Sports

MLB Analysis: Hall of Fame Voting, Barry Bonds and Uniformity

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The 2013 MLB Hall of Fame ballot is going to be interesting, as the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will be faced with the question of whether or not Barry Bonds belongs in the sacred halls of Cooperstown.

Statistically speaking there is not doubt that Bonds deserves the call. He is the all time leader in career home runs, and the single season record holder for on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks, and of course, home runs. Perhaps most impressive, is the fact that he won seven MVP awards, four more than Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial.

There is some speculation that Bonds’ link to steroids and the Balco scandal may keep him out of the Hall of Fame. This has proved evident in the fact that fellow alleged steroid user Mark McGuire has been left out for five straight seasons despite the fact that his 583 career home runs alone should earn him a spot among the game’s greatest players. Bonds on the other hand produced numbers in a different stratosphere, making a valid claim that he is the best baseball player to ever play the game.

The primary issue that the Writers Association must weigh is whether or not Bonds’ alleged steroid use ruined the proverbial sanctity of the game. Baseball, more than any other professional sport, prides itself on statistics and records. Even to the casual baseball fan, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak, CY Young’s 511 wins, and Bonds’ 73 home runs in a season are well known records. Statistics are such a hallmark of baseball that the science of Sabermetrics was invented to help fans understand the game in ever more detail.

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With such a premium placed on statistics, so much so that the one of the game’s greatest players may miss out on the Hall of Fame for allegedly cheating with chemical enhancement, I find it somewhat odd that baseball is the only major sport to play its games without a uniform set of dimensions for the playing field. All 32 NFL stadiums and 30 NBA arenas have the exact same dimensions, yet every single MLB park has a different design in the outfield, with varying heights for home run walls, greatly affecting what is a hit or home run and what is an out. Heck, the Houston Astros went as far as to place a mound of grass in front of their centerfield wall.

When Adrian Gonzalez left San Diego to join the Boston Red Sox in 2011, ESPN showed a chart of his hits from the previous season at PetCo Park and how they would have faired in the more hitter friendly Fenway Park. Gonzalez would have hit between 10 and 15 more home runs at Fenway just because of the short porch in left field with the Green Monster. 15 extra home runs each season over the course of a career could be the difference between making the Hall of Fame and being an average ball player.

Baseball purists are infuriated with the Steroid Era and how the participants allegedly cheated by enhancing themselves with chemicals. Yet team owners and stadium designers greatly affect the outcome of a game by designing a stadium to fit their team’s strengths, like the Giants pitcher friendly park in San Francisco. Technological improvements in how bats and balls are manufactured and the training tools used to help players improve their skills are for more advanced than in previous generations, yet Bonds is completely vilified for allegedly taking a substance to make is muscles stronger and shorten his recovery from injury.

Now, before I completely offend all of my readers, I want to make it clear that I do not condone the use of steroids. They are a dangerous substance that has no place in the game and players need to be better role models for young kids who look up to them as heroes. However, I do think it is odd that in a game played on 30 completely different playing fields in varying dimensions and conditions, that the size of a players muscles and supplements they consume allegedly alter the sacredness of the statistics more than any of the other numerous variables that surround how baseball is played.