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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Barry Bonds – Stats Don’t Lie
Monday, April 10, 2006

Barry Bonds, if he wants to, will break Hank Aaron’s mark of 755 career home runs. While chasing this record, Bonds, who claims he’s been painted as a surly, truculent, and uncaring superstar, is also being chased, by Major League Baseball, in an attempt to prove he was on steroids at some point in the past four years. The time frame MLB is using is quite interesting, they’re essentially saying it was OK for Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to use steroids to break records because they were nice guys and they helped save baseball, plus they also never came close to reaching a major milestone like the career home run mark. Bonds is now only a hot streak away from passing Babe Ruth and becoming second on the all time home run list and baseball is worried he didn’t get there legitimately.

The unreal number of homers Bonds hit in 2001, 73, is not in question because technically the use of performance enhancing substances weren’t illegal in baseball (only in real life), but we’re not MLB, we can go back to 2001 and take a look at whether or not 73 was so ludicrous. In 2001 Bonds was 36 and suddenly hit 24 more homers than he had the year before, which was his previous best of 49. To put that in perspective, Aaron’s best year came at age 37, when he hit 47 homers, two more than his previous single season high. Whether people attribute Bonds’ super-success to steroids or poor pitching and smaller ballparks it’s clear he was doing something fairly amazing with his bat, so why were his legs so bad?

One would assume that if someone was working out and getting better with bat speed they’d also be staying in shape below the waist. This is where the Bonds story takes an interesting turn, sure some folks may point to the home run numbers as a huge indicator of steroids, but it’s really the stolen base numbers that may show the real story. Bonds was the first, and only 400 HR – 400 SB, and subsequently 500 HR – 500 SB, player in baseball history, his stolen base numbers, however, dropped off significantly after an injury plagued 1999 season where he stole only 15. Bonds has failed to reach 15 steals in a season since, due in part to multiple knee surgeries. The question is out there, though, how come all those surgeries affected only one aspect of his offense? You have to use your lower body when you swing, that affects the knees, as well, so shouldn’t his home run numbers have dipped rather than skyrocketed? Oh and if you’re wondering at the age of 42, an age Bonds hasn’t even reached yet, Rickey Henderson still stole 25 bases and he did it in only 123 games, so if a player wants to stay fast he can.

Another issue with Bonds is that at age 35 his slugging percentage went up 70 points and the next year it rose again by nearly 200 points. Oddly enough, Aaron also saw his slugging percentage rise at age 37, his by nearly 100 points. Do sluggers get better with age or did Aaron just have better PR? Incidentally Aaron was also a legitimate stolen base threat for a nine year period in his career, from ages 26-34, but saw those numbers tail off as his power numbers stayed high.

So what’s the point? Bonds was, and may still be, on something. What that something is Lord only knows but it’s performance enhancing, and since the stats don’t lie it would seem as though Hank Aaron took something, as well, just probably something that, if not far more legal, was at least in a far smaller dosage. So Bonds seems to have cheated in a major way. Had his slugging percentage only went up 100 points rather than 200 nobody may have noticed, or people may have just said wow, great season. Instead Bonds went all out with his efforts and it will cost him his place in history. Yes he’ll break the record if he wants to and no, no one will respect him as much as they do Aaron. There’s no need for an asterisk in a record book, as baseball fans we’ve always been good about reminding people of who our record holders really were. Ty Cobb died 17 years before I was born and I, and every other baseball fan, know exactly what kind of human being he was, awful.

There’s not much Bonds can do to change his image at this point, the self-serving reality TV show won’t help, all he can really do is play the game the way it was meant to be played. Even if MLB finds nothing in their investigation Bonds will always have a black cloud, or perhaps needle, hovering above him. The lone bright spot for baseball fans everywhere is that records are meant to be broken and Bonds’ eventual home run mark is only a decade or away from being shattered by the likes of Alex Rodriguez and eventually Albert Pujols and guess what, after them some kid who picking up a bat for the first time today is going to break their records, too. So while Bonds may be surly, baseball will always be beautiful.
posted by Adam Bernard @ 9:54 AM  
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