Maury Brown : There ought to be one word that comes to mind when taking in Bonds’ place as the all-time home run king. Maybe that word is ‘confused.’ Or cloudy, muddy, murky… take your pick. In the history of sports, I don’t think anyone has ever faced the dilemma of asking whether or not a record was legitimately set or not. Barry Bonds has forced us to look at that issue with arguably the most revered and sacred of records in baseball. After all, the record has been achieved, and controversy be damned, he hasn’t failed a drug test, nor has he been indicted by the Feds, nor has some mountain of evidence landed in George Mitchell’s lap that makes one think that Bonds is going to be the focus of his soon-to-be published report.
Yet, I couldn’t sit there and watch the historic event without asking how does one’s head and feet grow when they are in their 40s? HGH? Adding to the confusion was the reaction by Commissioner Selig, which at best seemed clumsy, and at worst looked petty. He appeared to be a man who either caved in to pressure to witness some of Bonds’ games leading up to 756, or who decided that, by not being there for the record-breaker yet making it to some of the games, he’d appear as if he tried. Nice try, but what Selig actually accomplished was something that all the spin doctors in the world might not have been able to do-make Barry Bonds into a sympathetic figure.
The future’s loaded with unknowns. What will happen when he comes up for ballot for the Hall of Fame? What if he is indicted? Suffice to say that the record-setting home run is unsettling to fans, and with that, the record is tarnished and something that simply did not reach the full potential. My sense is that we were all somehow somewhat robbed of one of the greatest moments in Major League Baseball history.
Will Carroll : I’m considered an apologist for Bonds in large part because I’ve kept an open mind. I’m okay with that; I’ve been called worse. For me, it was a great baseball moment. I’ll remember the deep drive he hit to center, the look on his face as he rounded first, and the look on his son’s face as his father crossed home.
As I get older, the father-son relationships are what I’ve noticed more and more with baseball. If you look at Nikolai Bonds, you’ll see the same look we saw from Matt McGwire back in 1998. I remember the kiss that Shawon Dunston gave his son after hitting a home run in the World Series. Heck, I’ll remember the look of relief on Dusty Baker‘s face as he pulled his son to him after the tyke was almost being crushed by J.T. Snow. (Snow’s miracle save is, to me, perhaps as great a play as I’ve ever seen on a field.)
Every time I go to a game, I see a family or a father and son sitting in the stands. We all learned our love of baseball from somewhere; I learned mine on dusty fields where we’d play in the hot sun for hours, but then also watching the deep green grass of Wrigley Field from a thousand miles away on cable. I never met Harry Caray, but on many a spring and summer day, I felt as if that man was teaching me to love baseball. I may have learned more about the game from Steve Stone, but it was the passion that I learned from Harry. I’m not sure what Harry would have to say about Bonds’ situation, but I do know that Bonds spelled backwards is Sdnob.
As Bonds goes into the record book, he’ll have his detractors, but he’ll always have that moment, a moment in time when for just a little while there were no shadows, there was no pending investigation, there was no frowning Bud Selig, and there was nothing else but a bat, a ball, and forty thousand screaming fans. Plus me, watching on Tivo, clapping alone in my living room.
John Erhardt : I have a memory storage problem–I tend to be a bit sketchy on what really matters, but not so much on the unimportant details. Those details that I retain, I remember in agonizing detail. The only real memory I have of a friend’s wedding in Maine is that I bought a pair of brown clogs at the Bass outlet in Kittery on the drive home. I was in Maine for three days, and that’s all I’ve got.
Home run #756 doesn’t feel like one of those memories. It feels like something I’ll have a good, accurate mental video of–in its entirety–long after we’ve all grown tired of complaining about whoever replaces Bud Selig as Commissioner. Steroids or no steroids, I’m OK with that, because most of my mental videos come sans commentary, silent-movie style (though without the Scott Joplin soundtrack). I was at the game in 2002 when Bonds hit home run #599, and while I don’t remember who he hit it off of (I’ve outsourced that job to Retrosheet), I will always remember the goosebumps, and how the hair on my arm stood up when he walked to the plate every time. Five years later, I still own every second of that.
As for the steroid issue, I’m pretty apathetic about the whole thing. I’m not exactly proud of that, nor am I looking for recruits, but it’s true. Did Bonds break the rules and use something to enhance his performance? Probably, but I just don’t care. It might be that I won’t buy the media attacks on Bonds until someone argues as forcefully to put an asterisk next to Carlos Almanzar‘s 13 career wins for consistency’s sake. It also might be that I once formulated a
philosophy of life that covered this stuff with great conviction, but have long since forgotten the major components of it, instead being left with the memory that I might have written it all down in a red notebook using a pen I accidentally took from a Jiffy Lube in Wauseon, Ohio.
I can’t say I’m the type to get too worked up over pointless superlatives, and this, to me, is one of them. If the home run record is nothing more than a counting exercise, then the title of “Home Run King” is pretty easy to bestow, and it can be a crown made from any material you choose. If you want to discuss the “Best Home Run Hitter Ever,” and you want to bring honesty or integrity into the discussion, I’ll have to excuse myself, because I don’t know anything about any baseball figure that hasn’t already been filtered through some kind of media lens.
Ultimately, I guess I just refuse to be shocked at the potential for yet another absence of chemical, moral or behaviorist purity in the world. Perhaps this marks my official move from casual cynic to full-fledged Randian, but I don’t see the point in carefully crafting rhetoric to condemn him because he may have taken mysterious substances to maybe enhance his ability to hit a ball a few feet farther than other people. I’m going to wake up tomorrow, have breakfast with my wife, take a Prilosec, and go to work. Who knows? The possibility always exists that in 30 years, the only thing I can remember about Bonds’
record-breaking home run is that he hit it off a guy named Mike, and that I was wearing brown shoes when he did it.
Steven Goldman : I’ve stayed out of the Bonds debate and avoided forming an opinion because I don’t find myself overly attracted to or committed to the discussion. You can argue about whether this is a dereliction of duty for someone in our line, but the degree of scrutiny to which colleagues like Joe Sheehan and Will Carroll have subjected this issue renders me the merest dilettante. I’m a Bonds agnostic.
On one hand, I accept that there is a large amount of superficial evidence that suggests that he did at the very least dabble in chemistry. Yes, some of that superficial evidence is sketchy, but I remember Bill James, writing, long, elaborate, eloquent pieces in defense of Pete Rose; eloquent, and 200 percent wrong. Sometimes, where there is smoke, fire inevitably follows.
At the same time, I’m impressed by arguments made by Will and others that you can’t easily separate the athlete from the juice. We don’t know exactly how these things help a ballplayer, and there will never be a medical study that shows what they do with real specificity. Everything is and will remain anecdotal. I’m pretty sure the East German government showed that they could pervert the heck out of the body chemistry of female athletes, but beyond that, we don’t know.
If I can pull out yet a third hand, Bonds hit 73 home runs at age 36, and we know that hitters just don’t do that (not so much the 73 part, although that’s obviously unusual, but the part about peaking at 36). And on a fourth hand, I’m not impressed by the absence of a failed drug test. My understanding is that testing procedures are not exactly rigorous. Fifth? While we’ve seen a lot of chicanery at the Justice Department lately, you’d have to have some Attorney Ahab with a real obsession to argue that this was all a witch hunt.
So there’s a lot of stuff to sort out, and as I’m not a religious believer
in the sanctity of the record book, I can’t get exercised enough to take the
time to work through it. I suspect I’ll have to once Jose Canseco throws
A-Rod under the bus, but until then I’m content to watch others more
invested fight this battle and pick and choose from among their arguments.
Ruth and Aaron had various outside influences and conditions that they
benefitted from. In our own time, it seems pretty obvious that as baseball
emerged from the labor struggles of 1994-1995, the ball got jazzier, the
current strike zone is to the old one as Lichtenstein is to Russia, batters
are allowed to stand with one foot on the plate, and pitchers are effectively forbidden from brushing them back. Compared to that, the advantages provided by juicing, if any, have got to be infinitesimal. The home run record has been cheapened, yes, but with the connivance of Baseball, and perhaps a cascading series of unintended consequences.
Again, I offer no warranties on this series of disconnected, conflicting thoughts. I assume the evidence will emerge eventually and we’ll be able to
come to a conclusion without so much guesswork. Heck, we even found out who
Deep Throat was, so nothing stays buried forever. For now, I wait, neither
cheering nor booing.
Kevin Goldstein : I actually got lucky and tuned into the Giants/Nationals game just in time, maybe 10 seconds before Barry Bonds stepped up to the plate and made history. Here’s what went through my mind:
“Who would have thought that in August I’d be watching a game between two last-place teams that I have no rooting interest in.”
“That really is Mike Bacsik. I remember when he came over to the Mets in the Roberto Alomar trade. Who’s the last big league team he pitched for?” (Answer: Texas, in 2004.)
“There’s that brace Will talked to the guy about; I’ve never really looked at it before, but it actually looks like a pretty complicated device.”
“Other than the pitcher, I think Barry Bonds is the only first-round pick in the lineup for the Giants. I think the Nationals have four.”
“That’s really cool.”
The most interesting thing to note here is that despite all the hullabaloo, from the time I turned on the television, including Bonds stepping to the plate, hitting the home run, and the post-event celebratory spectacle, I didn’t think about steroids, or congressional hearings, or suspensions, or what he looked like 20 years ago, or cream, or clear, or anything like that. I just thought about baseball.
Derek Jacques : It’s a strange, post-756 world we’re living in. After four months of rabid editorializing from every person with a soapbox to stand on, it feels like, for a moment, the world has run out of venom for Barry Lamar Bonds. Part of this is human nature–the public has always been less interested in the steroids story than the media has been, and there’s a natural feeling of getting carried away in a spectacle at times like these. I wasn’t surprised to hear people cheer homer 755 in San Diego, and although I think San Francisco’s fans deserved to see the tiebreaker live as a reward for their support of Bonds over the years, I don’t believe that fans anywhere would have greeted homer number 756 with boos, for the same reason that people generally don’t greet a no-hitter against the home team with boos.
Everyone should enjoy these calm, post-756 waters while they can. As the Commissioner’s constant press releases during the final stages of the record chase constantly reminded us, with their intonations of “every American is innocent until proven guilty,” another shoe is likely to drop in this matter, soon, whether it comes from former Senator George Mitchell, or from a federal grand jury. So enjoy the moment while it lasts.
Jay Jaffe : I’m not happy to see Bonds break the record, but I’m elated to see the circus leave town. I watched #755 and #756 once or twice, and then turned away in disinterest and disgust. Good riddance.
The record is what it is, something to be taken in context. Even absent a positive test, the mountain of evidence that Bonds used performance enhancing drugs is enough to convince me that his accomplishment is tainted. We’ll never know the extent to which Bonds was aided, but the fact that his historically unprecedented late-career surge matches up with the well-documented timeline of his alleged usage is enough for me. Bonds isn’t alone among players in having take PEDs, and culpability for the whole sordid scene is shared by Bud Selig, the owners, and a complicit media. I’m not advocating an asterisk in the record books or the expungement of any statistics; if the fabric of baseball history can withstand the variable impacts of the spitballers, scuffers, bat-corkers, sign-stealers, and greenie-poppers, to say nothing of the Black Sox and Pete Rose, it can withstand this. But that doesn’t mean we have to worship the record or the man who achieved it.
I hope that the all-time list finds a new man atop it–Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Jason Tyner–by the time that I need to explain this record to my children, and that the next chase is more fun for all of us.
Christina Kahrl : I’ve been an unapologetic fan of Barry’s work going back a couple of years now, but that’s simply on the basis of what we know versus what’s been implied, inferred, or wishcast by a number of people who really just want to see Bonds go down in flames–bitter exes, equally bitter old men, sanctimonious non-players, and petty fourth estate types with well-nursed grievances.
In September of 2005, when Bonds came back from his then most-recent knee injury, I wrote on this subject at some length, but the basic sentiment was that I don’t know Barry Bonds, and not many of us–anybody, inside the game or out–do. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone I haven’t met, virtually or in the flesh. As I expected at the time, when talk drifts to how baseball celebrates record, I could not then and cannot now help but think how
Rickey Henderson was treated for setting the stolen base record while not saying anything particularly offensive afterwards, or how his setting the runs record was effectively overlooked. These things bring me to the conclusion that, however sad it may be to acknowledge, race still matters. We don’t need to throw Bonds a pity party over it, but PEDs make up only a small part of what was already going to be an unfortunate and perhaps ugly narrative.
As I said then, for me, steroids is like cocaine was in the early ’80s. It’s a spectacular issue, which is to say, it is a spectacle. I don’t think we can say with absolute confidence what either substance (or amphetamines) do to player performance. I don’t think we can prove that any of these things perverted the game, or that they reflect anything more than that the game is played by our fellow men, prone to the same temptations, the same errors of judgment and the
same mistakes. Perhaps my view is overly broad, but if the game had a
problem, however large or small, it has long since been identified and fixed.
Would that all social ills were so readily addressed, however belatedly, tentatively or imperfectly.
Bonds was then and is now caught in a bind: he’ll never overcome reasonable doubt, so instead of being presumed innocent, he will always be condemned by a large number of people, for reasons as varied as reasonable doubt to conditioned dislike to overt racism, to name a few of what might be an unlimited range of possible responses to Bonds setting the record. My problem is that I will never escape this doubt: the extent to which Barry Bonds was condemned from the start, and how too-ready the media was to go for a rope, and ratings.
If Bonds is guilty–if–then he joins a long list of tainted men in the
game’s pantheon. If he’s guilty, he’s a great player and a reflection of
his time. And lest we make too much of contemporary wrongs relative to someone like, say, Cap Anson, he would be merely guilty of a stupid little thing, the full measure of which we’ll never know, and not something fundamentally evil (the full measure of which we’ll also never
know). But that’s me: beyond a certain curiosity for trivia, I could care
less about the record book. It is already a product of an injustice, one from
before your birth or mine.
What we know is that Bonds is as spartan as they come, a man as devoted to the craft of hitting as any chestnut about Tony Gwynn or Ted Williams tells about their work habits, a man as fundamentally gifted at hammering his pitch as legend claims the Babe must have been, or that facts reflect Mickey Mantle or Hank Aaron were, and that present reality tells us that Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. are. Bonds was, is, and remains great, and his greatness is a reflection of his ability. His place in history ranks not as an insult to anyone’s legacy, but as a testament to his talent.
The shame is that we’re left with the crack of Barry’s batting potentially getting drowned out by the crankily croaked judgments of a generation of men old enough to be on a first-name basis with their urologists, men devoted to condemning their younger charges to their own cupped lot, men cynically and belatedly listening to Jiminy Cricket now that the money’s been made and their actions in 1994 have been papered over by the players’ achievements of 1998. As going concerns go, this should not be theirs to judge.
Congratulations, Barry, and take it as far as you can by creating as many souvenirs till the very end, whenever you’re ready. The fun for us as fans and as analysts into the future will be to see whether A-Rod can climb a new Everest, and that will be every bit as brilliant as your own accomplishment.
David Laurila : In following Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record, I found myself rooting not for or against the individual–no man is more important than the game itself–but rather for or against what Bonds stands for. Love him or hate him, there is no question that Bonds has come to symbolize the steroid era and cheating in baseball.
While it is conceivable that Bonds has never used an illegal performance-enhancing substance, reports seem to indicate otherwise. Reports also indicate that others have done the same, with pitchers who have given up home runs to Bonds surely among them. They are equally guilty, as are the multitude of non-players whose complicity has helped to compromise the integrity of the game.
While recognizing that he is one of the greatest players that baseball has seen, I have long disliked Barry Bonds because of his well-chronicled history of arrogant surliness. However, when home run number 756 sailed into the history books, I did not look at it as being hit by an individual. I saw it as being hit by a symbol of something that is terribly wrong with the game I have loved for decades. Barry Bonds isn’t responsible for baseball’s steroid era, but he is the poster child for it. I did not cheer when that symbol surpassed Henry Aaron.
Ben Murphy : I grew up a fan of Barry Bonds, I’ve always respected him for his talent on the field, and I’ve kind of admired the way that he’s dealt with the adversity that has come with a lot of the steroids circus.
As far as the statistical aspects of the record go, I think way too many people that should appreciate the concept of statistical context fail to realize the percentage of pitchers that may have been using steroids or other PEDs, and are too quick to scrutinize the hitters for their alleged usage. We’ve seen that many more pitchers have failed tests than hitters, so it seems only reasonable to assume that at least as many pitchers are or were using PEDs as hitters. Whether you believe Bonds used or not, if you combine that balance in usage between hitters and pitchers with facts like the recent information about the size of Bonds’ arms not changing, and the fact that most of the drugs in question would do little to improve coordination and pitch recognition (two areas where Bonds excels), it stands to reason that Bonds achieved all of his greatness by surpassing his peers.
In that sense, his performance is every bit as valid as Ruth’s or Aaron’s, so his record should stand unadulterated, untarnished, and unmodified in the record books.
Marc Normandin : It may be that it’s easier for me to cheer for Barry Bonds given that I wasn’t around when Hank Aaron passed Ruth and eventually retired at 755 homers. I have been in awe of Bonds since my early days of fandom, and his performance this century has only enhanced that, regardless of the controversial and confusing means that may have inched him towards the finish line. The truth is, we don’t know as much as we pretend to about what Bonds did or didn’t do, and as fans of the game we should cheer the moment, even if you don’t want to celebrate the man. I have chosen to do both, Bud Selig has chosen to celebrate neither; I hope that many of you at the least lean towards the middle.
Congratulations Barry, and enjoy your reign as baseball’s home run king.
John Perrotto : I had the privilege of covering Barry Bonds’ first major league game with the Pirates back on May 30, 1986, two years before I became a
full-time baseball writer, and have had the opportunity to get to know baseball’s new all-time home run leader over the course of his 21-year career. Thus, a lot of people have asked me in the last few days how I feel about Bonds breaking Hank Aaron’s record. I certainly realize I’m in the minority on this, but I actually kind of like Bonds.
I realize he rubs many people the wrong way with his bouts of churlishness and self-absorption, but I’ve also learned that Bonds’ bark is a lot worse than his bite. If you let him understand you are not going to be bullied during an interview, he can be delightfully charming, incredibly candid, and extremely insightful. Let’s put it this way–talking to Bonds is 100 times more interesting than hearing the same filtered stuff that the majority of executives, managers, and players in the major leagues have to say on a daily basis.
The best interview of my 20 years covering baseball came late in the 1990
season when Barry spoke for the first time on the record about his father Bobby, the former star outfielder, and explained why their relationship had been strained for many years. Bonds’ willingness to admit he resented his father as a child for being away from home so much because of his job, and then spending too much time at the bar when he was at home, was simply extraordinary. His willingness to stand behind every word once the rather controversial story was printed, instead of hiding behind the usual “I was misquoted/taken out of context” defense, forever won my admiration.
On the other hand, it’s hard to overlook the overwhelming evidence that points to Bonds using steroids to aid the latter stages of his career. Game of Shadows, last year’s best-selling book, makes it pretty clear Bonds had the help of chemistry to perform like no other player ever has in his late 30s and early 40s.
I’m not necessarily the world’s most religious person, but I truly believe people should not lead their lives in illegal, immoral or unethical ways. Sadly, it appears Bonds has. Thus, the whole thing has left me conflicted and, for one of the very few times in my life, without a clear-cut opinion on a matter. Part of me is happy for Bonds, who has worked as hard as any player I’ve ever been
around, but part of me is also sad that he now sits atop the home run list
under such a cloud.
David Pinto : Since Ken Griffey, Jr. appeared on the scene in the late 1980s, I’ve kept my eye on progress toward breaking Aaron’s record. First Griffey, then Alex Rodriguez kept putting distance between themselves and Hank at the same age; they would need that distance to survive the falloff in their
30s. I looked forward to the record falling, but the controversy surrounding the players who emerged as most likely to break it in the late 1990s spoiled the moment somewhat. I’m glad it was Bonds and not Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, since Bonds is a much more complete hitter than either of those two. But I wonder if Barry had done this organically, and taken the training and nutrition route as Ruth did before his 1926 season, how many homers he’d hit. He had the batting eye and the sweet swing. If he just concentrated on hitting home runs, given his extremely competitive nature, might he have made it anyway?
Bryan Smith : More than anything, I have felt for Barry Bonds in the last two months as he slowly eclipsed this vaunted record. Bonds is the subject of one of the worst displays of journalism the mainstream media has ever committed, and the widespread hatred against him is a result. Most of the media has too much interest in denouncing superstars rather than uncovering facts, like for example, how many home runs Bonds hit off of chemically-aided pitchers. It was a disgrace for those of us in the profession of journalism, so I rooted for Barry Bonds in spite of the writers against him. Perhaps, with the acceptance that the record is broken, the media will return to do its job and unturn the stones in this scandal. I certainly hope so.
Bonds is not the greatest player I’ve ever seen, and I’m not old enough to have seen Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. This contradicts most of what I’ve heard this week, as even those that dislike seem to be calling him the best they’ve seen. Personally, I’d watch the 1990s Griffey or the shortstop version of Alex Rodriguez ahead of Bonds any day. But his ability to withstand this onslaught while achieving an elite accomplishment for career longevity makes him history’s home run king. And, amazingly, it will put the public behind Alex Rodriguez when he attempts to break the record in about eight years. I’ll be rooting for the record to fall then, too.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now