Barry Bonds vs. Baseball
Barry Bonds is suing MLB for conspiracy because nobody signed him to a new contract after his Giants contract expired in 2007. He has no chance of winning that suit and not just because proving a conspiracy is very difficult. In fact, there was no conspiracy. It was commissioner Bud Selig who was so opposed to Bonds. No owner was brave enough to challenge him.
Selig had developed an intense hatred for Bonds, simply because Barry surpassed the career home run record of Hank Aaron, his boyhood hero. It wasn’t because of steroids. Selig had cheerfully passed on that issue in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, both steroids users, had waged a battle over which one would set a new seasonal home run record. The Yankees set a major league record with 116 wins that season but even that feat was second in interest to the home run race, which had turnstiles spinning.
But when Bonds surpassed Aaron’s career home run record Selig watched with a cold fury in AT&T Park, sitting on his hands.
In fact, though, Aaron’s mark was a phony, built on a late career surge when he was playing in Atlanta in a park known as “The Launching Pad” because it was so easy to hit the ball out.
Aaron was a very good all-round player and an exemplary human being but the premier power hitter of his generation was Willie Mays. Willie had a big bite taken out of his early career because he spent most of 1952 and ’53 defending his country by playing on the Army baseball team in New Jersey. He was never sent out of the country. In contrast, Aaron never spent any time in the military.
Mays also spent almost all of his career playing in two stadiums, the Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park, which rewarded left-handed pull hitters (and right-handed as well at the Polo Grounds) but punished hitters like Mays who were not dead pull hitters. Yet, Mays hit 52 home runs in one season at Candlestick and 51 in an earlier season in New York.
Even playing in parks which were much more hitter-friendly, Aaron never hit as many as 50 home runs, topping out at 47. But, he was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Even the best players start slowing down by the time they get into their 30s but Aaron had some of his best years. At 35, he hit 44 home runs. At 37, he hit 47. At 39, he hit 40 more.
Gotta love that park.
Bonds, as we know, got a lot of artificial help and he didn’t deserve having the career record, either. But he was as good a hitter as I’ve ever seen. His plate discipline was incredible. There were games when he might see only one good pitch, but he hit it.
He certainly could have helped an American League team as a DH. One of them was across the bay. There had been several times earlier when I was talking with Billy Beane when he talked at great length about how much he admired Bonds as a hitter. He would have loved to sign Bonds, but his boss was Lew Wolff, who had been a fraternity buddy of Selig’s. Beane never made that call.
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