Barry Bonds Still Likely To Make Hall Of Fame Despite Conviction, Steroid Allegations

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MARCH 31: Former Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds waves to supporters as he leaves federal court at the end of the day on March 31, 2011 in San Francisco, California. Barry Bonds' perjury trial accusing him of lying to a grand jury about his use of performance enhancing drugs when he played for the San Francisco Giants wraps up its second week. The trial is expected to last two to four weeks. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Rob Neyer, a member of the BBWAA, believes Barry Bonds will likely be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.

Writing about Barry Bonds, Tyler Kepner (via the Times) acknowledges that what Barry Bonds did on the field are facts, and even Bud Selig agrees that there's nothing to be done about facts. Nevertheless, Kepner writes:

But while facts are facts, the Hall of Fame is subjective, and the guardians of Cooperstown are not keen on cheaters. That is why Bonds seems very unlikely ever to be enshrined.

The verdict in San Francisco does not help his cause, but it is peripheral to the Hall of Fame debate. Almost everybody believes Bonds used steroids, and well more than a quarter of voters believe steroid use disqualifies a player from induction. There may be flaws with such logic, but that is reality.

I usually defer to Tyler on these matters. He's been a BBWAA member a lot longer than I, and he knows the collective hive mind of the BBWAA a lot better than I.

In this case, though, I must disagree with his contention that Bonds is very unlikely to wind up in the Hall of Fame. In fact, along the four-point scale

very likely
likely
unlikely
very unlikely

I will argue that likely is the best choice when judging Bonds' Hall of Fame chances.

As Kepner notes, Bonds will first appear on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2012, and he's eligible to appear on that ballot 15 times. Think about that ... 15 times. Barry Bonds might appear on the BBWAA ballot in 2026. A lot's going to change between now and 2026. It's certainly true that a significant percentage of current Hall of Fame voters simply won't vote for any player tied to steroids. But a significant percentage of those voters won't still be voters in 2026. There will be a significant number of voters, by 2026, who came of age in the 1990s and simply can't understand why the players of the 1970s and '80s and '90s get a free pass for amphetamines -- the use of which was rampant -- while the next generation of players has to walk around wearing a scarlet S on their lapel.

So while it's obvious that today's voters will have little truck with Barry Bonds, it's not at all obvious that things won't change over the course of 15 seasons.

And there's something else.

This isn't just about Barry Bonds. It's also about Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, and Sammy Sosa, not to mention (peripherally, at least) Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Kent, Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, etc. With the exception of crotchety old baseball writers, will anyone be happy in 10 or 15 years with a Hall of Fame that doesn't include some (or most) of those superstars?

I won't predict that the Hall of Fame will change its voting rules to get those guys in, because the Hall is highly sensitive to media criticism, and the media will cry bloody murder if the BBWAA's influence is lessened. But the Hall of Fame is also sensitive to economic concerns, and if nobody's getting elected the Hall of Fame -- along with the Village of Cooperstown -- will take annual economic hits.

The emotions are still raw. As the years pass, the emotions will fade and the Steroid Era will be placed into some sort of context with the Dead Ball Era, the Jim Crow Era, the Amphetamine Era, and all the other Eras that have defined baseball players' performances over the last 150-odd years.

And once you place the Steroid Era into context, it becomes difficult to draw a distinction between the stars of that era and all the stars who came before.

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