It is invariably the first question asked when someone learns I am a Hall of Fame voter.
Do you vote for Barry Bonds?
The question is understandable. There has not been a more polarizing figure on the ballot since the Hall of Fame was established in 1936.
Bonds hit more home runs than anyone in Major League Baseball's history and sabermetricians will tell you he is the second-best player ever behind Babe Ruth. Bonds is also certainly of great interest to Pirates’ fans, as he spent the first seven seasons of his career in Pittsburgh and won the National League MVP award in 1990 and 1992.
Yet Bonds’ legacy is clouded by being linked to the BALCO scandal and the wide belief that he used performance enhancing drugs.
So, do I vote for Bonds?
I fully understand there is a morals clause in the instructions from the Hall of Fame that accompany the ballot each November as DK pointed out in his column yesterday. And I respect that clause.
However, I am not a moralist. That is above my lot in life. I’m just a baseball writer.
My vote is based upon research, what I saw of the player during his career and conversations with some of his contemporaries.
Bonds is the best player I have seen during my 31 years on the job. He hit 762 home runs and won seven MVPs. He finished his 22-year career with a .298 batting average, .444 on-base percentage and .607 slugging percentage. On top of that, he won eight Gold Gloves.
There is one other important thing to keep in mind, and it’s that Bonds never failed a drug test. There is anecdotal and circumstantial evidence, to be sure, but no hard proof.
Even if Bonds had failed a drug test, his name can’t just be expunged from history as if he never existed. He was one of the all-time greats, and that can’t be ignored.
Here is the rest of my ballot, which must be postmarked by Sunday night, though I put mine in the mail nearly a month ago:
Roger Clemens — The same thing I wrote about Bonds applies here. Clemens won 354 games, seven Cy Young Awards and an MVP. We can’t pretend it never happened.
Roy Halladay — It is easy to characterize this is a sympathy vote because the right-hander died in a plane crash on Nov. 7, 2017. However, it is not. While his career numbers might be a little short of some electors' standards, keep in mind Halladay won the Cy Young in both leagues. He also led his league in pitching WAR four times and was selected to eight All-Star Games.
Edgar Martinez — I am not against designated hitters getting into the Hall of Fame. After all, DHs are people, too, and they can make quite an impact on American League games. Martinez has been on and off my ballot during his 10 years of eligibility, getting bumped at times for better all-round players. However, he is the greatest DH of all-time and deserves a spot in Cooperstown.
Mike Mussina — I respect the advanced metrics and analytics that factor more than wins in determining the effectiveness of a pitcher. A case in point this year was the Mets' Jacob deGrom, who won the NL Cy Young with a 10-9 record. Yet wins still matter to every starting pitcher who takes the mound in a major league game. Mussina had 270 wins, including 20 in his final season in 2008 with the Yankees, as he walked away at the top of his game.
Manny Ramirez — Unlike Bonds and Clemens, Ramirez did get suspended for testing positive for a PED. Twice. However, he was also one of the greatest right-handed hitters ever. At the risk of being repetitive, you can't just eradicate him from baseball history.
Mariano Rivera — Like wins, saves still matter and he had a record 652 while helping the Yankees to five World Series titles in his 16 years. What seems to get lost about Rivera is that his postseason ERA was an amazing 0.70 in 141 innings. That is basically two full regular seasons for a closer. Unreal.
Curt Schilling — Like Halladay, Schilling's career numbers are a tad light, and he never won the Cy Young. However, baseball is more about great moments and stories than any other sport. The “bloody sock” game in the 2004 postseason certainly provided high drama while the Red Sox’s snapped their 86-year title drought, tipping the scales in Schilling's favor.
Omar Vizquel — He was Ozzie Smith without the backflips and hype — not that the Wizard didn't deserve it — winning 11 Gold Gloves. Vizquel wasn’t a great offensive player, as his 82 career OPS+ (18 percent below league average) attests, but he played 24 years and amassed 2,877 hits. I am sure a lot of people aren't on board with this choice, but he was a special defender.
Larry Walker — He was unquestionably the most underrated player of his generation. First, he was hidden in Montreal during the first six years of his career while playing for the Expos. Then his offensive feats with the Rockies over the next 10 seasons were discounted because he played his home games at the high altitude of Coors Field. He was still going strong, though, when he retired from the Cardinals in 2005 at age 38.
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