Here’s an easy one: who threw the ball when Sid slid?
Before this discussion, here’s Mac’s preamble for these lists:
The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.)
In a year when one “no-brainer” will be elected (Griffey, Jr.) and one won’t (Bonds), I decided to ask why. The answer, of course, is that people will vote based on their opinions of these ballplayers. There’s no negative vote—they just don’t put a guy on their ballot. Amazingly, nine people didn’t vote for Hank Aaron! With that standard, how could “cheater” and a world-class ass hope to get in?
My argument is that without recognizing Bonds, there’s a huge whole in the story of baseball at the turn of the last century. And he could play as well as anybody who ever played. So I worked on a list.
- Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
Besides Barry? From 1990 to 2004, he either was the MVP or was in the top five 12 times.
- Was he the best player on his team?
Rick Rhoden was considered the best Pirate in 1986 when Bonds only won Rookie of the Year. In 1988, Andy Van Slyke got the nod. With a 6.4 WAR to Bonds’ 6.2 WAR. Barry was the best on every other team until double knee surgery in 2004 made him close to human.
- Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
He came up as a centerfielder, but they had Van Slyke, so Barry became the best Left fielder for the next ten years or so. No one seriously questioned his Gold Gloves. He could hit some, too.
- Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Yes, but not in ways Barry would want you to remember. His playoffs appearances were usually bad, often abysmal. In 2002, he looked good against us, did well against the Cardinals, and was magnificent in the World Series. Do you remember he was walked 13 times in that Series (7 intentional). He only hit 4 homers and 2 doubles when they did pitch to him. When they lost, I almost felt sorry for him! The next year he was back to his old ways.
- Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Hard to define his prime, but if you use the two years after knee surgery (ages 41-42), he was still a valuable ballplayer. You know why he didn’t get a job, but Bonds filed a collusion suit and although it was thrown out, it made some people admit in public he could still play.
- Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
- Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
- Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
- Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
I felt as if his defensive skills were undervalued, but I don’t have the acumen or understanding of defensive stats to prove this. Let me offer this instead: Chipper Jones will be known by his offensive excellence in many categories: Runs, hits, walks, RBIs, runs scored and we loved it. Bonds was the first to hit .300, with 100 RBI. 100 Runs Scored, and 50 stolen bases. He’s the only member of the 500-500 Club.
- Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
- How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Mentioned above. And he was very happy when Torii Hunter robbed him of a home run in the 2002 game, although he tackled him in the infield.
- How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
14 games, started most of them. The only other 14 gamers not in the HOF are Jeter and Alex and Ivan Rodriquez.
- If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Seven times he was the best player on teams that went into the playoffs.
- What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
We could talk about the Pirates’ two decades of futility after he left. If the best player in baseball wanted out of there, why should a prime free agent consider it? And his uncanny sense of the strike zone at the end. Most sluggers claim to look for a ball in a spot, but if you didn’t throw him a strike, he wouldn’t swing. Ever. He guessed wrong about 40 or 50 times year, but 232 walks! Unbelievable.
No, it will be his use of steroids and their dramatic results that changed how we viewed him, and ultimately, his generation of ballplayers. In 1999, when he had an elbow injury that some traced to his beginning use of the drugs, he started the season late and finished 24th in MVP voting. Can you imagine Barry Bonds hearing that basically two dozen ballplayers were better? With all the love for McGuire and Sosa in his face?
- Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?
Here’s Tom Verducci, making the negative case. Maybe no one has made the negative case better.
He has a vote; I don’t. But we both love baseball. Tom’s description and acceptance of Bagwell made me feel an itch that goes back to Pete Rose. How do I describe a big chunk of baseball history and not recognize Rose? I didn’t like him, thought he was a cornball, but he was the guy who showed up every day and said “we’re gonna stick this game right up your wazoo!” And then usually did.
How do I tell a huge Reds fan named Gavin Lambert, (2b-SS for 9 year old Knightstown, IN travelling team) (my grandson) who Charlie Hustle was and why determination means as much as size in baseball?
Bonds? He made me and a whole stadium laugh. I saw him face the Reds in 2004. In his first AB, the second pitch was a called strike. He flashed that big smile and signaled the ball was “up here”, near his cap. Everybody laughed, even the ump. Because we knew at that point if it had been a strike, Barry would’ve hit it. A single through the box that would’ve undressed Charlie Brown seemed to confirm it.
The point’s been made. No b.s. Let him in.