Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Barry Bonds, in the eyes of a 23 year old Pirate fan

The Barry Bonds debate is just beginning - AP Photo/Richard Drew

As you all know, Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron last week to become baseball's career home run king. Yesterday, he appeared in Pittsburgh for what could be the final time. Like many others, I have been thinking about him a bit this past week or so.

As is the case for many Pirate fans in their 20's, I have grown up with an extreme dislike for Bonds. I was at my most impressionable age when he played in Pittsburgh, and I was eight years old when he left as a free agent. As time has passed, I have never been able to put my finger on the exact reason for my disdain for Bonds. There are many possibilities. There were the postseason failures at the plate. There was the infamous throw that ended just far enough from home plate to ruin my favorite team. He left the team for more money. He was/is a jerk. And finally, there is the steroid issue.

I have come to forgive him for many of these transgressions. His struggles at the plate in those three playoff series are understandable when you consider a.) the caliber of pitching he faced, and b.) the small sample size. Also, his brilliant performance in the regular season was a huge factor in the success those teams enjoyed. On the Bream/Cabrera play, he made a strong effort to get the out. He got to the ball extremely quickly and immediately fired to the plate. The throw was a bit off the mark, but those things happen. The only thing I still hold against Barry on that play is that he allegedly ignored Andy Van Slyke right before the hit, when Van Slyke motioned for him to play shallow. But, of course, I do not know for sure that actually happened. Finally, I have come to realize that Bonds' departure from the team was inevitable. The Pirates did not want him back, and he was a superstar who left for his appropriate value. I can not judge him for that.

On the other hand, I can not forgive him for his personality. After slowly realizing everything in the previous paragraph, I still despise Bonds because he is an unpleasant person that considers himself to be more important than the rest of the world. But this post is not about my personal dislike for an individual player. I am here to talk about the saddest part of Barry Bonds' career.

Barry Bonds was an amazing player from the start. In his first season in Major League Baseball, the 21 year old Bonds had an OPS+ of 103 in 413 at-bats. The next year, it was 114. By the time he was 25, Bonds had hit 117 home runs, stolen 169 bases and had a career OPS+ of 132. Fast forward to 1998. Bonds finished that season with 403 doubles, 63 triples, 411 home runs, 1,357 walks, 445 stolen bases, a batting line of .290/.411/.556 and an OPS+ of 163. He was one of the best players in the game, and many believed he would be considered one of the greatest ever by the time he was finished.

But that is when this story took a turn for the worst. After the 1998 season, Bonds wanted more. He allegedly began a powerful steroid regimen and went from superstar to superhuman. We all know about the mind-blowing numbers he put up in the years approaching his 40th birthday and beyond.

How would the career of Barry Bonds progressed if allowed to do so in a natural fashion? We will never know. Most likely, he would have gone down as one of the greatest baseball players the world has ever seen. Instead, a career that statistically is in the top five in history will be scrutinized and debated for generations. That is the real tragedy in this story.

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