2021 will be a crucial year for Barry Bonds on the Hall of Fame ballot. It's Bonds' ninth of 10 years on the ballot, and even though he finished about 14% shy of election in 2020, there aren't any slam dunk candidates on this year's ballot, which allows Bonds to move to the forefront of the discussion.
As baseball's Home Run King, Bonds is arguably the most accomplished player in the history of the sport. There isn't a debate to be had about whether his numbers are Cooperstown worthy. However, substantive connections to performance-enhancing drugs and a negative perception of his personality, right or wrong, have kept him out of baseball's most exclusive club to this point.
Kevin Frandsen, who was Bonds' teammate in San Francisco in 2006 and 2007, pushed back against both perceived knocks on the seven-time National League MVP.
MLB analyst Ryan Spaeder does an annual experiment where he allows former players to release their Hall of Fame ballots on his website, with his assertion being that the current voting process is flawed as long as it doesn't include the opinions of former players.
Frandsen, a nine-year major league vet, advocated for his former teammate Bonds, suggesting that it's not fair to have enjoyed his video-game like production at the time, only to hold him out of the Hall of Fame now for moral reasons.
"No player during 'TV era' has ever had more eyes locked in on him and his at-bats wondering what they were going to see. People who dislike him never turned an eye to one of his at-bats, they were always wowed. Back of the baseball card is impressive, but in today’s age of analytics looking at those numbers, they are jaw dropping. Take your personal vendettas away from a man who simply wowed every single fan, opponent and coaching staff he played against. In a time where it seems doing the right thing needs an ovation, this is a time where the ovation just needs to be a simple vote."
The other knock against Bonds' case is that he sometimes was perceived as closed off and surly when dealing with the media, some of whom now have the chance to decide his Hall of Fame worthiness.
To be fair, many writers have done the fair thing and set aside personal feelings they may have about how Bonds treated them during his career. He didn't arrive at 60.7% on the ballot a year ago without some voters deciding simply to focus on his other-wordly statistics. Then again, Roger Clemens - who shares the same credible PED connections and less-than-stellar personal reputation to some - received one more vote than Bonds a year ago. It's fair to wonder if that specific voter simply kept Bonds off because they didn't like him personally, because there's no other reason to vote for Clemens and not for Bonds. Additionally, it leads you to believe that while some voters have kept Bonds off of their ballots because they won't vote for anyone with credible PED connections, others have used that guise as a way not to vote for Bonds because they didn't like him personally.
Frandsen has a different experience with Bonds, and began to tell the story of the time that the 14-time All-Star helped him to break out of one of the biggest slumps of his career:
"Mid-August, after Barry hit 756 (I had four different batting stances in four at-bats), we fly to Pittsburgh for a doubleheader on Monday before continuing on to Atlanta. Again, the struggle was real. In Game 1, I was playing shortstop and trying to keep my head above water at the plate...down to .210 batting average...Barry yelled at me to get into the cage in Pitt before the second game. Mind you, we only had just 30 minutes between games. He kicked everyone out of the cage and took the bucket of balls standing 20 feet away from me firing the ball AT me. Every ball hitting me because, in my stance, I couldn’t get my foot down. 'Get YOUR foot down!!' Over and over I heard until about welt number nine, I got my foot down and started getting out of the way! 'Cool you’re ready,' he said. He goes back to the L-Screen and starts throwing me batting practice. Then suddenly, I start squaring everything up consistently, he dropped the bucket and said 'pick them up, you’re ready.'
"Hitting second, I had about two minutes to grab a snack and get to the on-deck circle. He was not playing, so really we wouldn’t see him until we needed him to pinch-hit. As I walk to the plate, with the thought of getting my foot down, I catch out of the corner of my eye Barry on the top step. Living with each pitch I see until I ground out and he goes back in the clubhouse. Second at-bat, he’s on the top step watching, lineout. he goes in. Third time up, same thing, he is on the top step...I get a single...he claps, gives me a fist pump and walks back in. My confidence is growing just with his reaction."
This wasn't a one-off experience with Bonds. During the 2007 season, which turned out to be the final of Bonds' 22-year career, he apparently took a vested interest in helping a 25-year-old Frandsen succeed.
"We go to Atlanta, and I don’t play in the first two games. Chuck James is pitching Game 3...Barry wasn’t playing, so all I hear is “FRANNY, to the cage - let’s effing go!” He makes everyone stop and he starts throwing me BP for 30 minutes and dialing me in. I lineout to right-center field with the best bolt I hit all year – Frenchy [Jeff Francoeur] ran it down. I come in pissed, wanting that to fall but all I hear from him is “Ohhhhh, you got this kid!” Next at-bat, bomb off the foul pole and the grin ear-to-ear with B.
Fast-forward to Monday in Miami facing D-Train [Dontrelle Willis], Barry wasn’t playing and again he kicked everybody out of the cage to throw me batting practice. Confidence is extremely high now because BARRY BONDS is throwing me batting practice, working with me. First at-bat, I smoked a homer to left, just over the big wall at Joe Robbie [in Miami]...singled my second time up...and I was rolling. We get back home and Barry came to me over at my locker and said 'no more from me, you got this.'"
In 73 at-bats in the final month of the season, Frandsen slashed .370/.427/.479 with a .906 OPS in 73 at-bats. Frandsen finished the 2007 season with a .269 batting average, five home runs and 31 RBIs in 109 games, pretty respectable production for a utility man. When you consider that Frandsen had hit just .215 in 41 games for the Giants in 2006, you have to wonder what would have become of his career in San Francisco - and just as a whole - had Bonds not taken a vested interest in helping him heat up in 2007.
Certainly, there are probably other former teammates of Bonds who feel differently. Nonetheless, this is an interesting perspective to hear as Bonds' legacy - both as a player and a person - continues to be debated.