Justice is overdue. The powers that be need to make 2018 the year that two of the best to ever do it — Barry Bonds and Terrell Owens — are enshrined in their respective halls of fame.
Bay Area sports fans know the affirmative case, and it isn’t terribly complicated:
Bonds is the greatest hitter since Babe Ruth, and by no small margin. Owens’ career compares only to receivers who already own the gold jacket.
The rebuttals to those arguments are based on obtuse readings of history.
Bonds’ critics, and the people who have blocked him from Cooperstown, argue he played during an era of rampant cheating. (Never mind that playing outside the rulebook is directly tied to baseball’s identity.) Owens must win over voters who point to his checkered record as a teammate.
In reality, Bonds and Owens committed one cardinal sin: They weren’t nice to reporters.
How else do you explain Ken Griffey Jr. (83.6 career WAR) being nearly unanimously voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his first time on the ballot in 2016? And how is Vladimir Guerrero (59.3 career WAR) likely to receive the ultimate honor on his second go-round this year?
Voters on both sides of the aisle agree on Guerrero, according to ESPN. It’s because he and Griffey have benefited from the power of narrative in the same way it’s costing Bonds.
Griffey and Guerrero are remembered for their affable personalities and electric style of play. Bonds was surly and had the sharpest eye in the game. Joy wasn’t a key component to his game, which played a role in the shaping of his story.
Listen, I get it. The government put forth a very convincing case — it only cost taxpayers $55 million to pursue — against Bonds (162.4 career WAR). Of course, he was cleared of all charges in April of 2015 when a circuit court overturned his conviction. But Bonds, Griffey and Guerrero all participated in the so-called Steroid Era.
Snubbing Bonds isn’t about the appearance of cheating. It’s about the feeling he left many sportswriters with during his playing career.
He was notoriously gruff. He didn’t want to answer questions. And that hurt feelings.
People don’t forget how someone made them feel, and many have waited a long time to exact their revenge.
For Owens, it’s a little more complicated.
During his 15-year career, the former 49ers receiver had 156 touchdowns and 15,934 receiving yards; those figures, respectively, are good for second-best all-time. Surely, that’s enough to be a first-ballot entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But that hasn’t been the case as voters have passed over Owens two times already and might do the same for the 2018 class despite being a finalist again.
NFL voters are explicitly directed to ignore off-the-field issues, yet they can’t shake the notion that Owens was a bad teammate.
“He’s a Hall of Fame player that five teams couldn’t wait to get rid of,” Hall of Fame voter Gary Myers, of the New York Daily News, said on “The Dan Patrick Show” in February 2016. “So what does that tell about how disruptive he was?”
Myers’ point relies on how writers perceived Owens’ effect on the locker room. It’s strange because only players know that space well enough to make judgments.
And to cite “five teams” is misleading because Owens bounced around at the end of his career, when he was 35 and older. Jerry Rice and Randy Moss also played for a couple teams that were happy to watch them leave before they retired.
Voters won’t admit their point has been made, that whatever punishment they had hoped to exact has been administered. NFL.com’s Elliot Harrison reported in August that a voter told him, “T.O. isn’t getting in.”
Cognitive dissonance reigns supreme. Writers like to pretend they made a vow of objectivity when they began this profession. So when they’re confronted with questions they don’t want to answer — “Why aren’t two of the best players of their generations worthy of enshrinement?” — they resort to mental gymnastics that hinge on the unprovable.
We must move past this game and give Bonds and Owens their due. They deserve to be enshrined because the reality of their on-field accomplishments outweigh the writers’ perception. Sometimes it should be that simple.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.