There’s some interesting back-and-forth between Levi and Steve in the comments related to Levi’s May 4 post about Barry Bonds. Unfortunately, the display of those comments gets truncated at a certain point, it looks like, and I probably won’t have a chance to try to fix the problem until at least May 13 because I’ll be too busy watching the Devil Rays, among other activities.
So for now, here’s Steve’s final comment in its entirety:
Well Levi, you may be on to something with your Bonds-fawning but more on that in a moment. Back to the steroid scandal, I am less willing to offer a benefit of the doubt than you. In a court of law one is innocent until proven guilty but in the court of public opinion I think there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to implicate Bonds through his close association with already indicted people.
I contend Bonds was juiced up and hit 73 primarily as a result of this. His previous career high HR was 49 the year before. You contend he dedicated himself to changing his game and powering the ball out of the stadium. The next year he only hit 46HR– why the drop off? First he played in 10 less games. One remarkable fact I have learned thanks to this discussion is that Bonds has never played 162 games in a season. He played in 143 the years before and after the 73HR. The year after Bonds hit 73 HR his IBB almost doubled, and he walked 21 more times (in 10 less games) Clearly I can’t make my case that Bonds was juiced based on statistical evidence. He is a remarkable player. Let’s run down some of your other points.
Regarding the segregation of baseball. Bonds does have the advantage of playing against the best players in the entire world. In a functional sense, one might argue that the integration of baseball MUST have led to league expansion because it could absorb better players. Still, baseball was integrated in 1947 and didn’t expand until 1962 (15 years) I still contend this is, at best, a wash. However, one argument that would support your point in a twisted sense is the way in which Latin players are essentially farmed. Back in Ruth’s day there weren’t baseball colonies gathering in countless youngsters and signing them to contracts when they are in there early teens. In that sense, the players may be of better quality because they’ve made an industry out of it.
As talk turns to league contraction it’s clear that many players in today’s game don’t belong on major league rosters. I would argue the nature of specialization is really there to protect the superstars. Middle relievers are the baseball equivalent of cannon fodder. They go out there and they soak up innings. They aren’t good enough to start and they aren’t good enough to close. If it weren’t for the fact that there are so many teams you might well have a league full of Curt Schillings ready to go the distance against the Bonds’ of the world. In terms of closers, there are certainly a few world-beaters, Gagne, Smoltz, Eck, Rivera. But for every one of those guys there’s a head case with a big heater. Maybe it’s just me but I think baseball has become much more of a psychological sport. Why is it that 32 teams don’t have 32 awesome closers? It’s because pitching in that context is much more mental than physical. I think 90% of hitters have a clear advantage when they are going up against a “closer” in the 90s
On your point about travel, you’ve certainly got me there but regarding day v night games the Giants play the second most amount of day games in baseball (or at least they used to). And, if you listen to the Cubs, playing baseball in the day is harder because you have less time to “adjust” ie. sleep off the hangover. The players of Ruth’s era worked hard, played harder and then went back to work.
The parks of the old days all had their quirks but in general were much bigger than the parks of today. Sure if you can hit the porch in Tiger Stadium you are not necessarily bad-ass but if you hit a ball to dead center in the Polo Grounds you better hope you and your 4-lb bat got every bit of it.
In context, Bonds stands head and shoulders above most of league but I think A-Rod or Manny Ramirez are probably as good as he is. Of course, the trick is to put together a career of these mind-boggling numbers. It is remarkable that Bonds seems to be improving with age. 73HR is a gaudy number but I honestly think it will be broken again. It won’t linger there for 30+ years like Maris. Again, compared to the rest of league, Ruth definitely stands out more than Bonds. It’s too bad Gould passed or we might beg him to turn his analysis to this question. Do you know anyone at Stats? Gould may have a point but I still say, more pitchers, smaller ballparks, better nutrition and better equipment make hitting less of an art than it was in the old days. Bonds has clearly reduced it to a science. He is the MJ of baseball. I would say Ruth is more like Wilt Chamberlain. And I still think he sets the standards by which other players must be judged.
I’ve enjoyed this lively debate and in the spirit of our baseball wagers of years past I have one for you (but it doesn’t involve fellatio) If Bonds hits .400 this year (based on the minimum number of plate appearances to qualify for the batting title) I will 1) concede your point that he is better than Ruth and 2) treat you and your wife to a baseball game at a minor league stadium of your choosing within a 90 mile radius of your home. I think that covers Schaumburg (big whoop), Kane County, Gary, Joliet, Beloit and maybe another one that is slipping my mind. If Bonds fails to hit .400, I want 12 bottles of any (1) of these beers: PBR, Special Export or Old Style. Good luck.
Levi: I’ll take it.
Now I just have to not fret that Bonds is hitting in the .270s this week.