April 9, 2004

Bonds' Dominance Not Due to Juice

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On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron launched an Al Downing pitch over the left-centerfield fence at Atlanta’s Fulton-County Stadium for his 715th home run, making him Major League Baseball’s home run king. Since that night, three players — Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays — have sat undisturbed on baseball’s Mount Rushmore. Now, a little over 30 years later, Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds, is poised to chisel his face and name beside the trio on the sport’s proverbial home run mountain.

Yet, while the attention should be on Bonds’ monumental accomplishment, more press has been given to his involvement in the THG steroid scandal. The evidence is hard to ignore. Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, along with BALCO Laboratories, which supplied Bonds with supplements, have both been accused of distributing steroids to a number of high-profile athletes. Meanwhile, Bonds has gained upwards of 30-40 pounds of pure muscle mass over the last several years, coinciding with his unbelievable increase in power production in his late 30s.

Unfortunately for Bonds, it is clear that in the court of public opinion, he is guilty before proven innocent. Even opposing players, including career scrub Turk Wendell, have taken potshots at Bonds. Does anyone notice, though, that despite the controversy surrounding Bonds coming into the season, he has exactly the same physical build this season as he had the previous three years? If he were on steroids, one would assume that he would lay off of them now and shrivel ala Jason Giambi, right?

People seem to forget that even before Bonds put on the extra muscle mass that he currently carries, he was the premier player in baseball. While players such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas all laid claim to being the game’s best at various points in the 90s, it was Bonds who won three MVP awards during the decade. He won two with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1990 and 1992 before joining San Francisco and immediately winning a third in 1993. Prior to the past three monster seasons that he’s posted, Bonds was already the game’s first ever 400-400 man (400 home runs and 400 stolen bases) and well on his way to 500-500. With apologies to Ted Williams, Bonds, also a perennial Gold Glover, was already the greatest left fielder in history.

But what makes Bonds a special player aren’t the chemicals in his body, although I’m sure he’s taken his share of legal supplements. As any knowledgeable baseball person will attest, power is generated not by a player’s muscles, but from a player’s bat speed. Otherwise, the Phil Plantiers of the world would have been amazing.

Phil who?

Exactly. Over the past quarter century, no one’s had a quicker bat than Bonds. He also has the best batting eye of any player in his era. Think of Keanu Reeves easily dodging bullets in The Matrix. That’s what Barry Bonds does with baseballs.

Mother Nature or Father Bonds might have had something to do with Barry Bonds’ success as well. In his day, Bobby Bonds, Barry’s father, was one of the most gifted players in the sport, only to be haunted by alcoholism. Even battling those demons, Bobby Bonds was a terror on the field. Clearly, he passed some of those physical gifts on to his son. And some tutelage from godfather Mays probably didn’t hurt much, either.

And yet people think that Barry Bonds needed even more of an edge? Come on, did Michael Jordan, or P