If Barry Bonds does not get into the Hall of Fame this year, it will be because enough baseball writers believe he cheated and that his sort of cheating should disqualify him from the Cooperstown museum.
Most baseball observers would agree that Bonds likely took steroids. The size of his head appeared to grow around the same time his home run statistics did. Testimonies presented during the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, the Burlingame-based company from which the drugs came, deeply implicated him.
However, unlike Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, he has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). And unlike Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, he has not admitted to taking them.
If Hall of Fame voting operated like a trial jury — and voters could only assume steroid use with hard evidence to back it up — Bonds would actually be in good shape, says Wes Porter, professor at Golden Gate University School of Law, who has blogged about applying certain legal standards of evidence to Hall of Fame voting.
The strongest piece of hard evidence that Bonds took steroids is his 2011 obstruction of justice conviction, which stemmed from his grand jury testimony during the BALCO investigation: He made false statements under oath when he said that he did not know what "the cream" and "the Clear" were (they were PEDs), and that he did not know what substances his trainers were putting on his body. It's certainly not a far cry to conclude that he took steroids. But it's far enough to legally protect him.
"It's like two degrees away," says Porter. "You need to infer from that, if he knows what the substances are, and he knows what's being applied to him, then he knowingly took it. But that wouldn't hold up in the court of law."
To use a false statement as the basis that Bonds took steroids, Porter explains, then that statement must directly address the question of use.
"None of his false statements were 'I didn't use,'" says Porter. "If [the federal prosecutors] had him on use, they would have charged him on it. They didn't, so they didn't have the proof."
Porter does believe that Bonds probably juiced. And he agrees that the baseball writers have many more factors to consider — more subjective observations to include — other than the legal nuances of the slugger's obstruction conviction. But Bonds and his peers present those writers with a fundamental question that they will face as the steroid-era stars converge on the ballot: At what point can you base your vote on an assumption that a player took steroids?
Because Major League Baseball has not provided sufficient guidelines to voters on how to handle steroid-era nominees, says Porter, we end up with "a bunch of people using a lot of different barometers to determine whether somebody took steroids."