Last night, The Monk watched as Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record. No, I wasn't a Bonds obsessive who watched each ESPN2 telecast, I had just switched over out of curiosity and decided to stick with the program through Bonds' third at bat. Bonds was very gracious in his remarks to the fans, and Hank Aaron sent an appropriate and non-effusive message to Barry upon the occasion. Aaron is in an unenviable situation -- he believes the record he worked so hard to attain (and suffered through heinous racist attacks while he achieved it) has been wrested from him by a cheater. But the cheater is a black man, and the African-American community in the US loves Aaron AND believes the doubts(/attacks) about Bonds are racially motivated.
On the occasion of Bonds' record-breaking homer, the record needs to be straight. First, whoever holds the record, the fact remains that Babe Ruth is the greatest home run hitter ever. Ruth not only inspired the word "Ruthian" to describe long home runs, he transformed the game with his power hitting. He was so far above and beyond the capabilities of his peers that he hit more homers than some TEAMS. And Ruth lost years of batting productivity to both the dead ball era and his truncated career as a pitcher. Bonds' claim that he, not Ruth, is the greatest lefty slugger is simply crap.
Second, Aaron achieved his home runs during a pitchers' era. During the 1950s and 1960s, the pitching mounds were higher (an advantage to pitchers), the overall pitching quality was better (less talent dilution through expansion -- in the mid-60s, league ERA hovered in the 3.55 range, in the early 2000s, NL ERA hovered in the 4.25 range, and the best pitchers of the 60s like Gibson, Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal, Perry weren't pitching for the Braves), the league didn't have homer havens like Citizens' Bank, the Great American Ballpark, Coors Field or Miller Park. Yet Aaron had five 40-bomb seasons before 1969 (when the mounds were lowered) and 10 30+ homer seasons from 1957-68. So his consistency in a pitchers' era is laudable.
Third, Bonds' achievements cannot be dismissed. From 1993-now, he has played home games in two of the worst hitters' parks in baseball -- Candlestick and PacBellSBCAT&T Park. At the time he allegedly began using steroids, after the 1998 season, he had 411 career home runs, 5 30-30 (HR-SB) seasons including a 40-40 year and two near-misses where he had 29 SB (he tied his father Bobby for most 30-30 seasons), 3 MVPs (which should have been four), 7 Silver Sluggers and 8 Gold Gloves. In other words, Bonds was a first-ballot Hall of Famer at that point.
And he's continued to produce DESPITE the ballpark, DESPITE the fact that teams avoid pitching to him more than any player since Ruth, and DESPITE walking more than once per game every year since 2001. Take away a reasonable amount of production from 1999-now due to (alleged) steroids and knock down his totals by 20% -- he's still amazing.
So today, The Monk salutes Barry Bonds for becoming the all-time home run king of major league baseball.
But I still hope A-Rod beats him. And does it in pinstripes.