Appreciate Bonds while you can
Barry Bonds is not nice to reporters. Barry Bonds has a huge recliner in a clubhouse full of folding chairs. Barry Bonds doesn’t always run out popups.
There are many things not to like about Barry Lamar Bonds, no question. He’s standoffish, aloof and condescending. But Mr. Bonds has one thing that stands above all those sins: He is the best baseball player of his era.
There’s a short list of great players that includes Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Fans add others to the list according to regional and generational biases, but those three are no-doubt all-timers. Now they have a fourth for their golf outings as Bonds has simply dominated the game like no one since Ruth.
There are two ways to appreciate Bonds: mathematical and practical. His numbers speak for themselves: 660 career homers and counting, the only player with 600 homers and 500 steals, 73 homers in 2001 and eight Gold Gloves.
The most impressive number, however, is his six Most Valuable Player awards, more than anyone in the history of the game. To be voted the best player in his league six times illustrates Bonds’ dominance over a long period. He won his first in 1990 while still with the Pittsburgh Pirates and his latest in 2003 and he was even robbed in 1991 when the voters gave in to sentimentality and Terry Pendleton took home the hardware despite a mediocre season.
Numbers can be deceiving, folks will say. Well, just watch Bonds play a game. Watch how he affects the opposing pitcher’s strategy. The batter in front of Bonds sees almost nothing but fastballs because no pitcher wants to face the game’s best hitter with runners on base.
The game’s reigning meanest fireballer, Roger Clemens, intentionally walked Bonds in the first inning of a scoreless game last week. Clemens has been called many things – bully and cheap-shot artist immediately spring to mind – but he’s never been a coward. Call it fear or call it respect, but Bonds is clearly head and shoulders above every other hitter.
Were Bonds a little more media-friendly, he could be the biggest star in sports. Monday was a mythical day as he tied Mays, who just happens to be his godfather, for third on the all-time home-run list. Imagine Joe Montana’s son winning the 2010 Super Bowl or Wayne Gretzky’s nephew breaking his scoring records. It’s so perfect and poetic it seems like fiction.
So Bonds is clearly the best of his time and he belongs in that group with The Babe and the Say Hey Kid. Other than general surliness, the biggest negative on Bonds is the current steroid controversy. He’s already been convicted in the court of public opinion and that will likely be part his legacy for a long time despite no concrete proof that he actually did anything illegal or against baseball’s rules. After all, Ruth, Aaron and Mays didn’t need performance enhancers to accomplish their feats, right?
Actually, didn’t Ruth put on a whole smorgasbord of weight during his career? Early pictures of him show a skinny kid who was better known as a pitcher, while his prodigious appetite turned the Bambino into a massive man. We can’t really say if his cranium grew, but his face sure got a bunch rounder.
Ruth took the single-season home run record from 24 to 60. Ain’t that suspicious? Of course, it made it a little easier that he didn’t have to face a single black or Latino pitcher during his career, not to mention the cadre of bullpen aces teams can throw at Bonds.
Steroids weren’t invented yesterday. Hitler gave them to his troops to make them more bloodthirsty and track and football players have used them for decades. How do we know Reggie Jackson didn’t take them to hit three homers in a World Series game? He sure had some bulging biceps. So lay off of Bonds for the moment.
Until Bonds is a proven cheat (Sammy Sosa, anyone?) we should appreciate him for what he has accomplished. Forget all the other garbage. He’s a magnificent ballplayer, the best most of us have seen in person. Period.
– Tribune staff writer Jared Green can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or firstname.lastname@example.org