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07/10/2007 Archived Entry: "MLB: Barry Bonds: The Best and Worst?"
MLB: Barry Bonds: The Best and Worst?, by Chris McCartney
In a word association game, if the words "Barry Bonds" were said, most would reply with "BALCO" or "steriods". Now this may be, and probably is, true, but what has Barry really done to and for the game? Could Barry be the best and worst thing to ever happen to baseball?
My answer to being the best thing: No. To me, Babe Ruth was the one, and will always be the one, that was the best thing to ever happen to baseball. He introduced the homer to the game, and in doing so, brought baseball out of the shadows it had been in thanks to the Black Sox scandal. But Barry, possibly the most talented player that ever stepped onto the ballfield, did do a great thing to baseball before 1999.
When Barry first came to the major league level in 1986, he was as skinny as a rail, as fast as a bullet train, and as agile and swift in left as Willie Mays was in center. He was baseball's only "born" left fielder, and his 8 Gold Gloves are proof. He was the best player in the game all through the 90's, and he brought people into the park, and made baseball more popular:
Year - ML attend.--games--per game
1990 - 54,823,768 - 2,105--26,044
1992 - 55,872,276 - 2,106--26,530
1993 - 70,256,456 - 2,269--30,963
1994 - 50,010,016 - 1,600--31,543 - (strike)
1995 - 50,469,240 - 2,017--25,021 - (strike)
1996 - 60,097,384 - 2,267--26,509
1998 - 70,589,504 - 2,432--29,025
The Former Best Attendance Record In Year by Year:
1947 - 19,874,540 - 1,243--15,989
1948 - 20,920,842 - 1,237--16,912
1949 - 20,215,364 - 1,240--16,302
1950 - 17,462,976 - 1,238--14,105
1960 - 19,911,488 - 1,236--16,109
1970 - 28,747,332 - 1,944--14,787
1979 - 43,550,396 - 2,099--20,748
We see that Barry helped put up baseball's attendance by a huge margin.
By 1998, Barry's career was one of the greatest anyone had ever seen, and with 7-10 years left. He was on pace to hit 500 homers and steal 500 bases. He had won 3 MVPs, tying the record of MVPs won by a single player. His career numbers were 288/.409/.559, 445 HR, 1299 RBI, 163 OPS+ in 6976 AB. But then the summer of swat came.
The summer of swat was what may have been the most exciting race in the history of the game. Slammin' Sammy vs. Big Mac, one of which was sure to take the single season homer record (Both would break Maris' 61 homer mark, but McGwire would end up with 70 to edge out Sosa by 5 homers). The media, of course, was covering the story almost as hard as the O.J Simpson murder trail would be covered a few years later. Naturally Barry, a selfish player who wanted attention every second of every day, was more annoyed than a wet cat. He wasn't used to the spot light being on anyone else. So Barry did it. He took the steroids all through the offseason, and showed up at spring training looking like a line backer, his neck at least 3 inches bigger, and his muscles at least 5 inches larger. It of course was wrong, but you can't blame the guy as much as people have when you consider that lesser hitters, who were probably on steriods, were stealing his spotlight. He may have heard a lot more than us about other players using steriods. Giambi, Sheffield, Canseco, Rafael, etc. If he really thought much larger numbers of hitters were dirty, he might have rationalized his own cheating. That will, of course, never be a good exscuse, and in the words of Bill Burgess may be "perhaps an explanation of how a good man can go so wrong". And what occured next has made him, in my mind, the worst thing that ever happened to baseball. Because of his usage, all the big records fell, and now the biggest record of all, the HR record, will fall because of one man's cheating (Hank Aaron, though, will always be the HR king in my book).