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07/05/2004 Archived Entry: "MLB news: Bonds walks into record book"
By Michael Toeset
On the Fourth of July, the most-American of holidays, in baseball, the most-American of games, a man named Barry Bonds set a new career record, but it was lost amid the boom of the fireworks and the crack of multitudes of beer cans opening. Scant attention was paid to an event that happens maybe once every generation. But it wasn’t just because of all the Fourth activities; it also was due to the fact the record he set is in an unappreciated category: walks.
Baseball purists have long scoffed at the walk, claiming it isn’t a genuine skill. And what of all the intentional passes Bonds has received in the past few years? That hardly qualifies as a skill.
Whatever the argument against the bases on balls, consider the top 10 walkers of all time: Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Eddie Yost and Darrell Evans. Not exactly a bad crew. Good hitters find a way to work the pitchers, and through an earned respect, they practically own the strike zone.
Giants manager Felipe Alou summed it up best: “You have to be a great ballplayer (to walk that many times), and you have to be a healthy player.”
Bonds record-setting walk came in the eighth inning of the final game of the Battle of the Bay series against reliever Chad Bradford. After his 2,191st career walk, Bonds picked up the base to save it for history.
Bonds’ milestone came much sooner than the baseball world anticipated, as he started out the season 120 walks behind Henderson. One-hundred-twenty walks used to be a whole season’s worth of free passes, but Bonds has made a habit of getting on base more often than anyone in history.
The Giants slugger already owns first and second place in the single-season walks record book, having collected 198 in 2002 and 177 the year before. The man he knocked out of first? Ruth. And this season, barring injury, Bonds promises to knock Ruth a notch lower on the scale and shatter his own record. As of July 4, Bonds was averaging 1.68 walks per game, a rate never before seen in baseball.
Along with all those walks comes an absurd on-base percentage – .619 – a mark that will once again better his own record (that being .581 in 2002).
Before Bonds’ power surge, he already had an uncanny ability to get on base; he had nine straight seasons of a .400 or better OBP. So while he might not then have been the feared hitter he is today, he still was able to draw more than 100 walks a season, a talent owed to his great batting eye and fear-inspiring bat.
A look at his oftentimes freakish walk totals over the years:
This season: 121
Whether or not you consider the walk a genuine stat, the passing of a career milestone should not go by unnoticed. Bonds has done something special, and it’s not likely a player with Bonds’ ability to get on base will come around again soon.
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