In January, baseball home run king Barry Bonds fell short of making MLB’s Hall of Fame in his eighth year of eligibility, giving one of the sport’s greatest players just two more years to make it to Cooperstown. And his odd place in the sport he once dominated appears to be wearing on him.
In an interview with the Athletic published Sunday, Bonds said MLB has given him a “death sentence” since he retired in 2007, saying the sport has used his off-field issues and allegations of steroid use against him.
“My heart, it’s broken,” Bonds said. “Really broken.”
Bonds’s 762 home runs are the most in MLB history, and the seven-time MVP also holds major league records for walks (2,558) and intentional walks (688). He finished his career hitting .298 and slugging .607, and he hit 73 home runs in 2001 to set MLB’s single-season record.
But his legacy became considerably more complicated when Bonds admitted to using steroids in 2011, saying his personal trainer led him to believe he was taking flaxseed oil and arthritis cream. That same year, he was sentenced to 30 days of house arrest for purposely using rambling non sequiturs to try to mislead a grand jury during a 2003 investigation. The obstruction of justice conviction was thrown out on appeal in 2015.
Federal prosecutors declined to appeal, dropping what was left of their criminal case against Bonds after a steroids-related prosecution that lasted about a decade. The next year, Bonds told Sports on Earth he regretted how he treated others during his playing career, saying, “I was just flat-out dumb,” and, “I’m not going to try to justify the way I acted toward people.”
“I know what I did out there,” Bonds told the Athletic in the latest story. “I know what I accomplished between those lines. It’s outside those lines that I would have done some things different.”
Bonds served as a guest instructor this spring with the San Francisco Giants, with whom he spent 15 seasons of his 22-year career, including when he passed Hank Aaron for the all-time home run record in 2007. His only job in baseball after retiring came in 2016 as the Miami Marlins’ hitting coach. He was fired after one season.
“If they don’t want me,” the 55-year-old said of baseball, “just say you don’t want me and be done with it.”
Players need to be on 75 percent of ballots to make the Hall of Fame, and Bonds received just 60.7 percent of the vote this year. While Bonds has received an uptick in votes every year, he only has two more chances to be voted in.
While multiple players who have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs have been left out of the Hall of Fame, Bonds and former pitcher Roger Clemens are probably the most accomplished of those who haven’t gotten a nod.
If Bonds’s career ended in 1998, before his earliest known steroid use, he still would have recorded an impressive array of statistics; he was a .290 hitter with 411 home runs and three MVP awards to that point.
That hasn’t convinced most voters, many of whom agree with Hall of Fame vice chairman Joe Morgan, who in 2017 sent a letter to voters encouraging them to omit steroid users from Cooperstown. Former all-star outfielder Kenny Lofton told the New York Post last year that players who may have used PEDs shouldn’t receive consideration.
At least some former players believe Bonds does belong in the Hall of Fame, though. When the Giants retired Bonds’s No. 25 jersey in 2018, team legend Willie Mays delivered a speech urging voters to put his godson into the Hall of Fame.
“Give him that honor. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” Mays said then. “The Hall of Fame is where I want him to get. I want him to have that honor. On behalf of all the people, vote this guy in.’’
Last month, Aaron told NBC’s “Today” show that it’s hard for him to digest that Bonds may have used steroids, but he still believes Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame.
In 2015, Bonds told MLB.com he was optimistic he would enter the Hall of Fame eventually, saying: “In my mind, in my head, I’m a lot more positive about it than I am negative. I think eventually they’ll do the right thing.” But his optimism appears to have dissipated.
“I feel like a ghost,” Bonds told the Athletic. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”
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