I can remember the night of my thirteenth birthday like it was just yesterday. Laying in an upstairs bedroom at my father’s old house in Shelby, Michigan, I watched San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the single-season home run record on an old, black box television.
Most of my birthdays were always celebrated with gifts, cards, candles, and cake. I was very fortunate to be born with a set of parents that went out of their way to make me feel “special” on my special day. However, that year things were different.
Bonds crushed a 1-0 fastball from pitcher Chan Ho Park out of the park for his 71st home run of the season in the bottom of the first inning. Fireworks followed and exploded in the sky while the Giants celebrated their left-fielder passing the mark of 70 set in 1998 by Mark McGwire during a historic race with Chicago Cubs’ slugger “Slammin” Sammy Sosa.
Growing up as an avid baseball fan, it was an incredible gift to see Bonds accomplish the feat and is certainly a memory I will never forget. To me, hitting that record-breaking home run on my birthday solidified Bonds as the greatest hitter I’d ever witnessed with my own two eyes.
Bonds is again drawing headlines after a recent interview with The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly. During the session, the 55-year-old home run king makes an analogy that he has two years remaining on a “life sentence”. He is referring to his time remaining on the Hall of Fame ballot for induction into Cooperstown, where the legends of baseball go and become immortal in the eyes of fans.
The requirement for induction maintains that a player needs to accumulate seventy-five percent of the vote by members of the BBWA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America). Bonds further suggested that if he was omitted by the writers over the next two years, his exclusion from Major League Baseball’s exclusive club would be the equivalent of the “death penalty”
According to The Athletic, Bonds refers to a substitute playing field and says, “It’s outside those lines that I would have done some things different.”
After spending the past twelve-and-a-half years reflecting on a storied career, while at times battling the United States government and living in exile from a game he was born into, it’s safe to assume the seven-time National League MVP is living with regret.
Bonds is arguably the greatest hitter that has ever lived. He wasn’t well-liked by teammates. Ironically, it’s the members of the media he detested that hold the power of judge and jury in his Hall of Fame case, and they refuse to induct him because he admittingly used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in the twilight of his career.
It’s my belief that Bonds’ should be inducted into the Cooperstown. He is a product of an era where almost everyone was using PED’s. Owners and major league baseball knew this was going on and decided to do nothing. It transgressed into an epidemic.
While baseball was “blowing up” and home run totals were inflating, the league and teams were rebounding financially from the strike-shortened 1994 season that had left many fans with a sour taste in their mouths.
Everyone including MLB commissioner Bud Selig knew about it, and still nobody did anything to stop it. As far as everyone was concerned, the drug problem in baseball was widely-acceptable. It continued to exist until United States president George W. Bush decided the government needed to intervene and condemn the use of PEDs, which were often obtained illegally from outside of the country.
It’s frustrating to come to grips with the fact Bonds decided to cheat. After all, he had the talent and pedigree to be immortal. He was practically raised in the big league clubhouse. His father Bobby and godfather Willie Mays played together for seven years in San Francisco, before Barry became a top prospect while playing college baseball for Arizona State University. In the end, it’s apparent that Bonds’ decision has left him in a state of unfulfillment. In all actuality, he only ended up cheating himself and tarnishing his legacy.
“My heart, it’s broken,” says Bonds according to The Athletic.
Bonds’ legacy as a future Hall-of-Famer was cemented long before he ever started using steroids. He broke into pro ball in 1986 as a do-it-all, five-tool rookie for the Pittsburgh Pirates. By 1990, attendance was increasing for the small-market club and Bonds’ star power was trending upwards.
That same year, he experienced his first major breakthrough. Bonds became a bona fide star while hitting .301 with 33 home runs and 114 RBIs en route to his first MVP award. He was also third in the league with 52 stolen bases, and became a first-time member of the 30-30 club (homers and steals). As a result, the Pirates won their division and received their first postseason berth since appearing in the 1979 World Series.
Despite the team’s success, Pirates GM Ted Simmons was already thinking about life after Bonds before the ‘92 season. He agreed to deal the star slugger to Atlanta, which ultimately fell through when manager Jim Leyland put the kibosh on the move. In the end, the trade was rescinded and Barry eventually won his second MVP award that season.
Fast forward to 1993. Bonds left the Pirates to sign the richest contract in Major League Baseball’s history and join the San Francisco Giants ($43.75M/6 Yrs). Again, he won the NL MVP while leading the league with 46 home runs and 123 RBIs.
Perhaps, the ultimate testament to Bonds’ ability pre-steroid era was in 1994. During a strike-shortened season where he played only 112 games, the Giants’ slugger managed to smack 37 longballs and lead the league with 74 walks. Like controversial PED user Alex Rodriguez after him, Bonds possessed an abundance of talent that would have stood out to fans, teams, and media-members regardless.
After the strike ended, the milestones began falling quickly for Bonds. He began cementing his legacy in 1996 when he joined avid steroid user Jose Canseco as only the second player ever to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season. That same year he joined Mays, Andre Dawson, and his father as the fourth player to join the 300-300 club.
By ‘98, he passed the aforementioned stars up and ascended to unseen heights in the history of the game. Bonds became the first player ever to amass 400 home runs and 400 stolen bases in a career. To this day, he remains the only player to ever achieve the milestone.
Barry Bonds was “loose” before he ever got on the “juice”. He was surefire, living and breathing greatness. However, he wasn’t even the biggest star in baseball and would grow jealous of McGwire, Sosa, and other sluggers that were building legacies of their own by chasing the ghost of single-season home run king Roger Maris.
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Jealousy can lead individuals to do things that are out of character. It had been reported that Bonds was extremely jealous of the attention McGwire and Sosa were getting in 1998. Pair that with an injury-plagued 1999 season, and it becomes easy to understand why Bonds’ involvement with trainer Greg Anderson and BALCO began in 2000.
As an aging superstar on the mend, Bonds was determined to find a competitive edge, After all, he was at risk of losing his legacy as the greatest hitter of his generation, millions of dollars in endorsements, and his pride had taken a hit after being left off MLB’s All-Century Team in favor of Ken Griffey Jr. in 1999.
He knew he was the greatest, but felt the need to re-affirm it to everyone.
After playing only 102 games due to injuries the season before, Bonds beefed up and returned to set career highs in both home runs and slugging percentage. Thus, setting the stage for what would become a record-breaking 2001.
That season, Bonds had hit a major league-record 39 home runs by the time the All-Star break came around. It was obvious fans were witnessing greatness firsthand. Eventually, he would present the world with an incredible display of power and patience that ultimately stretched into the fall. When things were all said and done, he set single-season records for walks, slugging percentage, and home runs.
Bonds .515 on-base average was a feat that had been unseen since the days of Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams over forty years earlier. Bonds had ascended into uncharted territory.
Over the next few seasons, Bonds kept smashing hitting records and gobbling up MVP awards.
In my opinion, Barry Bonds was such a great hitter that he didn’t need to use PED’s. His ego-driven decision to join in and “cheat the game” really only resulted in the legend cheating himself. His legacy as a future Hall-of-Famer had already been cemented by 1998 given his statistical achievements.
“I know what I accomplished between those lines,” says Bonds according to The Athletic.
However, it was his pride that paved the way for his egotistical decision to out-gun the McGwire’s, Sosa’s, and Griffey’s of modern-baseball.
After pairing with Anderson and using designer-drugs like “the clear” and “the cream”, Bonds entrenched himself in the center of baseball’s biggest scandal since Pete Rose’s lifetime ban for gambling. The slugger became the media’s centerpiece in the U.S. Government’s crackdown on BALCO for producing undetectable performance-enhancing anabolic steroids.
Anderson was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with supplying PEDs to athletes, including a large number of baseball players.
All fingers began pointing to Bonds, who was summoned to testify in front of a grand jury on December 4, 2003. During his testimony, Bonds said that he used a clear substance and a cream that he received from Anderson, who told him they were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis.
Bonds admitted to unknowingly using PEDs. However, that didn’t come into question until an investigation by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters uncovered the truth about Bonds from a leaked grand-jury report. Both Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada made the decision to publish their findings in a book, Game of Shadows.
As a result, Bonds was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice in the BALCO investigation. His fight with the U.S. Government lasted until 2015, when the initial obstruction conviction was overturned.
It’s my belief that Bonds lied, and knowingly knew what he was putting into his body. A belief of ignorance on his part would suggest the slugger didn’t pay attention to detail. In all actuality, the seven-time NL MVP was the polar opposite. He was very meticulous in his approach to the plate.
The BBWA must take a long, hard look at all the facts when making a decision to rule on Bonds’ case for induction. In total, he received seven NL MVP awards, eight Gold Gloves, a record 12 Silver Slugger awards, and 14 All-Star selections.
Pair those achievements with the fact he holds MLB career records in home runs (762) and walks (2,558), as well as single-season tallies for each (73 HRs/232 BBs), it’s obvious that despite a PED enhanced final seven years, the polarizing Bonds was not your everyday, run-of-the-mill big-league juicer.
He possessed natural ability and an incredible baseball IQ that was amplified by his egotistical desire to compete on a level playing field, as well as the actual drugs themselves. His self-pride was both a motivating factor and weakness regarding his legacy among the legends of the game.
He was never well-liked by reporters or fans during his career, and eventually expressed regret for the persona in which he created and embodied.
The Athletic reports Bonds as saying, “I feel like a ghost. A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”
Surely, his struggle with regret and the uncertainty of his future in the game of baseball are a heavy-weights bearing down on his shoulders. It seems that Bonds wants clarity, whether it’s favorable or unfavorable.
“If they don’t want me, just say you don’t want me and be done with it.”