We're zeroing in on the Jan. 6 reveal of the BBWAA 2016 Hall of Fame class, one certain to include Ken Griffey Jr. and maybe another player or two. As we lead up to that announcement, CBS Sports' Eye on Baseball scribes are running through the serious candidates one day at a time.
Barry Bonds received 202 votes for the Hall of Fame in 2015, not quite half the number he needed for induction into Cooperstown. He's polling better for the 2016 vote (as is Roger Clemens), but appears headed for a result in the 40-50 percent range in his fourth season on the ballot. No player in Major League Baseball history has accumulated better statistics than Bonds, as our own Mike Axisa pointed out a year ago when Eye on Sports previously reviewed Hall of Fame candidates.
Here's a partial list:
• Most home runs in a single-season (73 in 2001), a single postseason (eight in 2002) and a career (762).
• Most consecutive seasons with 30+ home runs (13 from 1992-2004).
• Highest single-season on-base percentage (.609 in 2004) and slugging percentage (.863 in 2001).
• Most walks (232 in 2004) and intentional walks (120 in 2004) in a single-season.
• Most consecutive plate appearances reaching base (15).
Bonds was great -- the greatest -- except for the red herring of performance-enhancing drugs. While no one has ever quantified the effect PEDs have had on the players who have taken them, it's impossible to deny that Bonds took them. He even admitted he took them (sort of). To what extent Bonds used them is an open question, though if sworn testimony of those who know him is true, he started after the 1998 season. Why does the "when" matter? To some, it doesn't, and it won't. Some will never give Bonds their Hall of Fame vote because he broke the rules, because he played "unnaturally" and thus tainted his entire career. But to other voters who might be persuaded that Bonds was a Hall of Famer even without PEDs, it's a distinction that could pave the way for him to gain acceptance eventually.
Before 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captured the fancy of the public with the Roger Maris home-run-record chase -- reportedly inciting incredible jealousy and envy in Bonds -- no allegations exist that he did PEDs. As with every other player, we don't know what Bonds did or didn't do before 1998. But we also know that the most thoroughly reported narrative of his PED use didn't start until he had turned 34 years old. By that time, Bonds already had performed like a Hall of Famer.
So, let's take away 1999-2007, and just use 1986-1998. What does Bonds's career look like?
• 411 home runs
• 403 doubles
• 63 triples
• 445 stolen bases
• 1,364 runs scored
• 1,216 RBI
• 3,679 total bases
• .966 OPS (164 OPS+)
Let's say Bonds's career ended there, at 8,100 career plate appearances. It's not as many appearances as most Hall of Famers, but it's more than Kirby Puckett or Ralph Kiner, two comparable examples to "Pre-PED" Bonds. If his career had ended in 1998, Bonds wouldn't score terribly high on cumulative lists (52nd on homers, 173rd on doubles, 134th on total bases, 55th on stolen bases, 101st on runs scored), but he'd still have the 10th-best hypothetical OPS of all time. Tenth-best!
This line of thinking is probably the best chance Bonds has of making it to Cooperstown someday. To do so, enough voters must do two things: 1) "Forgive" Bonds for "cheating" at all. 2) Believe that he was a not only a Hall of Famer without steroids, but also one of the best Hall of Famers without steroids. If the widely accepted timeline of Bonds's PED use is considered, he qualifies for Cooperstown. He doesn't have to be the "home-run king." He doesn't have to be the guy who was issued 688 intentional walks. He doesn't have to be the guy who compiled a 241 OPS+ from ages 36-40.
Bonds can just be the guy who was one of the 10 best hitters in major league history at a time when nobody said anything about him being tainted. All the voters have to do is ignore the most dominant seasons of his career.