The greatest all-around baseball player of all-time, Barry Bonds, has been airbrushed out of the sport’s history.
Recently, ESPN produced a 30 for 30 Special “The Long Gone Summer” celebrating the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. A multiple month event which captured the nation and helped save baseball, four years after a player’s strike led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.
22 years later, McGwire and Sosa have been shamed for allegedly using performing enhancement drugs. Neither has sniffed induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The MLB Network just aired “Junior”, a documentary of Hall Of Fame Center Fielder Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey is the most popular player of the past 40 years. There has never been PED allegations with Griffey, although “The Kid”, did begin to suffer injuries in his early 30s that are consistent with PED use such as muscle tears.
But since Griffey is beloved by fans, the media bristles at the mere mention that Griffey may have used PED’s.
Meanwhile, there is no documentary planned for the best player of this or any era, Barry Lamar Bonds.
Bonds has been linked to steroid use, which would lead you to believe that he used chemicals on his way to setting the single-season and career home run records. But other players of the “Steroid Era” who failed the eye test are now in the Hall of Fame. Bonds is not.
Critics propagate that Bonds went from skinny, five-tool player to hulking slugger in one off-season. Like any other human being, Bonds filled out his body over a 10-15 year period from his mid-20s to late 30s.
I encourage everyone to compare their High School or College Yearbook picture with their 20th reunion picture. In Bonds’ case, great genetics, hard work, and meticulous diet led to his incredibly long career, which included an unfathomable nearly 20-year peak.
Bonds does have himself to blame for never being the most popular and beloved player of his generation. Bonds was rarely accommodating to the media. But when he spoke, was extremely comfortable saying what was on his mind.
To say the least, Bonds loved being the man in the black hat.
I saw Bonds play in person many times at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, and Shea Stadium. I have never heard an opposing player booed as loudly as Bonds was when playing in those ballparks. The sound was deafening. And Bonds ate it up.
In a poll I conducted, Bonds trailed Griffey 45 percent to 36 percent as to who is the greatest all-around player of the last 40 years. Alex Rodriguez (13%) and Mike Schmidt (6%) are a distant third and fourth respectively. Ricky Henderson and Albert Pujols were tough omissions.
The poll should not have been close. Bonds is clearly better than all of the above-mentioned players. He won seven NL MVP’s, only four fewer than those five great players combined. He put up numbers on par with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams.
OPS Plus is an interesting stat that combines On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage in context to each player’s particular era.
A 150 OPS Plus translates to a player being 50 percent better than a league-average player. Here are career OPS numbers for 16 baseball icons:
Career OPS Plus
Babe Ruth 206
Ted Williams 190
Barry Bonds 182
Lou Gehrig 179
Mickey Mantle 172
Jimmie Foxx 163
Stan Musial 159
Willie Mays 156
Henry Aaron 156
Joe DiMaggio 155
Frank Robinson 154
Albert Pujols 147
Mike Schmidt 146
Alex Rodriguez 140
Ken Griffey Jr. 136
Ricky Henderson 127
Griffey’s single-season high OPS Plus was 171, which came in 1993 and 1994. That outstanding number is still 11 points below Bonds’ CAREER AVERAGE OPS Plus.
What makes Bonds the greatest player of all-time is the breadth of his skill. He could slug with Aaron, Ruth, Williams, and Gehrig. He played elite defense, eight Gold Gloves, like Griffey, Mays, and DiMaggio. He could run the bases (514 stolen bases) like Ricky Henderson.
Of the group listed above, only Bonds, Mays, and Mantle could do EVERYTHING at the highest level on a baseball field. The others, while all great, weren’t elite at everything.
Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Musial, Pujols, and Aaron couldn’t beat you with their legs. While DiMaggio and Henderson had power it wasn’t in the same stratosphere as Bonds, Mays and Mantle’s. Schmidt and Rodriguez could do it all, just not at the same level.
Bonds, Mays, and Mantle could have batted leadoff or cleanup. What separates Bonds from both Mays and Mantle is the fact that he simply had a longer peak than Mays and Mantle which by logical deduction makes him the GOAT.
I know Ruth was an outstanding pitcher and put up offensive numbers which were cartoonish. But the “Babe” played in the most hitter-friendly era ever. Ruth also dominated an era nearly 20 before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
Barry Bonds MVP Seasons
Meanwhile, Bonds played at a time where he would see the starting pitcher for two at-bats, followed by a lefty specialist then the opposing team’s closer. Many of the great players from yesteryear faced a lot of tired starters.
In his 22-year career, he never played with a Hall of Famer. Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, Will Clark, Matt Williams, and Jeff Kent were all-star caliber players. But not Hall of Famers.
The other greats had accomplished Robins to their Batman. Ruth and Gehrig had each other. Williams played with Jimmie Foxx and Bobby Doerr. Mays played with Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. DiMaggio and Mantle played with Yogi Berra. You get my point.
After seven seasons with Pittsburgh, Bonds became a free-agent following the 1992 season. Despite dragging mediocre teams to three straight NL East championships, the Pirates could not afford to keep the best player in Baseball. Most expected him to sign with the powerful Atlanta Braves, a team which had eliminated the Pirates in the previous two National League Championship Series’. Instead, he signed with the San Francisco Giants where his dad, Bobby and godfather, Willie Mays starred.
In his first year in San Francisco Bonds led the Giants to 103 wins, a 31 game improvement from the previous season.
Before the Giants signed Bonds, there was serious talk that the Giants were going to relocate to Tampa. By inking Bonds to a record contract, the Giants became instant contenders, built America!s most beautiful ballpark, and have had a nearly three-decade competitive run which has resulted in three World Series Championships, albeit those coming after Bonds retired.
Bonds could have gone the easy route, signed with the Braves, and won titles. Instead, he accepted the challenge and saved a franchise.
In addition, he put incredible numbers playing his home games in hitting “neutral” Three Rivers Stadium and “pitching friendly” and cavernous Candlestick Park and what is now Oracle Park.
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In 10 years the discussion of who is the GOAT may be between Bonds and Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout.
In eight seasons Mike Trout has won three A.L. MVPs to go along with a tremendous 176 OPS Plus. The soon to be 29-year-old star trails only Ruth, Williams, Bonds, and Gehrig in that all-important statistic.
Trout has accumulated 285 Home Runs and 200 Stolen Bases in 1199 games. Extrapolated over Bonds’ 2986 career games, Trout would post 698 Home Runs and 498 Stolen Bases. As great as Trout is, he lacks the star power of Bonds who may have been the most polarizing athlete since Muhammad Ali. Who by the way was Bonds’ idol.
When Bonds strolled up to home plate, the crowd stopped what they were doing to watch the show.
Bonds has two years of Hall of Fame eligibility remaining before he would need to be inducted by the Veteran’s Committee. Not having the greatest all-around player ever not in Cooperstown, leaves the Baseball Hall of Fame incomplete.
John Sapochetti is Co-Host
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