If you ask Jim Leyland about the greatest hitters he ever managed, he'll pick one for each side of the plate: Barry Bonds and Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera will breeze through the doors of the Hall of Fame. Bonds is locked out.
Baseball's home run king was forever dumped from the Hall of Fame ballot Tuesday night after failing to gain sufficient votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America for the 10th year in a row.
"To say that Barry Bonds is not a Hall of Famer, I just don’t think that’s right," Leyland said Wednesday on the Stoney & Jansen Show.
Leyland managed Bonds on the Pirates for the first seven years of his career, during which time Bonds won two MVP awards and three Silver Sluggers. He would win five more MVPs and nine more Silver Sluggers with the Giants, while breaking Mark McGwire's record for most home runs in a season (73) and Hank Aaron's record for most home runs of all time (762). He would also taint his career with steroids.
And so the gatekeepers of the Hall of Fame, a museum whose stated mission is to preserve baseball history, have decided that baseball's history is better without Bonds in it.
Leyland said he was "really surprised in some ways" by the voters' final verdict, "and not in other ways, to be honest with you." Bonds, along with Roger Clemens, had been inching closer in recent years to the requisite 75 percent of the vote, but fell short in his final shot. He came in at 66 percent with 260 votes, 36 shy of the number he needed.
"I thought possibly being the last go-round on the writers' ballot that he would get in, and disappointed that he didn’t get in. Disappointed that Clemens didn’t get in," said Leyland. "But when people are awarded that privilege of voting for the Hall of Fame, they also are awarded the privilege of making their decision. Whether you agree with it or disagree, that’s the way it is."
Leyland disagrees with their decision in part, he said, because "Bonds and Clemens were Hall of Famers before any talk of anything else." Steroids only fueled the latter stages of their respective careers. By then, they had long established themselves as two of the best players of their generation.
"And if you ask any player about Barry Bonds, I heard John Smoltz say once that he was the best hitter he ever faced in his life," Leyland said. "I think everybody, the players believe that they’re Hall of Famers."
Part of the writers' resistance to Bonds might have been his surly attitude toward the media. Leyland, who said he "loved" Bonds and remains "very close" with him, admitted, "I can't disagree that he did treat some of the media bad." Not that it should preclude one of the greatest hitters ever from achieving baseball's highest honor.
"He’s arguably the greatest player to ever play, if you look at all the statistics. Not only one of the greatest, he could be the greatest. He was one of those guys who his attitude pretty much throughout his career -- and this is why the media relationship was not very good -- he just had to play with a chip on his shoulder. It was kind of 'me against the world.' That’s the way Barry was and consequently, that hurt him some with the media," said Leyland.
To Leyland, the Hall of Fame has to make a distinction, and so do its voters: "Is it the Holy Land or the Promised Land?" As long as it remains the former, it will erase what it aims to preserve.