Count Jim Leyland among the large contingent of baseball fans who were disappointed in the Baseball Hall of Fame voting results revealed Tuesday night.
Barry Bonds, in his 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot, didn’t get elected — the slugger’s widely accepted suspicion of steroid use again trumping the indisputable argument that he is one of the top players ever to play the game.
“To say that Barry Bonds is not a Hall of Famer, I just don’t think that’s right,” Leyland said Wednesday morning on The Stoney and Jansen Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
“He could be the greater (player ever). I’m not saying he is, but he could be.”
Bonds, baseball’s home-run king, began his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, where Leyland was his manager. They had a famous shouting match, caught on video one spring training, leading many to believe their relationship was forever fractured. That’s not the case, said Leyland, adding, “I loved him” and “We’re very close to this day.”
Bonds played his first seven seasons with the Pirates before leaving for the San Francisco Giants. He hit a record 73 home runs in 2001, and a record 762 home runs for his 22-year career.
But as one of the poster boys for the so-called steroid era — along with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens, three others who failed to make the Hall of Fame via the writers’ ballot, Sosa and Clemens also falling off the ballot this year — Bonds, a seven-time Most Valuable Player, garnered only 36.2% of the vote in his first year on the ballot in 2013, and topped at at 66% this year. Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, received 65.2%. To be elected, players need 75% of the vote.
Former Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who has had steroid suspicions as well, was elected in his first year on the ballot, receiving 77.9% of the vote. He was the only player elected, and will be inducted this summer in Cooperstown, New York, along with Michigan native Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Buck O’Neil and Bud Fowler, elected by special committees in December.
Alex Rodriguez, who was in his first year on the ballot, received 34.3% of the writers’ vote. He once was suspended 162 games by MLB for failing a performance-enhancing-drugs test. Bonds, Clemens and Sosa were never known to have failed a test when a positive test would’ve triggered a suspension, and none of them ever admitted taking steroids. On Rodriguez, Leyland told 97.1 hosts Mike Stone and Jon Jansen, “That’s one that you would have to think long and hard about.”
Leyland said he respects the decision by writers, who have to determine, “Is the Hall of Fame the holy land or the promised land. … Those writers who vote have the right to make that decision.”
Ortiz finished with 541 regular-season homers and 17 more in the postseason — one, a grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series against the Tigers — Leyland will never forget. That clip was shown repeatedly on MLB Network on Tuesday night, after Ortiz’s election was announced.
“It was one of the great moments in baseball; not for us, obviously,” said Leyland, who retired following that 2013 ALCS loss to the Red Sox. “It is what it is. I felt like we had the best team that year.”