Sunday, May 14, 2006

What to do?


Okay, so everyone's seen enough of him in the media over the past few years...let alone the past few weeks. No one really wants to acknowledge him or pay him any more attention than necessary. Barry Bonds has become somewhat of a dichotomy - an incredibly taboo topic that is approaching a feat of historic proportions and is incredibly newsworthy. If we are to consider ourselves a 'sports blog', we would be remiss if we ignored what may be about to happen.

The question on everyone's minds is: how do you put this in historical context? What does Bonds' impending passing of Babe Ruth and potentially Hank Aaron really mean? Does it count?

Obviously if we were to assume that Bonds was naturally gifted enough to pass one of the most hallowed records in all of sports, then this is, indeed a momentous time. I don't think there's a morally conscious person on this earth who believes that, however.

So as to avoid any instances of libel, let's just assume that Barry Bonds has taken performance enhancing drugs that in theory have enabled him to achieve what he has. How, then, should we regard his "achievements"?

Should his stats be voided? Should he be suspended, indefinitely? Banned? Many baseball purists would argue - absolutely! Anything he has touched or achieved is tarnished and it should be stricken from the record books.

But where do we draw the line? If Barry cheated, was he the only one? Certainly not. So you take away Barry's stats, records and awards? Do you do it for his career or just the last five years? Ten years? Do you go back and erase Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home run race? Ken Caminiti's 1996 MVP? Rafael's Pamiero's career of 500 HR's and 3000 hits? Have you captured everyone yet? I doubt it. How do we compare Bonds' numbers with players of his era when an indeterminate number of them have used the same or similar enhancers as he has?

If 'Game of Shadows' is to be believed, Bonds started using steroids around 1998. Through 1997, he had 3 MVP's, 7 Gold Gloves, 374 home runs, was a perennial All Star and already a probable Hall of Famer with an impressive body of work. Steroids may have added to his ability to hit for power but there's more to hitting a home run than merely power. Steroids doesn't improve your ability to contact a baseball cleanly and consistently. Not counting a deteriorating 2006, and 2005 when he hardly played, Bonds has batted over .300 11 of the past 15 seasons. The home runs he's hit have been while leading the majors in walks in his past five healthy seasons and thusly getting far fewer at-bats. His HR per AB ratio is amazing. Imagine if he saw more pitches.

Steroids obviously add more bulk and more strength so that a hitter can hit for more power. By my understanding, a large part what they do, physiologically, is regenerate muscle mass. Meaning that your muscles recover quicker after strenuous activity (i.e. working out) such that you can work out longer and harder - and allow for less down time between workouts, and allowing your body to build more muscle mass. The baseball position that is most demanding on a player's muscles over a short period of time, however is pitcher. Fans are in an uproar over potentially artificial home run records, but you never hear of people in an uproar about pitchers using steroids.

In 2005, Seattle pitcher Ryan Franklin was suspended for steroid use. Earlier this year, four minor league pitchers (all pitchers and all in the same farm system!) were suspended as well. Pitchers are being caught as steroid users as often, if not, more often than the sluggers we fear tarnishing the record books.

So what if Bonds has hit record home runs in the face of fewer pitches than his contemporaries, Ruth or Aaron? And what if all modern day sluggers are facing juiced pitchers that are refreshed and recharged more often and are in a 5-man rotation while Ruth and Aaron faced pitchers in 3 and 4-man rotations who wore down more as the season went on? What do the numbers and records mean, then?

If Bonds hits a 715th or 756th home run, it is no doubt a remarkable feat but one that should be considered and celebrated in addition to Ruth/Aaron, not as supplanting them in the record books. The fact that we have to consider "modern" baseball statistics as a separate item from "historic" baseball statistics is laughable at best and the reason why I can no longer truly enjoy following the sport or have any level of respect for Bud Selig.

It is ashame that Bonds will likely retire leaving fans with negative impressions over a career that would have been illustrious had he merely kept up his pre-1998 pace. This post is no defense of Bonds. I'm not particularly a fan, nor do I support his actions, and more particularly, his attitude. But in light of recent debate as to how to celebrate his potential upcoming milestone, I felt it was worth noting that his numbers are just as amazing as Ruth's or Aaron's - the problem is that they're playing two different games.


At 11:13 PM, Blogger Boyer said...

One thing people forget though is that Ruth and Aaron did not play in a game that was stretched so thin by over-expansion that there are barely 2 quality pitchers on 99% of the teams. The quality of pitching is deplorable in baseball today, as is this Frankenstien creation that we call Barry Bonds. I agree you cannot erase his "records", but he should never be mentioned in the same breath as Hank Aaron, if he should ever pass him, which I do not think he will.

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Scott said...

Was anybody watching the Springer-Bonds episode last night? I had to rewind on Tivo just to watch again. How bad is Springer though, that it took him 5 pitches to actually hit him?

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Joggling said...

hmm.. you can't post pictures in comments. damn

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Dan said...

...not sure he was trying to hit him with all five pitches.

You can find the video here:

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Joggling said...

a nice little slideshow of bonds protesters.


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