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What to do with Barry

I don’t say this very often, but I agree with George Will in his assessment of Barry Bonds.

It is still unclear if there will be judicially imposed punishment in this matter. But condign punishment for a man as proud as Bonds would be administered by the court of public opinion, and exclusion from the Hall of Fame.

In any case, Bonds’ records must remain part of baseball’s history. His hits happened. Erase them and there will be discrepancies in baseball’s bookkeeping about the records of the pitchers who gave them up. George Orwell said that in totalitarian societies, yesterday’s weather could be changed by decree. Baseball, indeed America, is not like that.

Besides, the people who care about the record book — serious fans — will know how to read it. That may be Bonds’ biggest worry.

Well, okay, I mostly agree. As Will noted earlier in the piece, Bonds was an easy Hall of Famer based on his career through 1999, before he started juicing. As far as I’m concerned, what he’s done since then should not negate what he did before than. He’d still get my vote for the Hall if I had one. To anyone who’d indignantly shout “But he cheated!”, I have to ask: Where was the outrage when spitballer Gaylord Perry was enshrined? Or when Whitey Ford published a confessional about his throwing cutballs and mudballs? Outrage is always selective.

You may also ask “What about Pete Rose?” The difference here is that Rose broke a rule that was already in place and whose consequences – banishment from the game – were known. Someday, someone may get banned from the game for using steroids, and when that happens, that player will be ineligble for the Hall. Until then, it’s not a sufficient criterion for barring the door.

This is not to say that an individual voter can’t, or shouldn’t, use the latest revelations about Bonds as a factor when making his own decision. Barring anything further on the topic, I would not agree with bypassing Bonds based on doping, but I expect a nontrivial number of voters will do just that, perhaps enough to keep him out. That’ll be a debate for another day.

Where I will definitely and vociferously draw a line is against the notion that Bonds’ numbers should be expunged from the record books. Denying what happened is not baseball’s way. Pete Rose is still the all-time hit king, and Barry Bonds is still the single-season standard bearer for home runs, walks, and slugging percentage. History can and will judge the context of those numbers, just as we judge accomplishments in the deadball are and in extreme hitting locations.

Link via Greg, who sees things similarly.

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8 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    To my knowledge, Bonds has never testede positive for a banned substance.

    So while suspicion is certainly warranted, whatever happened to the concept of “innocent until proven guilty?”

  2. Jeff G. says:

    By that reasoning, no one would ever be found guilty of murder unless someone witnessed the crime.

  3. Tim says:

    By that reasoning, no one would ever be found guilty of murder unless someone witnessed the crime.

    Huh?!?! The fact that plenty of murderers whose crimes weren’t witnessed are convicted tells you that you can be “proven guilty” without the crime being witnessed.

    These people writing the tell-all stuff are not under oath and it’s uncertain how truthful and reliable all of this is. Bonds has not tested positive for a banned substance. Based on this, I don’t think the case against him is conclusive. I strongly suspect him of juicing, yes, but *as of now* I don’t think the burden of proof has been satisfied.

    Now you can argue that the “burden of proof” on baseball is lower than the “burden of proof” in the criminal courts, and that’s fine, but argue that — but your statement above doesn’t seem to logically follow from my original statement.

  4. Bill says:

    Using your Bonds logic, didn’t Rose get all of his hits before he gambled on the game?

    As for it not being against the rules, steriod use was against the LAW. I’m puzzled by this whenever I hear it: It wasn’t against the rules . . . .

    DUDE WAS BREAKING THE LAW. Just because it isn’t enumerated in baseball’s rules, doesn’t mean it is not illegal.

  5. Again, the issue with Rose is that his actions got him banned from the game, and in doing so made him ineligible for the Hall. The timeline is not the problem here.

    As for whether or not Bonds was breaking the law, he hasn’t even been arrested for anything yet. I don’t mind baseball adopting a lower standard of proof in these matters than the courts, but shouldn’t he at least be charged with a crime before we say he broke the law? Is he even being investigated for criminal activity?

  6. Mathwiz says:

    DUDE WAS BREAKING THE LAW.

    Maybe. Probably, even. But as far as I know, he hasn’t been convicted in a court of law, and “innocent until proven guilty” is still the law of the land (Bush-designated “unlawful combatants” excepted, of course).

    And in any case, there’s still a difference between breaking “the law” and breaking the rules of baseball. If Bonds’ alleged crime were, say, tax evasion, would you still say he should be banned from the game?

    Personally, I do think it should be the other way around: steroid use should be against the rules of baseball, but not against the law. But that’s not the situation, and we shouldn’t argue for a punishment just because we think there “should” be a rule against it.

  7. ascap_scab says:

    If one dings Bonds out of the HoF, they will also have to ding all the others admitted, accused or rumored of doping.

    Jorge Piedra
    Alex Sanchez
    Mark McGwire
    Jose Canseco
    Rafael Palmeiro
    Sammy Sosa
    Jason Giambi
    Juan Gonzalez and
    Ivan Rodriguez

    among others. And how should we adjust the record books for all of the alcoholic players before steroids?? And what of the dope smokers of the 70s or the cocaine freaks of the 80s??

    To this point, I am unaware that Bonds has tested positive for anything. When he does, then think about dinging him, not before.

  8. Mark says:

    Is the idea of performance enhancers anything out of the ordinary for Major League Baseball? Hardly. Especially if it wasn’t illegal at the time. Do you realize that pitchers sneaked vasoline and threw spitters? That umps called balls and strikes for the catcher and rewarded the catchers with favored calls? That coaches and managers steal signals? That players hit many homers with rubber in their bats? That players like George Brett used pine tar to high on the bat? This idea of gaining an advantage is not only the norm in baseball, it is almost as traditional to baseball as hotdogs, peanuts and beer.