Tuesday, September 2nd, 2003
There is no question, nor should it even be an argument, that Barry Bonds
is the best baseball player anyone under 35 has ever seen. Sammy Sosa, Alex
Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Nomar Garciaparra might one day fight for that
distinction, but as of today, it is undeniably Bonds.
The argument can also be made, and it has been, that Bonds is the greatest
But he's not, nor will he ever be.
Sadly, it's no one's fault, but his own.
Babe Ruth became a legend while still a young man in the Yankee outfield
of the 1920's and '30s. His feats of strength rivaled those of Bonds and
he drew crowds the way Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa did in their 1998 homerun
chase on a daily basis. Wherever Ruth went, people followed.
And he cherished every minute of it.
Bonds, though, is the antithesis of Ruth. Though his feats are Ruthian (could
you imagine the word Bondsian in the English language?), it is his attitude
that will eventually relegate him to the dust heap of history.
Bonds is a jerk. And he doesn't care if anyone thinks that about him.
The list of his antics is as long as one of his tape measure homeruns into
McCovey Cove. In a feature to kick-off the baseball season this year, Sports
Illustrated covered the defending National League champion Giants. They
visited Arizona where the Giants were opening Spring Training and watched
fans, including kids, waiting before practice to catch a glimpse of their
Players walked out of the clubhouse and signed autographs, chatted briefly
with the crowd, and moved on. When Bonds stepped out, the buzz was audible
until he stopped, looked around at the eager faces and snarled, "You people
need to get a life."
Something that rhymes with glass bowl seems appropriate here.
Imagine Ruth doing that? Never. Which is why, 68 years after he last donned
a uniform, he is still the greatest-ever. Not only was he the greatest on
the field, his qualifications are unimpeachable and have stood up for decades,
but he loved and appreciated those that supported him off of it.
His personal life is an altogether different argument.
Many of Bonds defenders will argue that what happens between the lines should
be the only judge of an athlete's greatness. And they probably are right,
but it doesn't work that way. A legend, to be a legend, must be bigger than
life and the support for him must be all encompassing.
Would Michael Jordan have been Jordan without the disarming smile and engaging
wit? If Allen Iverson was up on rape charges in Colorado would there be as
much shock and disbelief?
Right or wrong, image is important and how the public views a superstar athlete
goes a long way in determining their status as a legend.
Bonds could never have weathered the storm Sosa did because he wouldn't have
approached it with contrition, real or staged. He would have been raked over
the coals because his surliness would have come back to haunt him. Very few
would have rushed out to support him.
Another great, in another era, has treaded the path Bonds is currently on.
Ask anyone walking down the street who Babe Ruth was and they'll be able
to give you some kind of an answer. Then ask them who Ty Cobb was? Only baseball
purists will remember Cobb, a man more miserable (if that can be imagined)
Cobb lost his place in the pantheon of baseball immortality because of the
person he was, not for anything done on the playing field. Cobb was a .367
lifetime hitter, hit .400 three times and flirted with it twice, hit over
.380 nine times, during his 23-year career, he hit below .320 only once (his
rookie season), was the all-time hits leader with 4,191 for over 60 years,
and the all-time runs-scored leader for over 70.
Numbers alone will show you the greatness that was Cobb. His name today should
be up there with Ruth's, if not above Ruth's. But he is forgotten, thrown
aside and, when remembered, is known as dirty-dealing thug no one, teammates
included, ever liked.
Cobb was an arrogant racist, some say he was a murderer and a malcontent.
He was despised.
Bonds might not be a murderer, some say his potshots at Ruth make him a racist,
but there is no doubt he is a malcontent. To make matters worse, he is an
Bonds is a surly, bitter man who has done nothing to ingratiate himself to
the legions that follow him. Does he owe the fans or his teammates? Of course
not. But would anyone who has been blessed with the talents and skills he's
been given squander away his legacy because the chip on his shoulder was
the size of Gibraltar?
Only time will tell, but if history is any guide (and it usually is), Bonds
will be forgotten. His numbers will stand for all-time, statistics that will
go unbroken for generations, but as a human being, he will be remembered
for something else entirely.
And that's not fair, because Barry Bonds is definitely one of the greatest
baseball players to ever put on a uniform.
And, if the argument just laid out doesn't hold water, then anyone who wants
to anoint him as the greatest of all-time needs to wait until he reaches
the 714 homerun milestone. Then, if he is half as good as he and his defenders
believes he is, or before he wipes Babe Ruth out of people's memories, as
he said he would earlier this year, he needs to put the bat down, grab a
ball, and go out and win 94 games with a 2.28 ERA as a pitcher. Just as Mr.
George Herman Ruth did.
Then, and only then, can we talk about him being the greatest of all-time.