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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mr. Potato Head    

I was going to write a lengthy defense of Barry Bonds, but just didn't get around to it in time. This morning, Sickels wrote up pretty much exactly what I would have said anyway. Bonds is the best, was the best all along, and the fact that he's a dick doesn't detract from his ability in any way. Sure, if grampa wants to turn to grandson in 2070, as they pass his plaque in Cooperstown and apply Ty Cobb rules (junior, lemme tell you about this prick), I have no problem with that. But shut up about the drugs already, until you have something definitive and intelligent to say.

My one criticism of Sickels' piece is that, like every other treatment of Bonds' record, it has begun with the cheating, and moved on to discuss the achievement. I would reverse the two.

Look, I've defended Bonds for years, since way before the whole drugs thing. Yes, he's a dick. He's also the best player to ever put on cleats. Yes, he probably cheated. So did a LOT of people. Since the dawn of sport. Get over it. He's the G.O.A.T.


  • I mostly agree, but I actually don't think we're in a position to say Bonds would look like possibly the best player of all time without steroids. I was struck by Bob Costas' remarks, though I thought they were too critical, when he pointed out that if Barry's career had started to deteriorate after 1998, when he began using, we would not have much ammunition for thinking he was better than Aaron, Ruth, Mays, Mantle, etc.

    Because I thought Costas was not giving credit to Bonds for some of the aspects of his late play that I believe were unrelated to steroids, I thought it would be good to revisit some of the projections about how many he could have hit without steroids that I had read earlier. There was a piece that tackled exclusively this in the Hardball Times maybe a year ago, but I couldn't find it. The best I could find there was an interview with DMZ about the Cheater’s Guide, in which it says Zumsteg found that Barry probably would have hit about half as many HRs as he did without steroids. I can only assume this only refers to those seasons that he was actually using.

    It looks to me that Bonds has 5 seasons that we can reasonably consider steroid-boosted, 2000-2004. It sounds like he was on steroids for 1999 as well, but those numbers are pretty much in line with his career numbers, so I’m willing to say that he may not yet have had a substantial benefit from using (he may have as well, but I choose to assume that he didn’t in the absence of real evidence of improvement). During that span, he hit 258 home runs, and if Zumsteg is right, hitting only half of those would have left him at 628 today. I think that number is probably low, considering what he is doing this year, but I think it’s still relatively safe to assume that without steroids, he would be chasing Mays right now for third place rather than holding the record himself. After all, Bonds never hit 50 homeruns in a year except for his record year.

    So would we still be thinking about calling him the greatest of all time? One contentious factor has been his superhuman strike zone judgment, which was probably bolstered by his steroid-enhanced bat speed at least a little (Sickels doesn't acknowlege this). But again, looking at Bonds this year, he is posting an OBP higher than any pre-steroid season. So unless you believe he’s on some new substance (and I don’t), I think you have to admit that some of the quantum leap he put up on his 30s would have occurred without the benefit of drugs. Still, that he was facing a number of steroid-enhanced pitchers is relevant, but I can't look at those seasons and believe that their use did much to temper the advantage he was receiving.

    So, I’m inclined to agree with Costas in this. Without performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds would be the greatest player of his generation, but we would not be particularly tempted to call him the best ever. And we would be focused much more on what might have been with Griffey and what may yet be with A-Rod. Baseball is to blame for this scenario for not getting a good testing regime going in the 90s, and I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing anyway. But I think it’s at worth pointing that out that we’d probably be arguing if he was the third, fourth, or fifth best player in baseball history without them.

    In the end, as he often does, I think Jeff at Lookout Landing put it best:

    Even thought I think most counting stat records are stupid, congratulations to Barry Bonds; you're the greatest baseball player I've ever seen with my own two eyes. They say you cheated, but lots of people cheat, and even if you did break the rules, you're still the best cheater on the planet. You earned your record, and I hope you enjoy it for however many years it'll be before A-Rod sets a new one. I'm glad you did it at home.

    Some additional perspective about the Bonds situation:

    By Blogger Jesse, at 3:11 PM  

  • Another good piece summing up a lot of different takes:

    Sounds like the guesses about how many HRs Bonds could have hit without being juiced are just that, even more than I realized.

    By Blogger Jesse, at 6:22 PM  

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