Barring serious injury, Barry Bonds will break Hank Aaron’s career home run record this season. In fact, he’ll probably do it in early September.
Because Bonds will be 43 in July, some media critics think he’ll fall off this year. One such critic, who doesn’t think Bonds will get past 14 homers, used Muhammad Ali as an example of what happens to an athlete as he ages.
Hello! Ali’s problem was that he was hit in the head too many times. Nobody has been doing that to Bonds.
A better example, from his own sport, is Ted Williams, who hit 29 homers in 310 at-bats in his last season, during which he turned 42 in August. Bonds doesn’t need that many, just 22, to break Aaron’s record.
With great hitters such as Williams and Bonds, the great swing remains even when other parts of their game have deteriorated. Bonds was once a great defensive outfielder, but it would be charitable to describe him as average now. Even Williams’ limited defensive skills were long-gone by the end — but the swing was still there.
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Williams’ feat came in 1960, when athletes traditionally burned out in their late 30s. In this era, athletes often extend their careers. Though steroids are often cited, it’s more an emphasis on offseason conditioning and diet, as well as staying away from the alcohol abuse and recreational drug use that shortened so many players’ careers — and, sometimes, their lives as well — in earlier eras.
A teammate of Bonds, shortstop Omar Vizquel, who turns 40 next month, looks as good as ever. Football legend Jerry Rice extended his career into his 40s.
Bonds fits that mold, too.His workout regime is a benchmark for others and he follows a rigid diet plan as well. His swing has looked as lethal as ever in Arizona this spring.
Last May, I thought Bonds was just about through as a prime-time player. He could not get around on the fastball as he once did, so he was hitting a lot of balls to the warning track.
But that was because he was not yet in playing shape. His knee surgeries in 2004 had not only knocked him out for most of that season, they also limited his conditioning in the off season. When he got his legs in shape, he was able to pull the ball again and 12 of his 26 homers came in August and September.
This year, he’ll be able to continue that type of hitting right from the start of the season.
New Giants manager Bruce Bochy wants to bat Bonds third in the order, which would get him extra at-bats and more chances to break the record. He’s also less likely to be intentionally walked in his first at-bat, at least.
If the Giants are as bad as they appear to be, that may also help Bonds. Remember that, when Mark McGwire set his short-lived record of 70 homers in a season, he was helped because his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, was not a contender. McGwire had 162 walks, 28 intentional in 1998. But those figures pale beside the 232 walks, 120 intentional, that Bonds got in 2004, when he hit 73 and the Giants were contenders. Even last year, Bonds was walked intentionally 38 times.
So, Giants fans, circle the first week of September on your calendar. That’s when Aaron’s record will probably fall.