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Is Barry Bonds really getting a “fair hearing?”

Mar 11, 2014, 8:25 AM EDT

Barry Bonds AP

In the wake of yesterday’s Barry Bonds press conference, Ken Rosenthal talks about Bonds’ Hall of Fame case. Rosenthal opposes Bonds’ induction. He says this about those who do not:

I hate when some in favor of Bonds’ and Clemens’ candidacies disdainfully describe voters like myself as “gatekeepers of morality.” Guilty as charged, I guess, but I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe in five years I will view my current stance as too harsh. Opinions evolve, perceptions soften over time.

Bonds is eligible to remain on the ballot for 13 more years—he received 36.2 and 34.7 percent of the vote in his first two years, well short of the 75 percent needed for induction. The crowded ballot probably isn’t helping him any, but if Bonds cannot get elected by 2027, I doubt many will complain that he did not receive a fair hearing.

A “fair hearing” entails more than just being subjected to a previously set-up process. It also entails being judged by the same standards as everyone else who went before the tribunal in the past and the presence of impartial arbiters. Barry Bonds may be getting the BBWAA-allotted 15 years on the ballot, but is he getting a “fair hearing?” Based on those criteria, I think not.

Bonds is being judged by historically arbitrary standards, in that there are several PED users in the Hall of Fame (and worse) and the “character clause” which is keeping him (and others) out has never been applied by the BBWAA as it is currently being applied against him. In a fair system, precedent and deterrence are important concepts. The accused either knows or should know that whatever act he takes can and will be punished in such a fashion and has a chance to tailor his behavior accordingly. Bonds took PEDs, of this I have no doubt, but he did so at a time when doing such things had never been sanctioned in this way before. That is, unless I’m missing the fierce debates about Mickey Mantle and all of the players who took amphetamines.

Moreover, in his case, the judge (BBWAA voters) also happen to be his prosecutors. The same can’t be said for Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, who aren’t being barred by writers. In those cases it was MLB leveling charges and disabilities to their candidacy. Here, MLB is perfectly fine with Bonds (and Clemens and McGwire) being in the fold, even in uniform. The ones who would disqualify him are the same ones who have built the case against him. The writers.

I’m never going to claim that Barry Bonds was some angel. Nor do I believe that Barry Bonds being in the Hall of Fame (or not) validates him in some way that truly matters. I know he was great. You do too. Even the people who would keep him out of the Hall of Fame, like Rosenthal, know he was.

But if you do want to bring up the topic of his treatment before the Hall of Fame tribunal, it’s hard to say how his hearing has truly been “fair.” He engaged in behavior that was entirely acceptable within baseball circles for decades and is told only later that, as it applies to him, it is a Hall of Fame disqualifier.  And, even if he is getting a hearing, the prosecutor also happens to be the judge.  Against that backdrop, as far as I’m concerned, the trial can last 25 years and it wouldn’t be fair.

104 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. psunick - Mar 11, 2014 at 4:16 PM

    It’s not only writers who have a HOF vote, Craig.

  2. pastabelly - Mar 11, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    I have to wonder if Craig and all of the others who support Bonds also support Lance Armstrong. I don’t get the feeling that they do. I can’t differentiate between the two of them.

    • jkcalhoun - Mar 11, 2014 at 6:18 PM

      Two ex-cyclers, but only one is currently an active cyclist.

    • raysfan1 - Mar 11, 2014 at 6:21 PM

      There aren’t too many who support anyone using steroids, by Bonds or anyone else. However, there are differences between Bonds and Lance Armstrong…
      1) Bonds did not actually break any codified rules. Armstrong did.
      2) Bonds did not try to intimidate others into silence and did not sue others to suppress information as to his use.
      3) The primary aspect of this discussion is whether Bonds should be considered more favorably for enshrinement in the baseball HoF. Does cycling even have a HoF? (I actually don’t know.) if so, is Armstrong even eligible? If so, I refer you back to #1 as to why I would not support him being so honored.

      A better comparison would actually be between Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. See #1 above and change Armstrong’s name for Rodriguez’ to see why I’d vote for Bonds and not for Rodriguez if I had a vote.

      • shyts7 - Mar 12, 2014 at 9:44 AM

        If I’m not mistaken, Bonds was breaking the rules. The problem was that there was no testing in place. Bonds also tried to intimidate the writers of Game of Shadows, he talked of a lawsuit, but, I don’t believe he ever filed one. Armstrong and Bonds are both cheats who don’t need to be glorified for their cheating. Armstong, however, has Livestrong that has bought him some good graces with people. If Bonds had something like that, I think you would see less resentment against him.

      • raysfan1 - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:15 AM

        I neither glorify nor like Bonds.

        There was no formal testing until a formal rule had been negotiated and agreed upon by the MLBPA and MLB front office. Fay Vincent as commissioner issued a letter that purported to institute a no-steroid policy; however, he acknowledged later it had no teeth because it was in enforceable as it could not become a rule without the MLBPA. Selig reissued the letter but then completely undermined it by participating in dumping the the reporter who mentioned seeing androstenedione in McGwire’s locker in 1998.

        In short, no, there was no real rule until 2004–after the supposedly anonymous 2003 testing had enough positives to trigger the formal testing program.

      • raysfan1 - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:52 AM

        One last part–I’d be a lot less vocal about whether Bonds belongs in the HoF if managers and execs who actively turned a blind eye or even encouraged use were also being kept out, but they aren’t. Ditto for media members, many of whom also turned on the guy who reported seeing McGwire’s andro, winning Spinks awards.

      • jkcalhoun - Mar 12, 2014 at 11:09 AM

        You are mistaken on whether or not there was a rule in baseball against doping, as raysfan has already pointed out.

        On the lawsuit thing, Bonds did file one against the authors of Game of Shadows, but he dropped it voluntarily less than three months later. All that happened, ultimately, is that he lost a preliminary hearing in which his lawyers asked for a temporary restraining order on profits from the book pending the trial.

        Bonds’ lawyers, suing under California’s unfair competition law, argued that the authors should be blocked from making money on the book because it used illegally obtained grand jury testimony.

        So what to make of that? If he was trying to intimidate the writers, waiting to sue until their book was already on the shelves and excerpts had already been printed in Sports Illustrated was a strange way to go about it. They had been publishing their material in the San Francisco Chronicle for years; why wait that long? Given when the suit was filed and how it played out, I think he really was trying to do exactly what he claimed, to prevent money from being made off of his testimony and the BALCO investigation. And when it became clear to him that he could not succeed, he apparently instructed his lawyers to drop the lawsuit without any blustering.

        So, make of that what you will, but I’m thinking that if intimidation was his true aim he would have gone about it differently.

      • shyts7 - Mar 12, 2014 at 3:30 PM

        jkcalhoun – I think him dropping the suit for that reason was the one he said, but, not the real reason. While the grand jury testimony was acquired in a shady manner, it technically wasn’t illegal from what I’ve read, since no recording device was recording it. The real reason, IMO, was that it was just so much evidence that a normal person would think that he is guilty of using. He couldn’t sue for slander or libel since the information wasn’t a lie. It just painted him in a bad picture. He attacked the book with the only legal ground that he had and when he lost that battle, he just dropped the suit instead of wasting more time and money to lose in the end.

      • jkcalhoun - Mar 12, 2014 at 6:16 PM

        As I said, make of it what you will.

        But have you actually read anything about this case at all? If so, you can’t tell from what you’re posting here, because your conjectures aren’t supported by the facts. Search for Troy Ellerman on the web; that name will lead to information about whether leaking the grand jury testimony was illegal.

  3. stercuilus65 - Mar 11, 2014 at 8:50 PM

    Craig whine fest number 345….

  4. wgward - Mar 12, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Barry Bonds is a HOF’er. Period. Get it done.

  5. bobdira - Mar 12, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    CHEATER!!!!!! CHEATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CHEATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! oh wait you mean Barry Bonds. LIAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CHEATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LIAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CHEATER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. cranespy - Mar 12, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    Barry and Roger forever linked…..the 2 BIGGEST liars in the history of the game. Neither will be elected anytime soon if at all.

    The ironic thing is…..if the either or both came clean and authored a factual encounter……..for the good of the game…..they wolula

  7. arrow43050 - Mar 14, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Craig, any actual fair hearing would presuppose all evidence being available to both sides and the expectation of 100% truthfulness. Do you really feel that would ever happen? Until that happens Bonds will be judged in the only way he can–on intuition.

    • jkcalhoun - Mar 14, 2014 at 3:05 PM

      The question of fairness here is whether Bonds and other players associated with PEDs from the recent pre-testing era are being judged according to similar criteria as players from other eras.

      Although there are obviously folks here who do not or would not find that unfair, there really hasn’t been a serious challenge to the general consensus here that they are, in fact, being judged according to distinct criteria.

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