Status: neg'd 4 lyfe
Join Date: Dec 2006
| | Bonds piece
my friend Chris wrote this, I'll reserve any commentary until you've read it:
Giving The Devil His Due by Chris Pinney
You don’t want to read this. You’ve already made up your mind. It doesn’t matter what he does: hit 3,000 home runs, solve the Middle East Crisis, discover the cure for cancer.
You hate Barry Bonds.
These days, you’re in good company. With the possible exception of his relatives, everyone outside of San Francisco hates Barry. And we’re not talking about partisan hatred. This is not a Red Sox-Yankees thing. Russian cosmonauts boo him from space.
Even those who defend Bonds (either as a person or a teammate) generally acknowledge that he can be an aloof, sometimes prickly character. He’s arrogant. Surly. Contemptuous. The verdict is in. When it comes to Alberts, Barry’s more Belle than Schweitzer.
But after all the hate, scandal-mongering, and collective presumption of guilt, is it really fair to dismiss his entire career as if it never happened?
The truth is inherently complex, especially when it comes to people. In the case of Bonds, believe it or not, he has his supporters. In fact, among his brethren, he’s one of the most respected players in the game. Griffey, Puljos, David Ortiz, et. al. effusively discuss their admiration for Bonds’ game. A-Rod, presently vying to inherit Bonds’ calling card as the most dangerous hitter in the game, recently said, “Barry is probably the greatest player who has ever put on a uniform."
Felipe Alou, who played with both Aaron and Mays, concurs, saying of Bonds, “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.” Jim Leyland, the definitive baseball guy, with more than four decades of professional experience under his belt, has said Bonds is the hardest working player he’s ever been around. And yet, throw a rock in any direction at a major league baseball game and you will hit a fan who hopes Bonds will be struck by an errant satellite before he breaks Aaron’s record.
At the end of the day, the only thing clear in the Soap Opera that is Barry Bonds is that his legacy will forever be shrouded in skepticism, and resentment. A handful of unpleasant words will dog him like an obsessed ex-lover till the day he dies: Tainted. Asterisk. Cheater. At this point, it doesn’t even matter if he did ’roids. His epitaph has been written.
But as he approaches the most fabled record in all of sports, and the majority of us prepare to ignore or impugn his accomplishments, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost so much perspective that we fail to appreciate what this guy has done?
Before The Big Bang
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy free of performance-enhancing drugs, Barry Bonds was…the best baseball player in the galaxy. Sorry. But it’s true. In fact, his evolution into an offensive machine notwithstanding, Bonds was actually a better, more complete baseball player before the so-called steroids era.
By now, everyone knows “the story.” Sometime between the 1998 and 1999 seasons, in an effort to compete with Sosa and McGwire, Bonds began to juice. He added muscle mass at a freakish rate, his power numbers exploded, and his head grew to the size of Rhode Island.
But that’s not the whole story.
To truly appreciate Bonds’ game, one must separate the art from the artist, and take a long, impartial look at what he did in the decade before the s word reared its ugly head like the creature from Aliens.
Between 1989 and 1998, Bonds transformed himself from a block of raw potential into the best all around player since his godfather, and baseball demigod, Sir Willie Mays.
Not only did he tie the record for most 30-30 seasons with five (joining his Dad, Bobby)- but he averaged 35 homers and 34 steals. Averaged.
He won 8 gold gloves in that same span, twice as many as any other outfielder in the N.L..
Contrary to the notion that he became a home run hitter after making nice with Balco, he lead the N.L. in home run pct. four times, finishing in the top ten nine times.
Legs, leather, and lumber. The total package.
By 1998, he had scooped up three MVPs (as many as Aaron and Mays won combined)- tying the mark for most in a career. Sporting News would go on to crown Bonds “Player of the Decade” for the 90’s.
After the Big Bang
Someday, all the facts will be in (maybe). Who juiced. Who didn’t. But even then, in this hypothetical world in which the guilty wear scarlet As on their chests, how are we to evaluate the degree to which the performance-enhancers enhanced the numbers?
We’re frequently told by mysterious and rarely named “experts” that steroids add ten to fifteen feet to one’s long-ball. Warning track shots become homers. Aside from the reality that sheer strength doesn’t help you hit the ball squarely, it seems reasonable to assume that increased muscle mass would also increase your hitting distance.
But Bonds isn’t known for hitting cheapies. McCovey Cove, hello. Pretty much the antithesis of the Pesky Pole. Since the inception of McCovey Cove in 2000, there have been 58 “Splash Hits.” Bonds has 34 of them. Every time he takes the field in AT&T Park, he’s one of eighteen hitters, and he’s crushed more balls into the Cove than everyone else combined.
Speaking of AT&T Park, it’s a notoriously crummy place to hit. At the All-Star game break, the home of the Giants was yielding 1.27 home runs per game, the lowest average in the majors. 2006? Last. Incredibly, in 2001, the year Bonds set the single season home run record, AT&T Park ranked second to last in home run ratio.
Truth be told, he hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates over the years, either.
Ruth had Gehrig. Mays had McCovey. Hank Aaron (who played for nine years in Fulton County Stadium, aka, “The Launching Pad”) had Eddie Mathews. Bonds had…Bobby Bonilla? Jeff Kent? Please. If anything, Barry made them better.
As much or more than any other superstar in baseball history, Bonds has carried the load. Skeptical? Just glance at the career intentional walk record.
Aaron, the current home run king, is second on the all-time list with 293. At the All-Star break, Bonds had 675. And counting.
The fear and respect pitchers have for Bonds is well-documented, and goes beyond mere numbers. But another, less obvious implication of all these free passes is how little offensive protection he has gotten over the years. This was never more evident than on May 28th, 1998 when Buck Showalter intentionally walked Bonds with the bases loaded. The first such walk in over 40 years. To be fair, and with no disrespect to Brent Mayne (who was on-deck at the time), why pitch to Superman when you can pitch to Clark Kent?
As far as lumping Bonds with the usual steroid suspects, it’s more than an oversimplification, it’s simply inaccurate.
Yes, chicks dig the long ball. But for all the SportsCenter clips of Bonds going yard, more than anything, it was his new-and-improved Zen-like plate discipline that separated him from his peers.
While Sosa and McGwire were whiffing 150 times a year, Bonds was winning batting titles and setting and resetting the record for highest on base pct. in a season.
From 2001-2004, Bonds out-hit Ichiro- (widely regarded as the best pure hitter in the game) .341 to .339. During that same stretch he out-homered Ichiro 209 to 37.
In 2004, perhaps his best year, Bonds jacked 45 homers while only fanning 41 times. That’s not steroids- that’s greatness. Something which can’t be injected or rubbed on your knees.
Is any of this making even the slightest dent? Would it help if I mentioned that Bonds is the oldest player ever to win a batting title, or that his career stolen base pct. is higher than Lou Brock’s? I know, I know, you’re still waiting. Waiting for the guy to show some humility, some contrition. But in the meantime, can’t you open up your tiny Grinch hearts a crack, and give the Dude a particle of credit for what’s he’s accomplished???
Yup, just as I suspected.
You still hate Barry Bonds.
All manner of men came to work for the News: everything from wild young Turks who wanted to rip the world in half and start all over again -- to tired, beer-bellied old hacks who wanted nothing more than to live out their days in peace before a bunch of lunatics ripped the world in half.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
The Rum Diary