ESPN’s E:60 Looks At Barry Bonds In Last Year Of Hall Of Fame Eligibility – Forbes

Barry Bonds is the all-time single-season and career home run leader, yet not in the Hall of Fame. … [+] ESPN looks at the complexities of Bonds in his last year of eligibility on the Hall of Fame ballot. (Photo By Harry How/Getty Images)

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Premiering tonight on ESPN (9:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Nov. 7), the E:60 documentary on Barry Bonds looks into the all-time and single-season home run leader who has yet to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame due to the cloud of steroid use that surrounds him. Bonds is in his last year of eligibility on the writers’ ballot for baseball’s highest honor making the documentary timely as voting begins.

Having seen an advance screening of the special, simply named “Bonds”, I walked away from it feeling ESPN did an exceptional job. Hosted by Jeremy Schapp, it is a balanced look at the complexities of Bonds in the context of MLB’s steroid era without coming off as a resurrection piece that might push him across the finish line and gain inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

While there are a considerable number of ESPN on-air personalities including reporters and commentators Tim Kurkjian, T.J. Quinn, Buster Olney, Howard Bryant, and Doug Glanville, it sees a lengthy list of former teammates, managers, and reporters from outside the Worldwide Leader ranging from the likes of former managers Dusty Baker and Jim Leyland; teammates Will Clark, Eric Davis, and Andy Van Slyke; to current and former reporters Ron Cook, Janie McCauley, Terence Moore, Richard Justice, Henry Schulman. Added in the mix is Jeff Pearlman who authored the Bonds biography Love Me, Hate Me, Mark Fainaru-Wada who wrote Game of Shadows, and Erik Strohl, the vice president of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Collectively, the body of personalities covers Bonds’ early career, the complexities of his relationship to his father Bobby and godfather, Willie Mays, through his time with the San Francisco Giants where the steroid controversy takes root.

The E:60 takes historical footage of Bonds, but he is not interviewed in the here and now. Knowing how Bonds was and likely is (confrontational with the media and unapologetic), it’s unclear if that would change the writers or public perception at this point.

At its core, “Bonds” builds the background and commentary around the holder of baseball’s most revered home run records, how he was on a Hall of Fame career trajectory before the steroid scandal, and the BALCO investigation and clear change in Bonds’ body type and presents it unvarnished. Should Bonds be in the Hall of Fame, or not? The complexities of the man, the era, and the vague criteria for Hall of Fame voters to make their selection makes for no right or wrong answer.

What is shown in the E:60 but not said directly is that there is a tremendous collection of Bonds artifacts, as well as video, in the research library and in the museum, itself. Based upon that, Barry Bonds is in the Hall of Fame. What is missing is his plaque that comes with gaining inclusion by the voters. So, you’re not keeping Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame, should he not reach the requisite votes on his last year on the ballot; he’s already there.

It was important for ESPN and the individuals of color interviewed to discuss the matter of race. Ted Williams had a hate relationship with the media. Bonds did, as well. One is in the Hall of Fame. The other is not. Howard Bryant, Doug Glanville, Terence Moore, and Eric Davis lend their voices on the topic and can provide perspectives others that are not Black, cannot. ESPN shows in the E:60 piece the hate mail Bonds and Hank Aaron received by chasing the home run numbers. But, it’s impossible not to take note of the differences in how Aaron broke Ruth’s career home run mark, and Bonds breaking Aaron’s: one (Aaron) was celebrated. The other had the cloud of steroids over it. As Bryant says, “One is the record holder (Bonds). The other is the standard-bearer (Aaron).” That’s important to note in how many view the two.

Of course, the prevailing topic in the E:60 is the potential use of steroids. Bonds never tested positive. He never served a suspension. So, many of the voters will use the bar that the BALCO investigation points to steroid use. His body type, that went front skinny speedster in his time with the Pirates to hulking power hitter with the Giants is a factor, as well. The issue that ESPN rightly brings up is if that’s a discussion, then we have to talk about “Pudge” Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, and Mike Piazza, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. All of whom had the smoke of steroids around them. And as sure as I’m typing this, others in the Hall of Fame used performance-enhancing substances. Those are players we will never know about. The E:60 begs the question: is the Baseball Hall of Fame church, or a place to tell the story of baseball? There are known racists in Cap Anson and Ty Cobb in the Hall. Many believe that a current ballot member, Curt Schilling is part of that group. There are drunks, and adulterers, and every stripe in-between. How, then, should the voters react?

For Bonds to gain inclusion into the Hall through the writers’ ballot will take a tremendous shift on the part of the voting body. He garnered just under 61% of the vote on ballots last year:

2017: 53.8 percent

2018: 56.4 percent

2019: 59.1 percent

2020: 60.7 percent

Bonds would need to get to 75% in his last year on the ballot to gain inclusion in his 10th year. The voting body has changed over the years to be more forgiving of Bonds, but is there enough of a shift to gain 14% over 2020? It would be a monumental mountain to climb.

If there’s a shortcoming in the E:60 it’s that former commissioner Bud Selig is not interviewed or mentioned, once. Selig, a friend and tireless advocate for Henry Aaron, had open disdain for Bonds breaking the home run records. It would have been good to have him comment for the documentary.

Personally, the E:60 was an important documentary to watch. I am a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) and after 10 years of membership, I will be offered to vote for the Hall of Fame. Fortunately, I will avoid the issue of not only Bonds but the majority of players that have been ensnarled in performance-enhancing substance controversy until eligible in 2025.