Sports Business Simulations is proud to host this area designed for SBS Baseball Writer Hodaka Jajita.
Three seasons: Barry Bonds looked his doubters in the eye and took them to yard 73 times in the 2001 season. In the following season he took the batting crown and set an all-time record for walks as if breaking the all-time single season home run record wasn't enough. And for insurance, in 2003, the thirty-nine year old Bonds hit 45 home runs with a .341 batting average, while leading the league in on-base percentage (.529) and slugging percentage (.749).
Three MVP awards: within this span, Barry Bonds proved to be the best player in the history of Major League Baseball. Nearing retirement, Bonds puts up numbers like he's still 25; the funny thing is, at 25, Bonds never produced like he does now. Not even Babe Ruth, with all his World Series rings, can match the fear Bonds puts in his opponents. Once upon a time, the legend of Babe Ruth ruled the history books.
Now, Barry Bonds is rewriting it with his maple wood bat, where at Pacific Bell Park, fans chant "Barry!" as if chanting the Sutra to the great Buddha, Buddha Bonds.
Before this three-year period of domination from 2001 to 2003, Bonds put up good numbers, good enough for the Hall of Fame, but not good enough to sway his most critical observers, the media. Bonds was scrutinized for his arrogance and inability to produce in the postseason while boasting a meager .289 career batting average; his career postseason average was .200 before the 2002 season.
While Bonds' personality is a separate issue, it has been a determining factor as to why he has received so much criticism. One of his most controversial statements was in 2002 when there were talks of another baseball strike. In an ESPN report, Bonds stated that fans would come back even after a strike because "it's entertainment. It will come back. A lot of companies go on strike, not just baseball. And people still ride the bus." It was this arrogance and asininity that has made Bonds an unpopular public figure. But it was his honesty that made his comments tolerable.
He once said in an interview with ESPN's Dan Patrick, "I don't feel I'm that smart" when it comes to non-baseball related issues. Because of this, sports reporters have hoarded Bonds in order to extract a comment that tarnishes his public image. They have been successful.
If we look at most superstar athletes, they receive millions of endorsement dollars from Nike to McDonalds. We see them everyday in television commercials. On the other hand, Bonds has remained unnoted in the marketing world. But what Bonds lacks in the personality, he makes up for it on the field and in the 2002 postseason, Bonds dominated, putting to rest all criticism that deemed him an incomplete player, a player that "chokes" when it really matters. And now, even his harshest critics admit he is history in the making. There are less and less anti-Bonds articles written and more on his record-breaking career.
No player has ever won six MVP awards let alone three in consecutive years. Barry has. On June 23, 2003, he recorded his 500th stolen base, making him the first ever 500-500 (500 homeruns-500 stolen bases) baseball player in history. In fact, he is the only 400-400 player as well. How is it that one player can record and prevail in almost every offensive category and win defensive Gold Glove awards as well? The answer is simple really. It runs in the family.
His recently deceased father, Bobby Bonds, was quite an athlete, and he and Barry are the only father-son tandem to reach the 400-400 plateau. But what sets Barry apart from his father is that he was always surrounded by greatness from a young age, being the son of an MLB player and all. His godfather is Willie Mays, noted as the most complete baseball player in history. Other notables are Willie McCovey, Vida Blue, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda; all of which achieved a level of greatness sometime in their careers; all of them were San Francisco Giants. Inevitably, this supernatural setting of baseball prominence rubbed off on Barry and in the 2001 season, he blew up.
What makes the beginning of his historical run so amazing is that Barry was already past the typical "prime" age of baseball players. Some say he uses steroids. He says "NO" and even urges major league baseball to test him. Although his body is significantly bigger compared to when he first joined the Giants in 1993, it is unlikely he uses steroids.
First, he has a reputation to protect as a representative of past greats, including his father and Willie Mays; if Barry was found guilty of using steroids, that reputation would be diminished.
Second, it is common for people to gain body weight as they grow older; Barry managed to compensate by implementing a rigorous off-season workout that he is renown for.
Third, Barry doesn't need no stinkin' steroids.
What enables him to hit 73 homers is his psyche not his physique. "Steroids can't help you hit the ball," he says. This last season, in only 390 official at-bats, Barry hit the ball thirty-four percent of the time. To compare this with the runner-up candidate in the MVP bidding, Albert Pujols had 591 at-bats to hit for .359.
If Barry Bonds had 591 official at-bats, he would have hit 68 homers. Pujols hit 43. An impressive player in his own regard, Albert Pujols lacks what Barry has: patience. With patience, Bonds owns every pitch that is thrown to him. Barry never swings at anything that can't be hit. And there have been many balls that he can't hit.
The reason why Barry has so few at-bats is because he is walked routinely. With 177 walks in the 2001 season, Barry broke the all-time record of 170 set by Babe Ruth. In the next season he broke his own record with 198 walks. His patience allows him to not swing at bad pitches but it's also the opposing pitcher that intends to give Barry bad pitches.
In the 198-walk season, 68 of them were intentional and the 130 "unintentional" walks might as well been intentional too. Bill James in his New Historical Baseball Abstract says, "There is no such thing as a hitter so good he should be routinely walked." Couple the fact that Barry seldom strikes out and hits homers at every eighth at-bat, Bill James is wrong. In the season Ruth hit 60 homers and 164 RBIs, he had 540 at-bats and 137 walks. In the season Bonds hit 73 homers and 137 RBIs, he had 476 at-bats and 198 walks. Babe Ruth hit homers every 11.76 at-bats and wound up with 714 in his career. But the Babe never induced the unintentional intentional walk as much as Bonds.
In a situation when the opposing team cannot, or shouldn't, intentionally walk Bonds (e.g. bases loaded), they pitch to him but give him nothing in the strike zone. It is so blatantly obvious that fans, even opposing ones, will boo when this happens because they want to see a mammoth shot into deep right field. This is why he had 34 less runs-batted-in (RBIs) than Albert Pujols in 2003 because his ability to drive in runs is taken away.
Barry Bonds is the only player that induces the "Bonds' Shift." This is where the opposing team shifts their entire infield to the right side of the field because the left-handed Barry is so renowned to pull the ball that way. The second baseman is in shallow left field and the third baseman is at second. This can be summed up in one word: fear.
If an opposing team would rather walk a player, putting him on base and possibly moving a runner into scoring position, fear is the only thing that comes to mind. When the Giants played the Anaheim Angels in the 2002 World Series, Mike Scioscia, the manager of the Angels, said, "We'll do anything it takes to stop that man from beating us." Fortunately for Scioscia, the Angels beat the Giants.
Despite being intentionally walked in the first inning of every game, Barry had a historical playoff run hitting .356 with 8 homeruns and 16 RBIs, and an incredible .948 slugging percentage. This was good enough for the Giants to make it to the final game of the seven game series.
We must bear in mind that baseball is a team game. The only thing that has eluded Barry Bonds is out of his control, a World Series ring. But World Series rings do not determine the greatness of an individual player. Barry Bonds put together an incredible career and as it winds down, is putting on a show for the ages. He will go down as the greatest player in history. One hundred years from now, they'll show a replay of Barry Bonds' 756th homerun, breaking Hank Aaron's all-time record, and fans chanting "Barry!" will echo through the Hall of Fame.