The Barry Problem

December 14, 2015

AFTER BEING KEPT out of the baseball Hall of Fame and investigated by the government, Barry Bonds suffered another blow last week when he found himself working for the Marlins. He will be their hitting coach, at least for a little while. Miami, baseball's most dysfunctional franchise, changes managers as often as pitchers, so anybody working there should think twice before signing up for a full-season parking pass.

The 51-year-old Bonds, like the sport he loves, finds himself in a strange spot. If he does his job well, he can help slugger Giancarlo Stanton become almost as good as Bonds was, which would help Stanton sail into Cooperstown while Bonds, the all-time home run leader, is still left out.

Maybe you can understand why so many baseball writers won't give him their Hall votes. They are penalizing him for his alleged dalliance with performance-enhancing drugs. This is what Bonds gets for going to BALCO instead of CVS. But it does make you wonder: If Bonds is allowed to teach major leaguers how to hit, why can't he be honored for how well he did it himself?

Bonds is not like Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire, who presumably wrote their Hall of Fame résumés on the backs of their dealers. Long before the time when anybody thinks he juiced, Bonds was the best player of his generation, a 30-30 outfielder with multiple MVPs before he turned 30. His performance did not need enhancing—and when he started enhancing it, baseball had a "nothing to see here" approach to PEDs. And yet: Many players believed steroid use was cheating, even without rules prohibiting it. Many fans were appalled that so many stars had been using. There is a reason none of these guys issued press releases detailing their steroid use. They knew how the public would react.

It is telling that the door to Cooperstown remains closed to Bonds while the door to the Marlins' indoor batting cage is open. The Hall of Fame vote is a judgment of who is worthy. The hiring process is a search for who can help.

Bonds did not help himself for most of his career by putting the oof in aloof. Jason Giambi was a walking, talking syringe for the best years of his career, but he is such a chipper fellow that nobody really holds it against him. Bonds was a convenient piñata, not just for the media and fans but for people who ran teams. He led the National League in on-base percentage at .480 in 2007, but he still couldn't find a job the next spring.

Eight years later the Marlins have given Bonds a chance. It's easy to wonder: What if he does so well that he gets a managing job? What if he does that so well that he builds a case as a Hall of Fame manager? Would he get in?

The problem with drawing a line in the sand is that people walk over it when you aren't looking. It is easy for voters to cross their arms now and say they won't let drug users into the Hall of Fame. But what if they already have, and we just don't know it yet? A handful of stars from Bonds's era have earned plaques, and more will follow in the next few years. They are all assumed to be clean—or, at least, there is no direct evidence that they used. But what if the evidence comes later?

At some point we will find out that a Hall of Famer used PEDs. It may be through an honest admission, a federal case, a TMZ report or a divorce filing by a bitter spouse. What happens then? Will the Hall take down the plaque?

If we find out that a user is already in the Hall, how can anybody tell Bonds he does not deserve to be there? That would be a tough one to explain, and it would seem personal. The simple solution would be to vote Bonds into the Hall of Fame. It would be a roundabout journey but a logical conclusion. For fun he should ask for his plaque to depict him in a Marlins cap.

If Bonds is allowed to teach major leaguers how to hit, why can't he be honored for how well he did it himself?

Should Barry Bonds be in the Hall of Fame? Join the discussion on Twitter by using #SIPointAfter and following @Rosenberg_Mike

PHOTOCARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)