Barry Bonds failed in his first attempt at the Hall of Fame. Voters refused to cast ballots for someone they believed cheated. Bonds supporters claim hypocrisy since the Hall of Fame is full of scoundrels. Often, they point to Ty Cobb. Cobb had a multitude of issues on and off the field. However, there is no evidence he cheated the game, which is the distinction. Bonds alleged steroid abuse provided an unfair competitive advantage whereas Cobb’s peccadillos did not affect the game on the field. As a result, Cobb made the Hall of Fame with 98% of the vote while Bonds may never win election.
Normally, players decline in their mid-to-late 30s. Barry Bonds improved dramatically. According to Game of Shadows, Bonds began doping after the 1998 season. He was jealous of the McGwire-Sosa home run chase and wanted people to recognize him. In 1998, he hit 37 home runs in 552 at bats. In 1999, he hit 34 in just 355. The home run pace increased as his body bulked up. Eventually, he set the single season home run record (73) and the all-time record (762). His numbers became a cartoonish joke. He set a career high in OPS with a ridiculous 1.422 at age 39. In fact, his OPS topped 1.000 in every season after he turned 35 except one. At age 41, Bonds slumped to a .999 OPS. That does not happen when the body is allowed to age naturally. As a result, the voters refused to induct Bonds on the first ballot and he received just 36.2% of the vote.
On the other hand, the electors' predecessors did elect Ty Cobb on his first try. Cobb set the record for hitting records. At one point, he held over 90 Major League marks and the Georgia Peach did it without drugs. The writers elected Cobb despite a morality clause in the voting rules. Cobb picked fights, beat up crippled fans, and attacked African-Americans on a whim. He might have been a sociopath. However, he turned his demons loose on the diamond and excelled. In the end, the character clause seems to apply to on-the-field behavior only. As a result, Cobb received a free pass.
Cobb played baseball as if it at war. In a sense, he was at war with himself and translated that into demonic play. However, there is no evidence he cheated. Allegations did emerge in the 1920s that Cobb fixed games. Dutch Leonard hated Cobb and attempted to smear him. Cobb tormented Leonard to such an extent that the pitcher swore vengeance. In 1926, Leonard contacted Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis accusing Cobb of fixing games. The commissioner exonerated Cobb due to lack of evidence. Cobb played two more seasons before retiring.
Some argue Landis covered for Cobb while others question to timing of Cobb’s retirement. They believe Landis did it to protect baseball from another scandal so soon after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. However, there is no evidence to support Leonard’s assertions. Cobb retired because he was 41 and only played 95 games in 1928. The Cobb example is a desperate attempt by Bonds supporters to justify his election and perhaps clear their own consciences. In the end, Bonds may never reach Cooperstown for committing a confidence game on the public.
Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds are both baseball greats. They both have been accused of racism and both displayed surly personalities. At times, both showed seemed jealous of their home run hitting contemporaries. However, there is no evidence Cobb cheated the game. On the contrary he waged war on the opposition. On the other hand, Bonds seems to have used steroids to enhance his performance and create a competitive imbalance. Bonds’ supporters tend to cite Cobb’s induction into Cooperstown as justification for Bonds. Cobb may or may not have been a rotten human being, but he did not cheat fans or the game. Bonds cannot say the same thing.