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Barry Bonds and the Hall of Fame

Let's get way ahead of the Barry Bonds story and start speculating about whether he'll be a first-ballot inductee of the Hall of Fame. In case you haven't followed the latest plot twists in the Bonds soap, the slugger, who has had two knee surgeries, this week said he's "done," that he may not play at all this year, that the sportswriters have finally brought him down. He sounds utterly defeated. He's got all kinds of off-field problems, including an alleged former girlfriend who is telling stories. Our ace baseball columnist Boz today suggests that Bonds will never play again.

Bonds has never been a sympathetic character, and your blogger is on record as a big Henry Aaron fan. But maybe (and we're just thinking out loud) a swift retirement by Bonds would help redeem his reputation. Someday the baseball writers will decide whether to vote Bonds into the Hall of Fame, and although his numbers are spectacular, even mind-boggling, his rumored steroid use will be grounds for many protest votes (or non-votes, to be precise). Everyone connected with baseball might be grateful if Bonds didn't continue his quest to surpass Ruth and Aaron on the all-time homer list.

One might even fantasize that Bonds, rather than lashing out at everyone else and blaming his problems on the media, would show some Jason Giambi-like contrition. Here are a couple of useful words: "I'm sorry." That's not really Bonds' style, but he surely could find some way to ratchet down the drama of did-he-or-didn't-he, and nudge our attention back to his achievements, and to the simple fact that he's the best player in the game by a huge margin.

[This Just In: My editor Sydney thinks I haven't really thought this blog item through and that if he used steroids he's a cheater and no way ought to be in the Hall. She is usually right about everything. Nonetheless, I post this anyway, because, hey, it's just the blog.]

No one has ever done what Barry Bonds did at the plate. Even in a league rife with steroids he has stood out as leaps and bounds better than everyone else. That's why he has to go into the Hall even if people think that he's a steroid cheater. We judge athletes against their competition. Even steroids don't let your average superstar win seven, count 'em, seven MVP awards. If steroids make such a big difference than how come Jose Canseco never reached 500 home runs for his career? Canseco never managed to hit 50 home runs in a season, much less the 73 that Bonds hit to set that all-time record. Bonds has inspired more fear in pitchers than Canseco, McGwire and Sosa combined. He became, in his late 30s, so dangerous at the plate that he deformed the basic principles of pitching. Last year he walked 232 times, which is absurd, and by far the all-time record, but what's stunning is that, of those, 120 were "intentional" walks, meaning the pitcher didn't even pretend to want to pitch to him. Pitchers basically gave up.

Even if we believe that Bonds took steroids and that by doing so betrayed the game, the fact of the matter is that Bonds has been at the center of the steroid controversy not because he abused them in any special way. It's because he's a lot better than everyone else.

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 24, 2005; 12:36 PM ET
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