WALLA WALLA — December is almost history, the calendar is about to flip over to a new year, and the consternation is about to begin all over again.
And in 2013 more so than ever.
Because this is Barry Bonds’ first year on baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot.
There are 37 names on this year’s list of nominees, including 24 first-time candidates and another 13 who received at least 5 percent of last year’s vote. Eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have been mulling over this list of candidates since it was announced on Nov. 28, and they have until Monday to cast their ballots.
Candidates who receive the required 75 percent of the votes will be announced on Jan. 9. They will then be enshrined in baseball’s hallowed Hall of Fame during induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 28.
Will Barry Bonds be among them?
I suspect the answer to that question ranges somewhere between not likely and until pigs fly. Nonetheless there is sure to be around-the-clock debate on television and radio talk shows, not to mention the corner pub, regarding the outcome of the writers’ verdict.
Bonds, as we all know, is baseball’s most infamous figure. The most controversial character in baseball’s disgraceful steroid era, Bonds still stands as the game’s home run king with a 73-homer season in 2001 and 762 home runs over a career that spanned 22 seasons.
Under normal circumstances, numbers such as those — coupled with 1,996 runs batted in, which ranks fourth all time, and a career .298 batting average — would make him an absolute lock as a first-year, unanimous Hall of Fame selection.
But a large segment of baseball fans — and many members of the BBWAA fall into that group — are convinced that it was Bonds’ use of performance enhancing drugs that led to his incredible power display. Thus his achievements have been discredited.
And there are plenty of reasons to believe Bonds’ naysayers are on the right side of the debate.
Consider, for instance, that in Bonds’ first seven big league seasons, he never slugged more than 34 home runs. In 1993, at 29 years of age and in his first year in San Francisco, Bonds hit 46 homers while driving in 123 runs and batting .336.
It was an outstanding season for a player in the prime of his career who had already proven to be a legitimate all-star. And presumably a few years before the steroid era changed the game.
Bonds, who averaged nearly 35 homers per season over his 22 years in the big leagues, eclipsed the 40-homer barrier seven more times during his final 14 seasons.
How many of those campaigns were steroid enhanced is up for debate. But by the time Mark McGwire belted 58 homers in 1997 and followed up with a 70-homer season in 1998 to shatter Roger Maris’ record of 61 that had stood the test of time since 1961, something was obviously amiss.
Because during that same period of time, Sammy Sosa, who had averaged 25 homers over his first eight full seasons in the majors, averaged 61 homers per season from 1998 through 2001.
Not to be outdone, Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001. At the age of 36, no less, when most players are either retired or finishing their careers as bit players.
That’s not proof positive that Bonds’ numbers are the stuff of steroids. But it’s mighty compelling evidence.
And Bonds isn’t the only player on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot with steroid connections. Sosa and pitching great Roger Clemens, both of whom have come under steroid scrutiny, as well as catcher Mike Piazza are also first-year candidates.
And then, of course, there’s McGwire, whose name appears on the ballot for a sixth straight year, and Rafael Palmeiro, now in his third year of eligibility, to be considered as well. Palmeiro hit 569 home runs in his 20-year big league career, but he amassed 373 of them from 1995 through 2003, an average of 41 homers per season, after averaging just 17 homers over his first nine years in the big leagues.
So far neither McGwire nor Palmeiro has come close to the 75 percent requirement. And there’s every indication that the same fate awaits Bonds, Sosa, Clemens, Piazza and so many other players suspected of juicing up.
Brady Anderson, perhaps? The Orioles outfielder hit 210 home runs over his 17-year career, including 50 bombs in 1996 when he more than doubled his second best power output — 24 homers in 1999.
Was 1996 nothing more than an aberration? Or was it something else?
And what about Bret Boone, one of our own Mariners, who muscled up — literally and figuratively — during the final years of his 15-year career?
After averaging 14 homers per season over his first nine years in the big leagues, Bonnie abused spacious Safeco Field in Seattle by slamming 120 round trippers during a four-year span that began in 2001. Thirty homers per year during the twilight of his career.
The list goes on and on. Baseball claims to be doing its best to clean up the game, but PED revelations continue to surface each and every year.
Alex Rodriguez, one of the game’s greatest hitters, admitted in a 2009 that he had used steroids from 2001 through 2003, a three-year run in which he hit 156 home runs. And as recently as 2012, Melky Cabrera, who was leading the National League in batting average at the time, was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for testosterone.
Unless hearts and minds can somehow be changed at some point in the future, I’m convinced that players suspected of chemically enhancing their statistics can forget about the Hall of Fame and take what ever satisfaction they can find from numbers that most of us will remember in infamy.
Meanwhile, there are a number of names on this year’s list of Hall of Fame candidates worthy of a place in Cooperstown.
My first choice would be Dale Murphy, who played 18 years in the big leagues. Murphy retired in 1993 and is quickly running out of eligibility.
During a nine-year span that began in 1978, the former Braves star was one of the game’s very best, hitting 44 homers in 1987 and eclipsing 30 homers during five other seasons. He was also a two-time National League Most Valuable Player.
The only other player in big league history with two MVPs and is not enshrined in the Hall is Maris, who in the minds of many is still the true home run king and rightly belongs in Cooperstown as well.
And if not Murphy, how about Edgar Martinez? Now that baseball has reached the point where closers are Hall of Fame worthy, why not designated hitters?
Who better than Edgar should be the first?