Bonds’ omission from Hall of the Pirates’ inaugural class is a swing and a dud
The Pirates recently announced, with more than a little fanfare, their first Hall of Fame class, consisting of 19 people. Obvious names like Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner were included, as well as more obscure greats from the team’s history, like turn-of-the-century first baseman Jake Beckley.
Negro League stars like Josh Gibson were also included, a sign that the group that created the initial class was meticulous in their process.
It was a perfectly fine class, with one major and disqualifying exception: it didn’t include Barry Lamar Bonds.
With all due respect to the group that chose this class, omitting Bonds was the wrong decision. He’s not the greatest pirate of all time – Clemente, Stargell or Wagner deserve that honor – but he definitely deserved to be included.
He won two MVP awards in his seven seasons with the team and should have won three in a row; Terry Pendleton receiving the award in 1991 was and is ridiculous. Yet no other player in the team’s history has more than one.
He is still fifth on the team’s all-time home run list, with 176, despite his first four seasons in the 1980s, a notable period of small-ball in baseball history. Along with his offensive prowess, he won three Gold Gloves in left field, despite not having a good throwing arm, which I suspect everyone is aware of.
It’s pretty clear that he got kicked out of that because of the optics, and I’d bet he’ll end up getting in with second class next year, but the fact that he’s not with that group is the story.
The only plausible reason you could rule out Bonds would be his lack of playoff success; if any of the early 1990s teams had won a World Series, it would have been far-fetched to keep them out. We know, of course, that he struggled mightily in the playoffs with Pittsburgh, and those struggles were a reason the Pirates never advanced to the Fall Classic during his career here.
Still, ask a Pirates fan under 45 what is the best player they’ve ever seen wearing a Pirates uniform, and I’d bet over 80% would say Bonds, and the other 20% would lie.
I’d say we’re far enough away now to mention the real elephant in the room: Bonds’ time with the San Francisco Giants, which saw him set single-season and career home run records, win four MVP awards. consecutive. and putting numbers that wouldn’t look good in a video game set to the lowest difficulty is what really kept him out.
And, of course, being linked to PED use, although he denied ever knowing that the “clear” and “cream” he was taking were performance enhancers. Bonds’ numbers and eye test prove he’s the greatest player in history, but he still wears a scarlet letter as the poster child of the steroid era.
Here’s the thing: we could go on for hours debating the merits of its treatment by the sport, the writers who cover it, and the fans. But for the purposes of a Pirates Hall of Fame, such discussions are irrelevant. He didn’t take PED when he was with the Pirates. He didn’t embarrass the organization with scandals, unlike Dave Parker, who was a central figure in the Pittsburgh drug trials in the 1980s.
Parker, by the way, succeeded.
I don’t think this is an effort to punish Bonds, per se. I spoke to Jim Trdinich, the Pirates’ longtime director of baseball communications turned team historian, who led the group that picked the class on 93.7 The Fan, and he indicated that there is no was no coldness in the relationship between Bonds and the Pirates. I believe him.
He also explained why Bonds was omitted, and while I may have read too much into his tone and words, in those responses I got the feeling that Bonds will be next year.
That’s not how things should have turned out, though. Bonds was one of the greatest Pittsburgh pirates of all time. You can’t tell the franchise’s story without mentioning it early and often. What happened in San Francisco doesn’t matter. This venue isn’t in Cooperstown, it’s on the North Shore.
And its inaugural class, studded with luminaries, has a gaping hole where Barry Bonds should be.