Thursday, August 9, 2007

756: The Broken Record that Still Stands


Baseball gurus and casual sports fans worldwide now understand that this is the new "number". 755 stood tall for 33 glorious years, but as is the case with records, they are made to be broken. But it is, in fact, the underlying subext of the "how" of the record, rather than the "what" which makes it all the more interesting.

There's not a single person on this planet who has ever question Barry Bonds ability to play baseball. In 1982, as a high school senior, Bonds was drafted in the 2nd round by, coincidentally, the San Francisco Giants. Both sides, were unable to come to a contract settlement, so Bonds opted instead to play college baseball at Arizona State. After a brilliant college career, Bonds entered the draft again, and was picked 6th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He hit 16 homeruns and stole 36 bases his rookie season and finished 6th in rookie of the year voting. He followed with a couple other impressive campaigns, but 1990 was when he really burst onto the scene as a top name. Hitting .301 with 33 homers, 114 rbis and 52 stolen bases he claimed the N.L. MVP. He also claimed his first Gold Glove the next year, this time finishing 2nd in MVP voting. Only to turn around and win it again in 1992.

After 1993, Bonds signed a then eye-popping 43.75 million dollar contract and headed west to the San Francisco Giants. He claimed his 3rd MVP award, belting a then career high 46 homeruns and officially cemented his position as one of the top players in all of baseball.

But that seemingly wasn't enough for Barry Bonds. Though he was a prominent slugger and generally considered one of the best all-around players in all of baseball, something was eluding him. 6 years of stealing bases, pounding homeruns, and winning Gold Gloves, yet he still seemed to be in the shadows of the big time sluggers Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas - these were the stars of the 90's. Not Bonds. These were the guys little kids wanted to be. Not Bonds.

And this is simply mind boggling. In every conceivable statistical category, Barry Bonds was the superior player. Sans the home run. He won Gold Gloves. He stole more bases. His OBP trumps the others. His average was better. He drew more walks. Yet when Major League Baseball selected its all century team in 2000, Bonds was curiously omitted. But Griffey found his way on to the list. Hell, Pete Rose made the list, and he's serving a lifetime ban from MLB. Keep in mind, this is all pre-steroid gate.

So to me, this begs the obvious question, why wasn't Barry Bonds more respected at this point?

An easy, and obvious answer would be that he's known for his surly off the field personality. While Bonds seems to be entirely playful and silly at times, he's more known for his blunt treatment of the media. However, those truly close to him seem to really admire and respect him. While he's had a conflict or two with a couple teammates (Jeff Kent comes to mind), he's not generally considered to be a "selfish" player, but well revered in the locker room. Yet, Bonds gets demeaned, labeled as an "asshole" or some other derogatory jargon casting him into the infamous line of un-admired but talented athletes. Yet, no one seems to care that Babe Ruth was an otherwise worthless human being, somehow he's an "American Hero". Sure, people will bring up his love for children, and his dedication to improving the lives of underprivileged children. Curiously... Bonds started his own foundation in 1993, "designed to improve the educational achievements, standard of living and quality of life conditions for African-American youth within the Bay Area community" ( No one seems to care at this point that Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Or that Ty Cobb was was entirely pernicious. Frankly, pinning it on his off the field antics, just doesn't stick. The worse that could be said of Bonds is that he doesn't really care what anyone thinks of him - and it shows.

Yet, the mind boggling then turns to the absolute confounding with the advent of the Steroid Police on Major League Baseball. This is a somewhat troubling issue in every sense of the word. While I find it wholly disturbing that any athlete from any sport would seek to unfairly advantage himself through the use of anything (chemical or cork or whatever), its just not that simple. The litany of players who have been linked to steroid usage from the mid 80's on is particularly exhaustive. If you believe Jose Canseco, nearly everyone he seemingly came in contact with used "roids". So it then becomes this impossible game of cops and robbers, with lists of who dids and who didn'ts, things which are wholly impossible to quantify. Since steroids effect people in different manners (not all overuse to produce extensive muscle mass), who's to say who did use and didn't use in the 90's? Maybe those early Clemens years he was roiding? How much of baseball history does this wholly discredit? Are all of the World Series winners from 1985 on a farce? What about all the records broken within that time span? How much of it has to do with the general advances in science and exercise which have undoubtedly increased both the size and longevity of modern athletes?

The steroid game has become a collection of hence, then accusations and speculations. "If such and such is true, then such and such must also be true, therefore, [insert player name here] is unequivocally guilty." "He and she knew [insert player here] at this point, he is obviously guilty". These thinly veiled accusations are only more curious when its randomly connected ex-lovers, who seemingly have no dog in the race other than the potential for finanical prosperity it presents.

No one can deny that Bonds has without a doubt grown physically. His muscle mass has unquestionably increased. Some point to a growth in the size of his head (something I can't personally see). Being that all of this occurred around the time he turned 35 and thereafter (years when his play should have depreciated, but only appreciated), speculation ran rampant. Bonds was immediately labeled a "juicer" and a "roider". His homerun numbers went up drastically. His formerly lithe frame was now bouldered over with muscle. These things have all been well chronicled.

But the real question is still, why do people hate Barry Bonds? Mark McGwire is just as attached to steroids as Bonds, yet no one seemingly hates McGwire. Sure, people hate that he used steroids and how that mars the game, but do people really despise him? It's not a racial issue, because no one hates Sammy Sosa, though he's a dark skinned Latin, and again wholly connected to the steroid issue. No one hates Rafael Palmeiro. Another Latino player intimately connected to steroids.

But generally, Bonds is wholly despised outside of a very select group of people. He's become the face of the steroid investigation, the subject of an entire book regarding the matter, Game Of Shadows, the literal embodiment of everything which is wrong with baseball. But why? He has yet to be actually convicted of anything. I'm not attesting to whether or not he is guilty, but frankly all discussions of that are speculative. And therein lies the problem. Most everyone who despises Bonds, despises him on speculation. They hate him because "They 'know' he used steroids" which with out a doubt means, "They 'think' he used steroids". They can literally recount all the connected trainers and companies and stories which "definitively" link Bonds to steroids, vicariously feeling apart of his conviction. Yet, none of them are first hand witnesses or even know Bonds. Bonds moved from not respected to totally despised amidst the steroid scandal.

And for this reason, the number will always be 756. When Alex Rodriguez, or whoever it may be, approaches the homerun record, it will be 756 that is considered the record breaker to the baseball masses. Not the 800 something which tops Bonds (or whatever it may be at that point), but the 756 which beats Aaron.

The only thing Barry Bonds broke on August 7th of 2007 were the floodgates of wholesale hatred.


Mister Brister said...

First of all, let me compliment you on not taking the easy side of this argument. Was a great read from that perspective.

My only problem with this article personally is the comparison of Bonds to Ruth and Mantle. It would be hard for me to argue against you about Cobb, because the man was insane, on and off the field. But with the previous two, Mantle especially, you will not read one biography or exert from any publication about Bonds-like anger through out either of these Yankees stars' careers. Bonds divided his teams. Ruth and Mantle defined their team(s). And if you want further proof of this, you should read this article written:

Bonds is an amazing ball player. Always has been. Bonds problem is Bonds. I don't know what there is brewing inside of him, but in my opinion, something is clearly not right. Maybe it's some sort of sick obsession to please his father, but we can only speculate about such. Whatever it is (and further affirmed by the previous article) it has been with him a very long time.

Ultimately the most telling statistic of Bond's career is 1 stat: ZERO World Series rings. Sure maybe the Giants should have beaten the Angels in 2002. Bonds had 3 homers in the series I believe. But ironically it was the misplay of a fly ball that this once amazing fielder misplayed that would ultimately cost the Giants from winning game 6, let alone the Series. While we could argue about his lone series shot all we want, think about that for one moment. LONE SERIES. Dan Marino argument aside, how is it that the man with arguably the greatest stats in the history of the sport only makes one World Series? He had plenty of talent around him, numerous times. And I won't stop to calculate how many World Series Ruth, Mantle, and Cobb played in, let alone won.

Barry is honestly one of the saddest people in the world to me. All that fame and all those monumental achievements, for what? He will forever be linked to scandal and widely disliked. And I am sorry, but this ultimately is his own fault.

Drew said...

barry isn't a good teammate...

Maybe its a combination of wanting to please his father and his godfather willie mays. it seems he felt like he had to far and away pass the accomplishments of those two men, and everyone else for that matter. how else can you explain how a guy with that many mvp's and those great statistics "allegedly" juiced? it doesnt make sense. he always felt like he had something to prove, but he didn't.

the reason i despise bonds more than other steroid users is the fact that he was a hall of famer BEFORE he "allegedly" used steroids. if you're a guy like canseco, palmeiro, mcgwire, or ken caminiti, you don't have the skillset on your own to reach that level. you need an extra boost to be a very good player. if you're a guy in AA fighting to make it to the big leagues, you look for every advantage you can find. when you're already a perennial all star and mvp candidate, you don't need that edge. bonds wasn't satisfied with being great, he wanted to be the best. and that is why i hate bonds so much.