Examining Barry Bonds' slam-dunk Hall of Fame resume before he was linked to steroids

Tue, Jan 4, 2022
MLB News (AP)

Examining Barry Bonds' slam-dunk Hall of Fame resume before he was linked to steroids

Barry Bonds is unlikely to make the Baseball Hall of Fame when results are revealed later this month, which is, depending upon how one views the matter, either fortunate or unfortunate. I'm not sure there's a middle ground of indifference at all. And hell, maybe he'll make it. He has been increasing his vote percentage in recent years and it wouldn't be unheard of to see a player jump from 61.8 percent up to 75 and make it in his final try.

Regardless, it's probably good for everyone to move on from the annual arguments.

Consider this our parting shot of an examination. There really isn't need to dive any further into the final numbers. We all know just how absurd they are. The numbers say he's one of the five best players of all-time, if not simply the best. We don't need to deal with the PED connections again. You either think they should keep him out of the Hall of Fame or you don't (my feelings have long since been made clear).

Instead, let's meet at a crossroads. We sometimes hear stuff like "Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he started" doing ... whatever (I've already lost interest in it). And sure, it's incredibly obvious he was headed that way. But was it a complete Hall of Fame case already? Let's check that out.

A timeline that makes sense from several points of view would be to accept that which was laid out in the bookGame of Shadows. The story goes that during the 1998 home run chase between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, Bonds' competitive side -- likely knowing he was a far superior, all-around, "natural" player but that he was getting exponentially less fanfare -- took over. He then started "juicing" in 1999.

I'm not saying I necessarily know any of this to be true, nor, frankly, do I even care (Hall of Fame commissioner Bud Selig's league was looking the other way at the time, so I am still doing so regarding that time period).

Simply for the purposes of entertainment, we're imagining that Bonds was done playing after the 1998 season. Here's the case we have:

  • In 13 seasons, he hit .290/.411/.556. That's good for a 164 OPS+, which would be 14th all-time, ahead of players like Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Stan Musial, Frank Thomas, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson and we can probably stop now. Sure, most players have a decline phase that takes them backward in these rate stats and at age 33, Bonds hadn't done so, but it shows where he was.
  • In those 13 seasons, he led his league in runs once, home runs once, RBI once, walks five times, on-base percentage four times, slugging three times, OPS five times, OPS+ four times, total bases once and position-player WAR seven times. Oh, and he was feared. He led in intentional walks seven years.
  • He won three MVPs (1990, 1992, 1993) and finished second once. He had seven top-five finishes in MVP voting. The three MVPs would be tied for the most ever with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Musial and Foxx.
  • He also had, again, in 13 seasons, eight Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers. The eight Gold Gloves are a record for left fielders and he won them within these 13 seasons.

It kind of already feels like he's home, doesn't it? I guess we haven't gotten into the counting stats yet, so let's do that.

  • In these 13 seasons, Bonds posted a WAR of at least 8.0 eight times. The only position players in history to have eight or more of these were Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby and A-Rod. Bonds was over 9.0 four times in these 13 years. The only players in history hit nine or better at least four times are Ruth, Mays, Hornsby, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Gehrig, Mike Trout, A-Rod, Joe Morgan, Mantle, Musial, Eddie Collins and Honus Wagner.
  • Bonds had 1,917 hits, which might seem a shortfall, but consider the 1,357 walks and 50 hit by pitches. He was on base 3,324 times in those 13 years. That's more than Hall of Fame outfielders Larry Walker, Jim Rice, Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio(!) and a few others.
  • He had 411 homers and 445 steals. He was already the only player in baseball history to top both 400 homers and 400 steals. No one since has joined the 400-400 club. It's just Bonds. If we went down to 350-350, it's still just him. And here's a fun fact, if we go down to the only players with 330 homers and 330 steals in their careers, we get Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays.
  • Through these 13 seasons, he already had 1,364 runs and 1,216 RBI. Only 70 other players in MLB history reached 1,350 runs and 1,200 RBI in their entire careers and there are more than 120 Hall of Fame position players.
  • In these 13 years, Bonds amassed 99.9 WAR. Among left fielders all-time, only Ted Williams and Rickey Henderson had more (and, to reiterate, this is including the entire careers of everyone except Bonds and still-active players). Carl Yastrzemski is close (96.5) and then there's a huge gulf before fifth place (Pete Rose at 79.6, if we want to play him in LF). The average Hall of Fame left fielder sits at 65.2 WAR. Again, Bonds had 99.9 through 13 seasons.

This really isn't even close. Through 1998, the first 13 seasons of his career, Barry Bonds was already an obvious Hall of Famer.

Does this mean he shouldn't have changed his supplemental regimen and should have stayed the course? And since he didn't, should he be punished by being kept out of the Hall? Or does this mean he should get into the Hall of Fame regardless of what happened after?

Does this mean anything at all?

That's for you to decide. I wanted to look at the case through 1998 just out of curiosity and it's a slam dunk. What happened after is what is in the eye of the beholder.

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