Barry Bonds said there's "not a doubt" in his mind that he's a Hall of Famer:
- If you want to keep me out, that's your business. My things are here in San Francisco. These are the people who love me. This is where I feel I belong. This is where I want to belong. If [the voters] want to put me in there, so be it, fine. If they don't, so be it, fine.
Bonds, who joins the ballot this winter, is right. Of course he should be a Hall of Famer. In "Game of Shadows," authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams describe how Bonds turned to performance-enhancing drugs following the 1998 seasons, in light of the big home run numbers posted by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
OK, let's wipe out the rest of Bonds' career; 1999 to 2007 didn't happen. Where was he through the 1998 season? Here are his season-by-season Wins Above Replacement totals from Baseball-Reference.com and his ranking each season among all NL position players:
1987: 5.5 (9th)
1988: 6.0 (7th)
1989: 7.8 (3rd)
1990: 9.5 (1st)
1991: 7.6 (1st)
1992: 8.9 (1st)
1993: 9.7 (1st)
1994: 6.0 (2nd)
1995: 7.3 (1st)
1996: 9.4 (1st)
1997: 8.0 (4th)
1998: 7.9 (1st)
Total: 96.9 WAR.
Bonds was the best player in baseball. He'd already won three NL MVP Awards and easily could have won one or two others. As Bill James wrote at the time about Bonds in "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract,": "Certainly the most unappreciated superstar of my lifetime. ... Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player."
Here's another way to look at what Bonds had accomplished through 1998. According to the Baseball-Reference all-time WAR leaderboard, only 19 position players (not including Bonds) have accumulated more than 96.9 career WAR. He had nine seasons of 7.0 WAR or better -- the only positions players with that many are Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby and Alex Rodriguez.
As far as his career totals, through '98 Bonds had 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves, 1,917 hits and 1,216 RBIs, not to mention the three MVP awards (no player except Bonds has won more than three) and a career batting line of .290/.411/.556. His OPS+ of 164 would rank 10th all time -- higher than Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Joe DiMaggio.
The bottom line here is clear: If Bonds had retired after the 1998, he was already a no-doubt Hall of Famer, one of the greatest all-around players in the game's history. Even given normal decline from that point, he was a good bet to easily top 600 home runs.
So he's not a Hall of Famer because ... well, I don't know why. The argument, if followed, that Bonds wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer without PEDs simply isn't true. It's not even close to being true. If the argument is that he cheated, and that thus expunges everything he did, then we're entering dangerous territory of playing the moral police. What about Gaylord Perry or Whitey Ford? What about the numerous Hall of Famers who ingested greenies? What about the likelihood that a player who used PEDs (other than amphetamines) is already in the Hall of Fame?
Look, these are pretty tired arguments by this point. We all know the issues. It seems most voters and fans have drawn their line in the sand, like we're digging into our bunkers, staring across the dunes at the enemy.
At its essence, the Hall of Fame is a museum that celebrates the game's greatest players. Barry Bonds is a Hall of Famer. Like him or not.