Great feat, but not historic

Barry Bonds' quest to pass Willie Mays is significant, but why all the hoopla over moving up to No. 3?

Originally Published: April 12, 2004
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

As I'm sure I've mentioned two or a hundred times, I do a lot of radio spots (or "hits," as we seasoned professionals call them). And one of the questions I've been asked a few times in recent days is, "Where's the hype over Barry Bonds catching Willie Mays on the home-run list?"

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds' 661st homer will be significant, but he still has two players to pass.

Two things. One, I've seen plenty of hype. And two, one might reasonably argue that there's too much hype. Let's think about this for a moment ... Barry Bonds did not just break the major-league record for home runs. That's 755 (Hank Aaron). He did not break the National League record for home runs. That's 733 (also Aaron). He did not even break the Giants' franchise record for home runs. That's 644 (fellow named Willie Mays).

I mean, I'm sorry, but I just can't get that excited about somebody moving into a tie for the No. 3 spot on any list. Was it a big story on Aug. 9, 1960, when Ted Williams hit his 511th home run, tying Mel Ott for third on the all-time list? Was it a big story on June 23, 1966, when Mays hit his 521st home run, tying Williams for third on the all-time list? Was it a big story in 1972 when Aaron tied Mays for second on the all-time list?

Without checking, I would strongly suspect that those were not big national stories. Stories, yes. But not big stories, because the prize has always been first place, either in the majors or (when the leagues were actually separate entities) in the league.

I don't mean to belittle Bonds' accomplishment, and I've been following his every swing on TV, too. It's a big story, and all the more so because of whom he has tied. But this quest for third place certainly does not suffer from a lack of attention, and I'll be glad when Bonds has No. 3 all to himself, and we can simmer until next spring, when Bonds gets the Babe in his sights.

By the way, did you know that Bonds already passed Ruth in one important statistic? It happened last September. On the 14th, Bonds pinch-hit for Jeffrey Hammonds in the eighth inning and, facing Milwaukee's Mike Crudale, Bonds drew the 2,062nd walk of his career, tying him with Babe Ruth for No. 2 on the all-time list. On the 15th, Bonds passed Ruth with a sixth-inning intentional walk, issued by San Diego's Brandon Villafuerte.

Bonds finished 2003 with 2,070 walks, and has added seven this season, leaving him 113 short of Rickey Henderson, who finished his 2003 season -- and presumably his career -- with 2,190 walks. Considering that Bonds has averaged 173 walks per season over the last three seasons, absent injury he's almost certainly going to break the record in 2004.

Think anybody will notice? Probably not any more than anybody noticed on April 25, 2001, when Henderson broke Ruth's record. Or any more than anybody noticed on October 4, 2001, when Henderson homered to tie (or break, depending on which source you believe) Ty Cobb's all-time record for runs scored. Henderson broke his own record many times, the last time on Sept. 19, 2003. In the Dodgers' 6-4 loss to the Giants, Henderson pinch-hit for Guillermo Mota and was plunked by Jason Christiansen. He moved to second on Dave Roberts' bunt, held his base when Paul Lo Duca grounded out, and sprinted home when Shawn Green singled to center field. Henderson didn't play another game, and so he didn't score another run.

And Henderson's runs record, as opposed to Aaron's home-run record, looks fairly safe for now. Barry's still roughly 350 runs behind Rickey, and lately he has been averaging roughly 115 per season. Bonds turns 40 this summer, and I would rate his chance of catching Henderson at somewhere well south of 50/50.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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