes that someday he will get in.
"I deserve to be there," Bonds said. "[Roger] Clemens deserves to be there. The guys that are supposed to be there are supposed to be there. Period. I don't even know how to say it. We are Hall of Famers. Why are we having these conversations about it? Why are we talking about a baseball era that has come and gone? Era, era, era. Do the best players in the game deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Yes. Everything that everyone has accomplished in baseball is in that [record] book. Correct? So if that's correct, then we need to be in there. End of story."
Bonds never failed a Major League-administered PED test before his career ended in 2007. He was exonerated of perjury in a federal criminal case, and a guilty finding for obstruction of justice by the same jury is currently being reviewed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is expected to hand down a verdict sometime this year.
Like many of his contemporaries on the ballot, Bonds is fighting the perception that he may have used PEDs at some point in his career.
"I went through the judicial system, went through the court system," Bonds said. "You know what I mean? Is it me? What are we basing this on? There are a lot of perceptions in this world. Some people aren't getting punished for it, so why should others? You shouldn't be punished on perceptions."
Bonds knows he is considered one of the most polarizing players in baseball history, but he has spent the past year trying to rehabilitate his image. He was invited by the Giants and spent a week this past Spring Training as a special hitting coach. Houston outfielder Dexter Fowler is one of the players Bonds also coaches. Bonds is still hoping to sit down with Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer this winter to discuss a more formal role with the team.
"It's fair to say that I'd like to be part of it," Bonds said. "My family has been part of it. My godfather [Willie Mays] has been part of it. Yeah, I would like to be a part of that. What do I want to do? I don't know. I don't know what people are expecting me to do. I don't know what the team is expecting me to do. I don't know. I just think we need to have our first conversation first and then I can give you a more involved answer."
This past summer, Bonds sold his house in Los Angeles and now lives in San Francisco only miles from where he was raised by his ballplaying father, Bobby, and Mays and only blocks from AT&T Park. Bonds recently had extensive surgery to remove a bone spur and fragments from his left hip, and while he began his rehab, the Giants went on to win the World Series for the third time in five seasons. The Giants asked Bonds to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals at AT&T Park, which he accomplished with the help of crutches. He's since shed the crutches and says he's 100 percent healthy.
Bonds said he wishes he had done some things differently as an active player, but he can't turn back the clock.
"Life goes on," he said. "I wasn't the best example when it came to dealing with the media. I was never negative toward people unless something occurred for me to be. But I didn't handle it correctly. I think now that I've been gone and out of the game of baseball, I'd advise anybody: Play the best you can, do the best for your teammates, save your money, invest positively and live happily ever after. If you're concerned about where you stand in the game, play long enough and let them figure it out. You know what I mean? Just play as long as God is going to give you a chance to play and be happy. There could be a lot worse things."
On paper, Bonds would undoubtedly have been a first-ballot Hall of Fame contender simply on merit. Playing his first seven seasons for the Pirates and his last 15 for the Giants, Bonds holds the all-time records for homers in a career and a single season, as well as walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688). In the popular metrics of today, Bonds is third in overall Wins Above Replacement behind Babe Ruth and Cy Young, third in offensive WAR, sixth with a .444 on-base percentage, sixth with a .607 slugging percentage and fourth with a 1.051 OPS, which combines on-base and slugging percentages. He won the National League MVP seven times -- three times before 1998, the demarcation line for when many believe PEDs started to become an issue in the game.
Bonds is the only player in MLB history to amass more than 500 homers and 500 stolen bases, finishing with 514 steals. No one else is close -- not even Mays, who had 660 homers and 338 steals in 22 seasons. When his career ended in 2007, Bonds finished 65 hits short of 3,000, four RBIs shy of 2,000 and with 2,227 runs scored.
Hank Aaron, whom Bonds passed on Aug. 7, 2007, with his 756th homer to take the all-time lead, is the only player to amass more than 700 homers, 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs and 2,000 runs scored.
Bonds, now 50, said he's content with all those accomplishments at this juncture of his life.
"At this point, at this stage, at my age, at 50? I'm going to keep a smile on my face," he said. "I'm happy now. I was happy then, but I was just dumb the way I handled it. If [getting in the Hall] never happens, I know the player I was in the game of baseball. I know in my heart and my soul. I know how hard I played. I know how much I dedicated to myself. I know how much I trained. I know how much I gave to that game. I was very, very good at it. And I will never in my life allow anyone on the planet to take that away from me."