Barry Bonds and 756
April 6, 2007 by Brad Oremland • Print Story •
Regardless of your opinion of Barry Bonds, if you are a baseball fan, you'll be paying attention this season — perhaps reluctantly — as Bonds pursues Henry Aaron's 33-year-old MLB record for home runs in a career.
Until last year, I was more-or-less a Bonds fan. The man's talents were undeniable, and I didn't especially care if he was rude to sportswriters and Jeff Kent didn't like him. He was the best player of the 1990s — I strenuously disagree with anyone who says otherwise — and when he belted 73 home runs in 2001 and starting setting records for walks and on-base percentage, he put himself in the echelon of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. As recently as 2004, I dreamed of Bonds sacrificing a little power and batting .400.
I'm no longer a Bonds fan. By the time 73 was in the record books, everyone had heard the steroid rumors. But rumors are rumors, and they seemed to swirl around everyone who hit for power. I was still in awe of what Bonds was doing. In 2003 — two years after Bonds broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record — two San Francisco Chronicle writers, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, uncovered what has become known as the BALCO Scandal. Bonds' name was quickly mentioned in association with the investigation, and for many fans, it was all the evidence necessary to prove that Bonds was juicing. It looked bad, but I wasn't convinced yet.
The case against Bonds became even stronger when his grand jury testimony was leaked to the press shortly thereafter. There was still some small case for reasonable doubt, though. For the last year, however, it has been apparent that people who still believe Bond never took steroids are fooling themselves. Game of Shadows (written by Fainaru-Wada and Williams) and Love Me, Hate Me (by Jeff Pearlman) were published less than a month apart, and their function was to verify the rumors as fact: Barry Bonds took performance-enhancing drugs.
I don't know how much of Bonds' incredible performance the last few years should be attributed to performance-enhancing drugs. I'm sure that Bonds isn't the only one taking them, and his accomplishments are spectacular regardless of what he's taking. But I know he's been trying to cheat, and that's why I can't support him any more. I stayed in Barry's corner until it became impossible to remain there.
This year, with 734 career home runs, Bonds will continue his pursuit of arguably the most famous record in all of sports: Aaron's mark of 755 home runs. It's reasonable to expect that, barring major injury, Bonds will hit the 22 homers he needs for the record. Other than 2005, when injuries limited him to just 14 games, Bonds has hit at least 25 home runs for 16 consecutive seasons. Health problems and intentional walks have slowed Bonds in his pursuit of baseball's most revered record: not since 2002 has Barry gotten 400 at-bats. Nothing else, however, is likely to stop him. Since 2001, Bonds has fewer than nine at-bats per home run, meaning that he probably has a good shot at Aaron's record even with only 200 at-bats.
As the 2007 season kicks into gear, I'll be among those rooting against Bonds, hoping that Aaron's record somehow holds up. I know that if Bonds doesn't get 756 this season, he'll probably do it next year, but I'll take what I can get. Barry Bonds evokes strong emotions from most sports fans, so no matter how you feel about him, you'll probably be paying attention this season as Bonds chases Henry Aaron and 755.