ESPN's experts rate Bonds' accomplishment
Now that Barry Bonds has tied Babe Ruth with home run No. 714, how should we view this accomplishment, especially in light of the steroid allegations around him? We asked several of ESPN.com's baseball experts, and here's how they responded:
I rate his accomplishment as almost entirely artificial, as is everything he's done since 1998. The overwhelming evidence indicates had he not embarked on his steroid/HGH program, his career would have followed the same pattern of any other star entering his late 30s-early 40s. His eyesight deterioration was reversed by the HGH, and his power was transformed from impressive to impossible (without artificial enhancement). Aaron and Ruth should remain 1-2 in the minds of all intelligent fans.
Jim Callis (Baseball America)
It's a great accomplishment, but it's diminished by the steroid question. To the best of our knowledge, Bonds was clean through 1998, and at that point he had established himself as a 40-homer-a-year guy. Even if you assume he could have maintained that into his late 30s (a big assumption), based on his playing time he has hit about 70 more homers than you would have expected. I don't think he would have gotten to 714 without the extra help.
Barry Bonds is the most dynamic hitter I've seen in my 43 years in professional baseball. His strike-zone judgment is peerless, and he has the most powerful, compact swing in the game. As to the accomplishment of 715 home runs, it's certainly up there with 5,714 strikeouts by Ryan and Rickey Henderson's career stolen base total. But the fact that Ruth was the first to ever have 30, 40, and 50 home runs in a season (and those numbers were all accomplished in one season) to me is more impressive. However, more than any player I've seen in my tenure as a player or broadcaster, Bonds completely changes the way managers and pitchers approach the game. The fact Buck Showalter once intentionally walked him with the bases loaded emphasizes this point better than any I could make.
I think it's no more significant than when he reached 700, or when he passed Mays. The record is not 714, and it hasn't been for 32 years. The only mark that matters is 755.
Passing Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time homer list should go down as one of the greatest and most enduring achievements ever for a baseball player. But statistics don't exist in a vacuum; the public perception goes a long way toward putting these landmark achievements in perspective. Because Bonds will be perceived as having cheated his way to 715, the accomplishment is tainted and severely minimized. The rampant disinterest and antipathy toward Bonds in his pursuit of Ruth is evidence of that. Outside of San Francisco, no one is cheering for him to pass the Babe. And once he does, there won't be many people celebrating. The Bonds Watch has been about as enjoyable as oral surgery. The climax won't be any more gratifying.
Despite the fact Bonds appears to be one of the most hated men in baseball, this is a significant accomplishment that deserves -- and demands -- credit. I'm not blind to the fact he might have gotten help along the way, but I doubt he was the only one. To hit 700 home runs takes a great degree of dedication and longevity, as well as talent, strength and plate discipline, and even at this stage, in which he's clearly a shell of his prime health-wise, Bonds can rake a fastball if he can reach it. Sure, he caught Babe Ruth in career home runs, but I don't compare them. Each is a significant accomplishment on its own merits.
It's been several years since I regarded Bonds' home run rampage as a stand-alone achievement. The debate isn't how many home runs he hit -- or will hit -- but how many chemicals he's needed to get there. Instead, I'll rate Bonds first 400 or so homers for what they were, presumably juice-free and proof of his enormous skills. The last 300 have been the equivalent of watching Michael Jordan play on a nine-foot basket.
Bonds' accomplishments are staggering. He is, along with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, one of the three greatest hitters of all time. The steroid allegations obviously cloud this issue tremendously, but I don't believe there should be an asterisk next to any of his records, nor should any of his records be taken away. There will be an imaginary asterisk next to this era for the rest of time. Those who are linked to steroids will have that attached to their names and their numbers forever, and that is some form of punishment. We need to give the really good baseball fan more credit for understanding that something fishy has happened the last 12 years.
No one gives baseball players enough credit for the grind of a 162-game season. Never have; never will. To stay healthy and productive long enough to hit 714 home runs -- even if you are drinking rocket fuel by the gallon -- is a feat of enormous proportions. When your home parks are Three Rivers, Candlestick and AT&T, it's even more impressive. There's no question Bonds made his mark in an era of power hitters, with many factors (not just chemicals) in hitters' favor, but Bonds did the most important thing. He kept showing up ready to do great things.
While allegations that Barry Bonds took steroids are being investigated, passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list would be one of the greatest accomplishments in baseball. Even if Bonds started taking steroids and human growth hormone in 1999, as his accusers say, by then he was already one of the best ballplayers in history. His performance since then simply took him to the top of any ranking.
I don't know, and that's what makes me so angry . or just bored of the whole conversation; I'm not sure which. We don't know what to make of Barry Bonds' hitting 714 or 715 home runs. We have more than fair questions about what he might have done to get there, when he might have done it, and -- let's not forget -- the entire culture in which this all might have been done by his competition, too. The uncertainty has gone from upsetting to infuriating to, now, just plain trite. My first son is going to be born in a few days, and when he asks me someday, "Daddy, who holds the record for most homers in a season?" I probably won't be able to answer with any joy. Whether Bonds took steroids or not, the culture that the Players Association cultivated and protected will force us all to trade wonder for indifference, awe for skepticism. Everyone talks about ballplayers taking steroids; this is what steroids have taken from us.
It is what it is, and we all know what it is. It is everything together, the 714 home runs along with the steroid scandal and the debate over legitimacy. Rating it is almost irrelevant because Bonds' home runs are in the record book to stay -- they won't be scratched because it's too complex a task for any statistician or politician or investigation to draw a reasonable conclusion to the steroid era. Wipe out the home runs? How many? How about the accompanying strikeouts and walks? How about the pitchers, some of whom undoubtedly were chemically enhanced when pitching to Bonds? For now, the accomplishment rates with Ruth and behind Aaron, and that's all there is to it.
My philosophy about Barry -- and all these home run feats from the Asterisk Generation -- is this: I believe in truth in advertising. So I'd assess this moment this way: Barry Bonds is, was and always has been one of the greatest players who ever lived. So all discussion of anything he accomplishes should start there. But his career numbers will -- and should -- come with a "but" attached. He did what he did, but and you can fill in that blank however you'd like.
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