WSJ.comThe economic impact of Barry Bonds turns out to be a survey of the craziness of fandom. Â
Sometimes the fantasy happens on the field. This is a well-reported, well-told true tale about one hitter, three fans and two baseballs. I think we get Randy Quaid to play Jake Frazier in the movie version.
Tim Marchman does a good job of explaining why patience is a virtue, even if you don’t have the time.
He does an even better job of explaining why the so-called steroid scandal shouldn’t really surprise anyone.Â And maybe even why our collective outrage is just a little, or a lot, hypocritical.
On the other hand, he seems to be as slippery as I aspire to be when it comes to being pinned down, so let’s not give him (or me) too much credit.
The point is we shouldn’t exhalt athletes or their achievements, but we needn’t damn them either. The one thing we know for sure is that the solid ground we thought we had when we were kids, not only wasn’t solid then, but is positively liquid now.
I’m a little skeptical about these grand jury cases where the prosecution offers someone immunity from prosecution in return for testimony, then asks questions for which the honest answers would be personally damaging, then prosecutes for perjury.Â As you can imagine, I’m thinking Barry Bonds, Scooter Libby, Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton.
It isn’t that perjury isn’t a crime, but that somehow the immunity grant seems to be a special sort of torture for public figures whose reputations will be damaged by truthful testimony. The right answer, obviously, is for them to testify truthfully, but I certainly understand their decisions to try and save their asses by lying.
Keith Scherer’s informative walk through the issues in the Barry Bonds case at Hardball Times doesn’t get into that, but instead walks us through the hard issues of what happens when federal prosecuters decide to indict someone. The answers can’t be comforting to the Bonds defense team, which no doubt knows all this.
If there is real evidence I don’t know why Bonds isn’t copping a plea, and I suppose there is still time for that. But it looks like if he defends himself this thing is going to be going on for a long time. (thanks baseballmusings.com)
On August 2 I linked to a baseballmusings.com chart showing the Mike Bacsik was the pitcher who threw to contact most this year, and noted the odd spell he seemed to have over Barry Bonds (who was 1-15 against Bacsik in his career at that point–that one hit a homer).
Since then Bacsik threw the pitch which Bonds hit to break the record. What are the odds of that?
I’ve written a few times about the ridiculous screeds of Dan Wetzel, but held off (for the most part) after he wrote an article about how Bonds breaking the record was “Hollow, not hallowed.” (He’s the guy who used the degree by which Bonds broke Maris’s record as proof that he was juiced.)
What’s interesting is that he comes off as a much more sensible, thoughtful and serious guy responding to people’s criticisms of that piece. He actually acknowledges all the gray areas he ignores when he puts down a column, and is clearer about what is known, not known, and why that matters.
Good for him.
I haven’t actually paid much attention to Bonds breaking the record. The superficial reasons are because I’ve been busy with my family, and my life, and something has to give.
Also, big career records are the result of circumstance. Nobody broke Babe Ruth’s career record in the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or even 90s because people didn’t hit so many home runs then. Is that because there weren’t great home run hitters then? Or is it because fewer home runs were hit? You be the judge.
But plenty of homers were hit in the 90s and 00s, and while that was happening to many hitters Barry Bonds eventually hit more major league home runs than anyone else.
When you read the BP tales linked to here you’ll have to decide whose smart ideas are valid and whose are crap. I admired that guy Ehrhardt’s 12 Monkey’s approach, though it’s pretty much a stunt. But he’s right that the question isn’t really worth our memory.
So I offer my take: All baseball records reflect the era in which they were set. This is inevitable. The dead ball is different than the live ball. Mound heights changed, expansion happened again and again. Ballparks got bigger. Ballparks got smaller. The DH. And certainly PEDs have played a role. So when we compare records across eras we’re inevitably comparing apples to papayas.
I find it incredible that some people still offer up Cy Young’s 511 wins as baseball’s most unbreakable record. Um, yeah.
Bonds’ achievement came within a context that also created A-Rod and Junior and Slammin’ Sammy and Canseco. I read a story the other day that talked about the percentage increase in Bonds’ record over Maris’s, without talking about the intervening records of McGwire and Sosa. [Sure, they might all be tainted by ‘roids, but they happened. Bonds did not break Maris’s record.]
There will never be a Davenport Translation that eliminates PEDs from the record. Not everyone used, and no one knows how much help the drugs are. I think it suffices to look at such things in the context in which they were created. If Clay Davenport (and Will Carroll) tell me that the contextual adjustments make Ruth No. 1 Career Home Run hitter and Bonds No. . . . Whoops, I don’t recall what they tell me about Bonds. That he’s either second or third all time, and either is fine by me.
But that’s what our statistical evaluation can do. If Bonds were the only steroid user his advantage would be incalculable. He would soar over everyone else. But we know others used, and we have no evidence that he used more than them. We know that many of them (at least half) were pitchers. In any case, all of that comes out within the context. Bonds setting the record looks more like Bonds establishing that he’s the best home run hitter of his era. That he set the career mark as well is trivia.
Of all the BP essays in this package, the one I admired most is Christina Kahrl’s. She’s an ambitious stylist, but in this case I think she also gets the race thing right. Maris beating the Babe (in baseball’s first expansion year) was the triumph of man over legend. Feh, the traditionalists said! Legends don’t fall to flawed men. Asterisk, please.
Aaron has always been derided for his lack of flash, for the duration of his career, for never hitting lots of homers in one season. But now, illuminated by Bonds’ strange light, he’s the paragon of self-esteem and integrity, the wounded party when Barry Bonds’ nouveau race man comes to town. Christina says it much more elegantly than I am here. How much hatred accrues to Bonds because he’s (probably) used steroids? How much because he’s broken the record? How much because he’s uppity?
None of us knows the exact answer, but I agree with Christina that the issue still bites and is still in play here.
I’m here to say that in my book Ruth is the greatest home run hitter, based on 1921 and 1927, but that Bonds deserves all the respect you can stomach giving him. And if that’s not a lot, then a lot more. He’s clearly a driven talent with both skills and dedication enough to set gargantuan records. If you think it’s the drugs that put him over the top, you still have to admire all that he accomplished without drugs. And it makes more sense to devalue the record than to decry Bonds’ achievement besting an arbitrary number into some sort of symbol of moral decay.
At least I do.
Mark Silva makes Barry Bonds’ elbow brace, which I guess a writer earlier today claimed gave Bonds a huge advantage when it comes to standing close to the plate (which makes some sense to me) and other physical advantages that Silva emphatically refutes.
That’s interesting, but the reason to listen to this mp3 is because Silva perhaps best knows about the size and definition of the muscles in Bonds’ arm, since he measures them every year. If steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are meant to build muscle mass, where’s the beef?
Excellent work, Will.
I’m trying to think how I would have worded my statement, if I were the commissioner. I can’t imagine a situation in which I, the exalted commish with excellent knowledge, would have released Bud’s weak-assed document.
I think something along the lines of: “Barry Bonds has hit as many major league home runs as any player ever has. I will be traveling with the Giants to make sure tha t I see the record breaking homer when he achieves what no other hitter has done.”
That’s it. Sometime soon Barry Bonds is going to break the record. Those of us who follow and track baseball stats know that Bonds’ total homers don’t equal the achievement of Babe Ruth. Not when the stats are equalized. But that’s background for argument and bar rooms and sabermetrics. If the question is who hit the most homers in mlb history, why would the commissioner shrink from declaring Bonds the one?
Jim Brosnan’s Long Season is a great baseball book, highly recommended to everyone who has an interest in the game. This gentle interview with Brosnan has a grace and good will about it that is awfully appealing, without being soft or nostalgic. My favorite part is when Brosnan names Willie Mays his toughest out, then recalls a game he struck him out three times. Retrosheet jocks should be able to retrieve the date. I like the memory. (Thanks to Bruce.)