As he took his first big step toward Cooperstown on Wednesday, Chipper Jones saluted a player essentially locked outside the Hall of Fame gates.
“I’ve said it publicly and often that Barry Bonds is the best baseball player that I’ve ever seen don a uniform,” the Atlanta Braves star said.
Jones spoke on a conference call about a half-hour after becoming a Hall of Famer on his first try. The eight-time All-Star was named on 97.2 percent of the ballots from the Baseball Writers Association of America and will join an induction class that also includes Vladimir Guerrero (92.9 percent), Jim Thome (89.8 percent) and Trevor Hoffman (79.9 percent).
That quartet will be enshrined in Cooperstown on July 29, along with former Detroit Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, who were voted in by the Veterans Committee in December.
Bonds, meanwhile, picked up a few more votes over last year. But the all-time home run leader remains nowhere close to induction. The former Giants star was picked on 56.4 percent of the ballots, far short of the 75 percent threshold.
Like Roger Clemens (57.3 percent), Bonds remains dogged by the steroids scandal that put a cloud over his late-career success. Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, enshrined in 1990, went so far as to write a letter to BBWAA voters this winter urging them not to vote for players linked to PEDs.
Jones was asked about Morgan’s stance on Wednesday.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the best players of this era have a cloud of suspicion because you’re talking about … guys that would be considered the greatest players of all-time,” Jones said, alluding to Clemens and Bonds.
“The greatest pitcher of all-time. Seven Cy Youngs. Seven MVPs. I mean, these are historic numbers.”
Bonds hit 762 home runs over 22 seasons and proved popular — no matter the controversy — in a Giants uniform from 1993-2007.
Bonds’ vote total from the BBWAA has actually been trending up in recent years. Since first appearing on the ballot, it’s looked like this: 36.2 percent (2013); 34.7 percent (2014); 36.8 percent (2015); 44.3 (2016); 53.8 percent (2017); and 56.4 (2018).
Jones said he would never tell anyone how to vote but sounded encouraged by the progress.
“They seem to be inching up toward that 75 percent,” he said, referring to Bonds and Clemens. “There are going to be some voters that will never vote for them, but I think they’re gaining steam with some of the newer voters who are coming on and voting for the first time or two.”
Hoffman, who racked up 601 career saves during an 18-year career spent almost exclusively with the San Diego Padres, had no desire to dive into the steroid-era controversy on his election day.
“The biggest thing I want to say about that particular era is: I just tried to take care of my business. It wasn’t something that I wanted to overly worry about it. It wasn’t something I could control,” he said.
“The only thing I could control was what I did for preparation and what I did to take care of my body. I think most guys just want a level playing field. Today, I’m focused on the journey (and not) worrying about speculation regarding what other people had to go through.”