Barry Bonds will not get elected to the Hall of Fame today.
Imagine what we would have thought about that sentence 10 years ago. What manner of secrets-to-the-Soviets, betting-on-the-Sausage-Race scandal would it have taken in our minds for Bonds not to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
This transcends the imagine-knowing-this-in-the-past canard, too. Because imagine what it will look like in a few decades, when future nerds will be researching this stuff and giggling about the weirdos of the '10s. I just found out that Joe DiMaggio didn't make the Hall until his third official ballot. For two years, he received fewer votes than Rabbit Maranville, a player who was Omar Vizquel in his 20s and Brandon Crawford in his 30s. Why? Because the writers back then were weirdos beyond our current understanding. I guess you had to be there. That's how it will be with this.
There is a Baseball Hall of Fame, and it will not include Barry Bonds.
You can take the analogies any direction you'd like. It would be like a Football Hall of Fame without Joe Montana, a Basketball Hall of Fame without Michael Jordan, or a Hockey Hall of Fame without the Bolshevik who invented the tie. It's more personal for me, though. I grew up with Will Clark. But I became a baseball obsessive with Barry Bonds. He was my frame of reference when I switched from "At the game, havin' a dog and a beer" to "Wait, every double-helix in my body is telling me to love this game, and I want to make a career out of it."
So Barry Bonds was baseball to me. That would make the analogy more like a Peanuts Hall of Fame without Charles M. Schulz.
If there's one thing I want from everyone wading into these discussions, though, it's to accept the shades of gray. There are nuances and ambiguities, things that should make you feel uncomfortable or challenge your own set of beliefs. I have a problem with the crowd -- especially from the actual voters who don't even cover the game anymore -- that blithely says, "No PEDs! No suspicion of PEDs! That's my position because of (set of infallible ethics I developed while I was on the can one day)."
But I also have the problem with the crowd that evaluates the article based on the conclusion, and then works backward from there. For example, I'll bet there were a substantial number of saber-friendly Bonds supporters who read Tom Verducci's headline of "Why I'll never vote for a known steroids user for the Hall of Fame" and thought, okay, let's see exactly how I'm going to hate this article.
That does a disservice to the debate, though. I have a problem with a lot of the logic Verducci uses, and I disagree with the conclusion. But the column acknowledges more of the nuance than most of the red-scare pieces out there. I don't think it takes away from the discussion, even if it's wrong.
I would vote for Barry Bonds. I would also vote to rename the Hall of Fame to something like Barryland, and there would be more roller coasters and out-of-work actors in foam Barry Bonds suits. But the voting for Bonds is what we're talking about here. I'd vote for him for a pair of reasons:
1. The Story of the Game
That's what I think the Hall of Fame is about. Obviously I didn't invent the thing, and my interpretation is only as valid as the next outsider's. But my ideal Hall of Fame is a museum that takes you through the history of the game. It's why I have no problem supporting a guy like Kirby Puckett, a fan-favorite who defined baseball for a city, but I struggle with the candidacy of Kenny Lofton, who was just one of the stars on a loaded roster before he was a baseball vagabond.
It's why I think Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson should be in, with a plaque that explains their history. When you watched baseball in the '60s and '70s, what was it about? Well, there are all sorts of answers you can give, but eventually you'll get to a guy running around like an idiot, racking up hits, and getting booed wherever he played. Should this character ever have any involvement with the sport again? Oh, hell no. Gambling isn't something with nuance. Do it, and you don't get to work in baseball anymore.
But to pretend Rose doesn't exist in a museum about baseball? Ludicrous. Insincerely idealistic and childishly punitive. He was a part of the story.
Keeping Bonds and Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire out of that museum is just as silly. Here's the story of the game, children, but only the savory parts. Well, except for the virulent racism from the early days, but that was grandfathered in. Let's not talk about the different eras and controversies of baseball because those players are sitting in a corner, forever and ever if we have our way.
2. The Obvious Point
The anti-PED crowd is missing something big. By branding the debate something that's black-and-white, in-or-out, they're essentially saying that the steroid users are a special kind of morally bankrupt -- a new genus of baseball player that we've never had to deal with. Everyone who came before followed a certain set of ethics, and everyone who came after violated that set of ethics. And what that does is it turns the museum into something different:
The Hall of Players Who Never Had the Chance to Take Steroids
The Hall of Players Who Were Lucky Enough to Avoid This Specific Era
Because if you think that half of the people in the Hall of Fame wouldn't have taken some sort of mystery cream or goop or syringe or drug to make themselves better, you're insane. We're dealing with human nature, not the nature of a select group of malcontents and genetically deficient derelicts in an anomalous decade. I don't know if Mel Ott or Jimmie Foxx would have taken steroids, or if Goose Goslin or Paul Waner would have. But one of them would have.
That's what competitive (or greedy, or insecure, or …) people do. And from the '80s on, it was available to players. The players of today would also take the cell-repairing nanobots that will be outlawed in 2092, just like the players from 1900 would have. They weren't available to either set of players, though.
Long rant short: Keeping steroid users out is an exercise in ignoring context. It makes the Hall of Fame a museum without context. That's like a movie without images, a smore without graham crackers, or a copy of Snow's Greatest Hits without "Informer." Or, for that matter, a DVD of Snow's greatest hits without Game 2 of the 2000 NLDS. What's the point? What is this whole thing for? Shouldn't you just stop and call it something else?
The only way to argue otherwise is to see the Hall of Fame as nothing but some sort of reward for the players. If that's the point of the Hall of Fame, maybe we need a separate museum that tells about baseball's history instead. I'd rather go to that one.