Editor's note: For the first time since 1996, the BBWAA did not elect anybody into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
SAN FRANCISCO – Perhaps the most truthful thing Barry Bonds ever told reporters in his 22-year career came close to the end, in May of 2004, when he relented to a gang interview in the Shea Stadium dugout.
Bonds refused dozens of requests that season, as news of the BALCO investigation began bursting out by the gallon. But for Bonds, taking on the New York media was a challenge he couldn’t pass up. It was like stepping in against the reigning Cy Young Award winner or trying to shoot the biggest 12-pointer in the north woods. He would take on the best, the fiercest, the meanest – and then he would prevail. He would land blows until his opponent could no longer stand. So it would be with the media, too.
At one point, Bonds tilted back his head, laughed, and said, “Half the stuff I say, I don’t believe.”
That was Bonds – a series of almost bipolar contradictions – and his rambling, evasive, contradictory statements eventually got him slapped with an obstruction of justice conviction after he tried to prevail over a grand jury hearing, too.
As a reporter covering Bonds every day for the final, furious four seasons of his career, I learned to discount almost anything that came out of his mouth. But when Bonds gave a recent interview to MLB.com’s Barry Bloom, when he said, “I really do care” about the Hall of Fame, I believed he was telling the truth. If Bonds didn’t deeply care about external perceptions, about his legacy, about his place in baseball history, then he wouldn’t have begun a sophisticated doping regimen in 1999, as detailed in “Game of Shadows,” when he was already viewed as the best all-around player in the game.
Home runs were getting all the attention. And Bonds wanted the attention.
And so, five years after a retirement that he still perceives as a blackballing, Bonds appeared on Hall of Fame ballots for the first time. And when those tabulations were revealed on Wednesday, Bonds fell short of the 75 percent required for enshrinement. He received 36.2% of the votes.
Nobody should have been surprised. Although Bonds won an unprecedented seven MVP awards, retired with an all-time record 762 home runs and also the single-season mark with 73 in 2001, and is widely seen as one of the top five most talented players to ever put on a uniform, he also is viewed by many as the symbol of the greed, arrogance and subversion all dragged along by an era when steroid use warped the game and the record books.
Maybe some voters were being punitive with Bonds on the first ballot. Maybe some will vote for him next year. Bonds only needed to be named on 5 percent of ballots to appear on the sheet that will be mailed to voters next December, and players remain active for as long as 15 years if they continue to receive that minimum level of support. Perhaps over time, perceptions will change.
But for now, the game’s all-time home run leader, like all-time hits leader Pete Rose, will not be in the Hall of Fame.
And wherever Barry Bonds is today, he cares. Believe that much.