Let's just get this out of the way. Statistically, Barry Bonds is a hall of fame player. Statistically, Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players to ever play.
Before Barry Bonds ever took a single PED, he could have retired and been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. These statements are as close to indisputable as baseball statistics get. The question of Barry Bonds and the hall of fame begins and ends with a line of demarcation that's up to each person, individually. Let's take a deeper look.
It is established and accepted that Barry Bonds' first season under the influence of performance enhancers started in the year 2000. Let's pause his career after the 1999 season and show his total statistics.
445 home runs
460 stolen bases
102.5 fWAR (103.7 bWAR)
8 All-Star Selections
Not everyone likes statistics or even some of the modern statistics like (WAR) so I'll give a little context. When it comes to WAR, (wins above replacement) the average WAR of hall of fame players starts around 50 and players nearer to 65 or 70 are nearly automatic entrances. This means Bonds (pre-steroids) had double the amount of WAR over other players who typically gain hall of fame consideration. This alone would make Bonds a first-ballot hall of fame inductee.
No player in MLB history has 400 home runs and 400 stolen bases. Before Bonds took any illicit substance, he was the sole member of this club. It is not beyond the stretch of the imagination that had Bonds not taken steroids, he would have entered the 500-500 club, as well.
The year before Bonds signed with the San Francisco Giants, 1992, the Giants went 72-90, ending the season in 4th place. In Bonds' first season with the Giants in 1993, the Giants finished 103-59. A 31-game turnaround from one season to the next. Bonds won an MVP, a Gold Glove, and made another all-star selection.
Steroid Era Bonds
Starting in the year 2000, at age 35, Bonds had the most jaw-dropping and impressive five-season run any player has ever had.
At the age most ballplayers would begin to decline, Bonds had the five best seasons of any player in MLB history. Over the next five seasons, Bonds amassed 258 home runs, four more MVP awards, and an average OPS of 1.317. Bonds also set the record for most walks in a season with 232, and the three best seasons for walks after that are also Bonds during that run. At any age, these are the most impressive seasons of any hitter in major league baseball.
Fans who watched Bonds during this period remember the feeling that if any pitcher gave Bonds a hittable pitch, he would punish it. He never missed a single mistake. The greatest hitters miss pitches sometimes. Bonds just didn't. This is the frustrating and most tragic aspect of Bonds' career. He was a generational talent who didn't need to take steroids. Perhaps Bonds resented the attention that the likes of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were receiving for breaking the single-season home run record. Nobody truly knows. What is certain is that Bonds was the best all-around player of his generation without any steroids to help.
Does He Belong?
When it comes to the hall of fame, subjectivity reigns supreme. The voters can (and frequently do) use whatever justifications they please for their votes. Players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro have been left out of the hall of fame despite numbers that could have gotten them in.
They are considered pariahs who are emblematic of the steroid era. Other players who were known to take PED's are Gary Sheffield and Manny Ramirez. They are likely not to make the cut due to the same reasoning. If there was truly an epidemic of PED users—rampant and league-wide, are we not to consider that the best players of that era were the best on a level playing field? If not, what is the line?
Players like Sosa unfortunately are probably fair examples. Sosa was at his best after taking PED's, despite being a powerful hitter even before them. Are we to exclude them for being cheaters? That answer isn't as binary as one might think. Gaylord Perry wrote a book about his cheating ways, and it is literally in the title. Yet his name graces the MLB hall of fame in Cooperstown. Major League Baseball excludes Pete Rose for his betting on games, although his off-the-field reputation certainly helps keep his name out of that consideration as well. Which leads to the character clause argument.
The character clause. You won't find that phrase written in any rule book or any template for a hall of fame player. Players who have controversial opinions or players who were accused (or found guilty) of unspeakable acts against fellow human beings are often kept out of the hall of fame. This is also dicey because there are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame whose off-the-field behavior was deplorable. Curt Schilling's controversies and his big mouth have guaranteed his exception from the Hall of Fame. Omar Vizquel may be inducted this year despite not having hall of fame numbers by any standard, and he has been accused of both domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Bonds fits a little of both of these categories. The steroids that Bonds lied about taking to a grand jury will forever tarnish his reputation. Bonds off the field allegations are far worse, however. Bonds' ex-wife testified in court that he 'beat her often' during their marriage. That alone is an inexcusable act by any standards when it comes to bestowing a player with an honor, especially a hall of fame induction. Bonds subsequently denied these allegations. In 2011, Bonds' character was again brought up when former girlfriend Kimberly Bell alleged a series of emotionally abusive acts.
The history hall of fame voters does not seem to value the character clause nearly as much as the steroids, however. At this point, if Bonds doesn't get inducted into the hall of fame, it is the steroids that will forever keep him on the outside looking in.
For me, Barry Bonds should be inducted into the Hall of Fame given current parameters and circumstances.
My opinion comes with a big qualifier though. We live in a society where domestic assault and violence against women are often ignored. We can't allow this to continue. If Bonds gets excluded from the Hall of Fame, this should be the reason. It shouldn't be due to steroids. If he's excluded, it should be because of his past allegations of domestic violence. There is no character clause for the MLB hall of fame, but perhaps there should be.