Barry Bonds Falls Short Again, But Inches Closer, in Hall of Fame Vote
Barry Bonds finished with 44 percent of the Hall of Fame vote, shy of the 75 percent needed to gain entry. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Baseball Writers' Association of America welcomed two new members into the Hall of Fame Wednesday, when it was announced that Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. were the latest inductees.
Of the 440 ballots cast, Griffey Jr. received 437 votes. At 99.3 percent of all ballots, Griffey, the sweet-swinging lefty known as "The Kid" (who is now 46 -- you're old), topped Tom Seaver's previous record of for highest percentage ever. Only three ballots did not include Griffey.
The big local news: Cal grad Jeff Kent received 73 votes (16.6 percent) in his third year of eligibility.
Just kidding. One of Kent’s former teammates was also eligible. You might have heard of him — all-time home run leader, seven-time MVP Barry Bonds. Eligible for the fourth time, Bonds received 195 votes, 44.3 percent of all ballots, falling short of the 75 percent (330 votes) needed for enshrinement. (See full results here.)
Those numbers are up about 7 percent from last year and about 10 percent from 2014. The last four years look like this:
2016: 195 votes, 44.3% of the vote
2015: 202, 36.8%
2014: 198, 34.7%
2013: 206, 36.2%
In 2014, the Hall of Fame capped the number of times a player can appear on the ballot without being selected at 10, as long as they receive more than 5 percent of the vote each year. So, Bonds does still have six years of eligibility remaining. After this year's vote, it appears he is trending in the right direction and might one day receive the necessary votes.
Why are voters more willing now to vote for Bonds, long suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs?
Call it attrition. Call it an erosion of sportswriters’ monopoly on morality. But you probably shouldn’t call it forgiveness.
Players are voted into the Hall of Fame by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Once writers have been active members of the BBWAA for 10 straight years (and have satisfied all other requirements), they are given a vote. This year, according to the BBWAA, there are approximately 650 voting-eligible members. 440 of those members cast ballots. Each voter can choose up to 10 players to include on their ballot. A player must be selected on 75 percent of all cast ballots to be inducted into Cooperstown (the location of the Baseball Hall of Fame).
Starting with this year’s vote, writers who have not actively covered the game for 10 years are no longer eligible to vote. The right to vote had previously been granted for life, even after a writer’s retirement.
This is one reason for Bonds’ gains this year: the great purge of old-school hardliners whose self-appointed duties were to wring their hands and uphold the integrity of the game.
Writer Steve Aschburner studied recent ballots and speculates that “fiddling with the selection process could open its doors to known or suspected cheaters, including two of the most polarizing figures in the game’s history: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.”
Clemens, who faced accusations of steroid use in the latter part of his career, received 199 votes, just four more than Bonds, or 45.2 percent of the ballots.
The pattern is likely to gain traction, too, as more honorary members lose their votes each year and additional newer writers qualify. Understandably, even media people want to see their particular generation of stars validated, those players they watched and covered. The Hall obviously has plenty of financial and institutional skin in the game. It needs baseball heroes on the stage for its annual induction ceremony, fresh plaques for its standing-room-only attendance all summer.
In the Hall’s instructions, voters are asked to consider “integrity, character and sportsmanship” in addition to a player’s performance. Voters interpret those instructions, and the overall meaning and importance of the Hall of Fame, very differently.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who has cast votes for Bonds and Clemens in every year they’ve been eligible, writes that if the Hall is “a place that's going to accurately reflect the history of baseball, how can it not include the man who made more home run trots than anyone who ever played and the pitcher who won more Cy Youngs (Clemens) than anyone who ever threw a pitch? That's the Hall of Fame I want to exist.”
Which brings us to the next reasons Bonds is gaining more votes: shifting popular sentiment and the simple passage of time.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick — who cast votes for both Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens this year for the first time — writes that he will remember this vote “as the year I dismounted from my high horse, acknowledged reality and took the plunge on baseball's home run king and a seven-time Cy Young Award winner.”
Last January, Crasnick conducted a “social media experiment” where he tweeted the question: "Should Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds be in the Hall of Fame?" He writes: “One hour, 1,200 responses and a barrage of ‘yes’ votes later, I felt like a guy piling sandbags against a tsunami in my efforts to rationalize my ‘no’ vote.”
“…it's delusional to think we, as baseball writers, can uphold some quaint notion of the Hall as a bastion of competitive purity while fans who trek to Cooperstown each summer just want to visit a museum and see the game's history on display with all its complicated messiness.
I'm ready to declare a moratorium on hand-wringing and cast my ballot, with all its flaws and inconsistencies.
… I'm out of the business of moralizing or parsing distinctions based on real or perceived transgressions. In the case of Bonds and Clemens, I keep going back to the words of ESPN columnist Ian O'Connor, who explained his conflicted Hall of Fame thought process in a 2012 column. "I'm willing to vote for the bad guys," he wrote. "But only if they're really, really good."
Crasnick explains that the state of baseball in 2016 is simply different than it was even last year. Bonds was recently hired as the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins, Mark McGwire, another notable suspected doper, is the bench coach for the San Diego Padres, and Alex Rodriguez, yet another player with PED suspicions, “was the feel-good story of 2015.” (Note: in his last year of eligibility, McGwire, former Oakland A's first baseman, received 12.3 percent of the vote, well shy of 75 percent threshold.)
“For all my dilatory tactics, the passage of time has proved clarity is a mirage, and we just alternate between lighter and darker shades of gray,” Crasnick says. “Shoulder shrugs are the new clarity."
"The mere presence of a plaque in Cooperstown, with or without an asterisk or a designated "steroid wing," can't change the public perception. Dodgers fans are free to regard Bonds as a cheater and a villain, and Giants fans are free to love him for eternity. As Jerry Seinfeld so famously observed, 'You're actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it.'"
Another popular argument being put forth this year, as more writers checked the box next to Bonds’ name for the first time, is that we will never know all the facts about alleged PED use.
“The core problem in judging players from the so-called Steroid Era is that we don't know who did what and to what extent, the effect that the substances had on players, whether some benefited more than others from the drugs.
In reversing my position with Bonds and Clemens, I'm simply acknowledging that I no longer am comfortable performing the mental gymnastics necessary to submit a ballot without their names…
I no longer could justify snubbing two of the greatest players of this era.
For another year, the majority of BBWAA voters disagree with Rosenthal's sentiment and Barry Bonds has once again been snubbed. Consider it a win for mental gymnastics.