Wednesday, August 08, 2007
"This record isn't tainted!" Barry Bonds tersely replied to some reporter in his post-756 press conference. The reporter in question had asked "Do you think this record is tainted?" thus disproving the old axiom: "There are no stupid questions." As if Bonds would say his own record was tainted.
But it is.
And I'm not talking about steroids, or HGH, or andro, or other hulkifying chemical agents that have inflated his homerun totals as much as they inflate biceps. 756 is a tainted record because of the era in which it was attained.
Half of the top 10 in all-time homeruns have been players of this offensively offensive era. Not only Bonds, but Sosa, McGwire, Griffey, and Palmeiro. A-Rod and Frank Thomas are recent additions to the 500 homerun club, and soon will come Thome, Ramirez, and Sheffield.
Then look at the single season homerun totals in the past few years. Until 1998, only two players had EVER hit 60 homeruns or more in a season. Since 1998, it's been done 6 times. Before 1995, only 18 players had ever hit 50+ HRs in a season. Since 1995, it's been done 21 times. And it's been done by players like Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, and Luis Gonzalez. 50+ HR seasons are hardly national sports news anymore.
Sammy Sosa hit 604 homeruns. Does anybody really doubt that he was juicing? Nothing was ever fully proven, but c'mon. And even though he was never caught doing steroids, he was once caught with a corked bat. He claimed it was his batting practice bat and he got mixed up, but don't you think a professional hitter would realize which bats he was using and which bats he wasn't? How many of those 604 homers did Sammy hit with the wrong bat? How often was he confused?
Then there's Mark McGwire with 583. He admitted to using andro (which wasn't banned) and his performance in front of Congress was one of the most embarrassing moments for any former ballplayer. does anybody seriously doubt that Big Mac was injecting himself with special sauce?
Rafael Palmeiro is 10th all-time with 569 homers. That's right, he's ahead of Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams on the homerun list. Palmeiro's homerun hitting ability increased dramatically when Jose Conseco came to the Texas Rangers. He started hitting the longball three times as often. In 2005, he tested positive for steroids. Once again, he is 10th all-time in homeruns.
Gary Sheffield is on the verge of breaking into the not so exclusive 500 HR club. Sheffield admits that he was once unknowingly given steroids in the form of a cream. If true, this probably wouldn't increase his power that much. However, the incident shows how easily steroids can find their way into Major League Baseball.
But enough about steroids.
Everything about this era of baseball favors the hitters. The ballparks are smaller. Bonds plays in San Francisco, which isn't much of a hitter's ballpark, but he also plays games in Colorado, Houston, Wrigley, Arizona, and all the other short porched fields in baseball.
A few years ago, they started doing tests on the ball itself, and found out that it was wound just a little bit tighter than it had been, giving it more energy potential, thus making it travel farther.
There are 30 teams, each with about 12 pitchers. Does anyone think there are 360 good pitchers out there? How about 360 not so bad pitchers out there? How about 360 pitchers that don't suck? In the overly expanded MLB, pitching is in poor supply. Just look at the guys Bonds hit 755 and 756 off of. How many people outside of their team's city had heard of them? Maybe Hensley because he was suspended for steroids.
Just to go back to steroids for a second. I'm sure many pitchers in this era have taken banned substances. But pitching isn't based on brute strength alone. Furthermore, strength would only allow you to pitch faster, not give your curveball more break, or your cut-fastball more bite. Throwing a 100 MPH fastball to a Major League hitter is a bad idea if it's completely straight. Not only will the hitter eventually time it, and hit it, he will hit it a long way.
Bonds hit homeruns off of about 450 different pitchers in his career. When I first heard this number, I was floored. How many of those 450 pitchers had careers longer than 1 season? How many lasted for 3 years or more?
Who is Mike Bacsik? He's a journeyman lefty who spent 2005 and 2006 in the minors. The Nationals are his 5th organization. He's spent time with Cleveland, the Mets, the Rangers, Philadelphia, and now Washington. He was drafted in 1996 but didn't make it to The Show until 2001. He didn't make a start until 2002. He has a career ERA of 5.21, record of 10-11, and WHIP of 1.451. How many other Mike Bacsiks are out there? And how many others are giving up homerun balls to the likes of Bonds, Sosa, Griffey, Rodriguez, Howard, Pujols, Ortiz, and all the other sluggers out there?
SportsCenter, and all the other "experts" and analysts out there are proclaiming that Barry Bonds is now the best homerun hitter of all-time. This is wrong. Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are the two best homerun hitters ever. And don't forget about Josh Gibson, whose Negro League homerun totals are said to be in the 800s. Sadaharu Oh also deserves a mention, with 868 homers in Japan. In the Majors, though, it's Ruth and Aaron.
Ruth didn't start playing the outfield until 1918. He only had 9 homeruns as a pitcher up until that point. In 1920, a new kind of baseball was introduced, one that was cleaner and wound tighter. This ball was and is the modern baseball used today. In 1920, Ruth hit 54 homeruns, shattering the previous single season record. Ruth hit a homer every 14.65 plate appearances. He also hit 15 homers in the World Series, in 162 plate appearances (HR every 10.8 plate appearances).
In a few years, Albert Pujols will hit his 700th homerun, and Alex Rodriguez will hit his 800th. Soon after, Ryan Howard will hit his 850th. Then some other slugger will hit his 900th. By then, the 500 homerun club will have 200 members, and MLB won't be using commemorative balls when a hitter is at 499.
People are saying that Bonds now holds the greatest record in all of sports. People once said that about Maris and his single season homerun record. Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa turned that record from the greatest into a joke. And now the irrelevance of being the all-time homerun king will slowly take hold, and the record will lose all meaning.
So maybe Bonds was right. His record isn't tainted. It's ruined.