For those who think Barry Bonds’ records are tainted, I have one question:
If all it takes is a jolt of a performance-enhancing drug, why haven’t others done what the Giants’ slugger has? From 2000 to ’04, when he was at his best, nobody matched him.
Having watched Bonds morph from the game’s best all-round player to the best hitter I’ve watched regularly, these are the factors I’ve seen:
» A greater plate discipline: In that 2000-04 period, Bonds would not swing at a pitch off the plate. He set a season mark with 232 walks in 2004, 120 of them intentional. There were times when he might get only one pitch a game he could hit, but he stayed focused and crushed it.
» A better understanding of the kind of pitch he could drive: This often happens to good hitters as they get older. Hank Aaron had his career high of 47 homers in a single season when he was 37 and hit another 40 when he was 39; Ted Williams had his best homer per at-bat ratio in his final season, when he was 42. Hitters like Bonds, Aaron and Williams would let a strike go by early in the count if it was a pitch they couldn’t drive, waiting for one they could.
» Increased mental and physical preparation: For half an hour before a game, Bonds will sit (or recline) at his locker, reviewing in his mind what he expects to see from the opponent’s starting pitcher. He will also sometimes sit in on pitchers’ meetings, not just to help him position himself in the field, but also to get into the pitching mentality.
During home games in the sixth and seventh innings, assuming a left-handed reliever will be put in to pitch to him, he’ll go into the batting cage behind the Giants’ dugout and program the pitching machine to throw left-handed.
Like all power hitters in baseball, he’s also taken advantage of the other factors that have led to a power boom in baseball: Smaller parks, livelier balls and the expansion to 30 teams that has led to more major league pitchers who would otherwise be on minor league rosters.
But Bonds’ dedication has set him apart, which is the reason nobody else has matched his performance. In the hysteria over performance-enhancing drugs, his dedication has been overlooked, as has the fact that anecdotal evidence suggests many pitchers have been taking the drugs, too. If both pitcher and hitter are taking the drugs, why is it automatic to think that the hitter has the edge?
Of course, it all comes back to the fact that many in the media hate Bonds and they have jumped on this issue to pummel him.
It will be interesting to see what happens when Bonds becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. If he had retired before the 2000 season, when he had just been selected Player of the Decade by The Sporting News, he would have been a first-ballot choice. Now, there are writers who say they won’t vote for him.
I’m not one of them. I was privileged to be able to watch Willie Mays in his Giants career and I feel equally privileged to have watched Bonds with the Giants. He’ll be an easy first-ballot choice for me.