In the wake of yesterday’s Barry Bonds press conference, Ken Rosenthal talks about Bonds’ Hall of Fame case. Rosenthal opposes Bonds’ induction. He says this about those who do not:
I hate when some in favor of Bonds’ and Clemens’ candidacies disdainfully describe voters like myself as “gatekeepers of morality.” Guilty as charged, I guess, but I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe in five years I will view my current stance as too harsh. Opinions evolve, perceptions soften over time.
Bonds is eligible to remain on the ballot for 13 more years—he received 36.2 and 34.7 percent of the vote in his first two years, well short of the 75 percent needed for induction. The crowded ballot probably isn’t helping him any, but if Bonds cannot get elected by 2027, I doubt many will complain that he did not receive a fair hearing.
A “fair hearing” entails more than just being subjected to a previously set-up process. It also entails being judged by the same standards as everyone else who went before the tribunal in the past and the presence of impartial arbiters. Barry Bonds may be getting the BBWAA-allotted 15 years on the ballot, but is he getting a “fair hearing?” Based on those criteria, I think not.
Bonds is being judged by historically arbitrary standards, in that there are several PED users in the Hall of Fame (and worse) and the “character clause” which is keeping him (and others) out has never been applied by the BBWAA as it is currently being applied against him. In a fair system, precedent and deterrence are important concepts. The accused either knows or should know that whatever act he takes can and will be punished in such a fashion and has a chance to tailor his behavior accordingly. Bonds took PEDs, of this I have no doubt, but he did so at a time when doing such things had never been sanctioned in this way before. That is, unless I’m missing the fierce debates about Mickey Mantle and all of the players who took amphetamines.
Moreover, in his case, the judge (BBWAA voters) also happen to be his prosecutors. The same can’t be said for Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, who aren’t being barred by writers. In those cases it was MLB leveling charges and disabilities to their candidacy. Here, MLB is perfectly fine with Bonds (and Clemens and McGwire) being in the fold, even in uniform. The ones who would disqualify him are the same ones who have built the case against him. The writers.
I’m never going to claim that Barry Bonds was some angel. Nor do I believe that Barry Bonds being in the Hall of Fame (or not) validates him in some way that truly matters. I know he was great. You do too. Even the people who would keep him out of the Hall of Fame, like Rosenthal, know he was.
But if you do want to bring up the topic of his treatment before the Hall of Fame tribunal, it’s hard to say how his hearing has truly been “fair.” He engaged in behavior that was entirely acceptable within baseball circles for decades and is told only later that, as it applies to him, it is a Hall of Fame disqualifier. And, even if he is getting a hearing, the prosecutor also happens to be the judge. Against that backdrop, as far as I’m concerned, the trial can last 25 years and it wouldn’t be fair.