by user Darrel

The overwhelming evidence stating Bonds took steroids has sparked discussion on just how good a player Barry was prior to taking steroids.

Here’s what we know: Barry Bonds started taking steroids after the 1998 season which saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa break the home run record.

Throw out everything else. Forget any of your notions of Barry Bonds the ballplayer. You most likely got them from the last few years, when Barry Bonds was nothing like the player he started out as.

Hell, forget that Barry even played past 1998. Pretend as though we’re in an alternate dimension where Barry retires after the 1998 season. What kind of player are we looking at?

The Hitting

<stats> Player=Barry Bonds Type=Batting Years=1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 Extras=Totals </stats>

Most people see that Barry hit only 411 home runs up until this time period and believe he falls short of the “all time great” status. This is extremely short sighted. Why?

Barry Bonds, like Frank Thomas, differs from hitters such as Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa who overwhelmingly relied on the home run for offensive value. Bonds contributed to his team in a way that wasn’t sexy – he walked. From 1990-1998, Barry lead the league in walks five times and came in second another four. Compare that to Mark McGwire, who lead the league in walks only twice, but in home runs four times.

Barry’s walks lead to a dominance on On-Base Percentage. In fact, despite leading the league in homers only once, and never cracking the top 3 in batting average, Bonds lead the league in OPS from 1990–1993 and never ranked below third until he “retired.”

The Defense

Plenty of people know about how good of a hitter Barry was, but not many people realize he dominated as a defender, too. Barry won gold gloves in every year from 1990-1998 except for 1995. Most people also don’t know that Barry Bonds came up to the majors as a center fielder. Pittsburgh moved Barry to left field because they had Andy Van Slyke, a defensive whiz and one of the best defenders of his time. The early 90s Pirates, in effect, had two center fielders roaming the outfield. Bonds played left field with amazing range. In fact, Bonds was still an above average left fielder until he “retired” in 1998. Calling Bonds the greatest defensive left fielder of all time would not be a stretch by any means.

In fact, Bill James said as much in his New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (written after the 2000 season).

“Certainly the most-unappreciated superstar of my lifetime . . . Probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder.”

The Competition

Barry’s peak compares to, but ultimately falls short of all-time greats such as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth. It’s important to realize the increase in competition that came with integration and the influx of blacks and Latinos, as well as increases in sports medicine. This includes procedures like the Tommy John surgery, which has saved careers of many pitchers. It also includes, ironically, steroids.

“Clean” Barry ultimately lost out on MVPs given to Ken Caminiti and Sammy Sosa, both of which were likely juicing. When we look at measures like OPS+ or WARP, or check to see MVPs and league leader boards, we have to remember that not all competition is made equal. Barry Bonds dominated his league for a 9 year period about as well as he possibly could, given that he was actually at a disadvantage to many of his peers.

Imagine if Barry didn’t have to bat against Paul Byrd, A.J. Burnett, John Smoltz, Eric Gagne, Tom Gordon, Mike Hampton, Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, or Kris Benson. Sure, some of these players don’t stand out as amazing, but someone has to take their place. How well would Barry have done if he got to bat against those pitchers?

Furthermore, how many more MVPs could Barry have won without steroids in the game? It’s funny to consider Barry a victim in all this, I suppose, but it’s a valid point.

Hall of Fame?

Let it be known that this has nothing to do with Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame. I stopped caring about the Hall of Fame long ago, and instead just hope that everyone can recognize just how great of a player Barry Bonds always ways. Bill James ranked Barry Bonds as the third-best left fielder of all time, behind Ted Williams and Stan Musical. One could quibble with that and probably place him anywhere from first to fifth, depending on how much credit you give him for his defense, his baserunning, and his competition. This is a far cry different what many people are saying. Bonds ranks, at worst, as one of the top 20 position players of all time. Stop thinking otherwise.


Wed 03/15/06, 6:10 pm EST

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