When Barry Bonds Made an Out

It was announced earlier today that Barry Bonds has not been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nobody was voted into the Hall of Fame, and there are several topics worthy of discussion, but I’m partial to the Bonds one, myself, because the voting results provide a reason to look at Bonds’ career statistics again. Asterisks or no asterisks, Bonds’ numbers are downright impossible, and looking at them is the most fun a person can have at work the most fun a person who doesn’t write from home for FanGraphs can have at work. You shouldn’t be allowed to drive and drink, you shouldn’t be allowed to drive and text, and you shouldn’t be allowed to drive and consider Barry Bonds’ career baseball statistics.

By WAR, Bonds’ best season was 2001. By wRC+, Bonds’ best offensive season was 2002. By wRC+, Bonds’ 2002 is the best offensive season in baseball history. At 244, he beats out Babe Ruth‘s 1920, at 237. Bonds also had a 234 and a 233. Ruth had a 231 and a 223. A new name finally shows up at #7. Anyway.

That year, in 2002, Bonds batted 612 times, with 68 intentional walks. His final line was .370/.582/.799, and this was the year after the year that Bonds broke the all-time home-run record. He drew 198 walks in all, with just 47 strikeouts. Those Giants, somewhat unsurprisingly, won 95 games and nearly won the World Series. It wasn’t all because of Bonds, but it was more because of Bonds than most good seasons have been because of individual players.

Ordinarily, when you reflect on a player, you identify career or season highlights. But in 2002 — in the best offensive season ever — Bonds reached base far more often than he got out. Bonds generated more highlights than lowlights. So I want to talk a little bit about an out that he made. The highest-leverage out, at that. There’s more than one way to say a player’s amazing, and here we’ll attempt to call Bonds amazing by highlighting a rare instance in which he wasn’t.

On September 15, 2002, the Giants hosted the Padres. Kurt Ainsworth was starting opposite Jake Peavy, and the Giants were good, while the Padres were bad. The Giants were locked in a battle with the Dodgers for the Wild Card, so for them, every game was important. Anyway, on this particular day, the Padres scored a run early. The Giants got it back, but then the Padres pulled ahead by two, and then by three. A two-run shot by Ryan Klesko was the big blow, and it was 4-1 San Diego going into the bottom of the ninth. The Padres felt good about handing the ball to Trevor Hoffman, and there was every reason to. Their win expectancy was about 96%.

David Bell led off with a line-drive single. Whoever Trey Lunsford was struck out, but Kenny Lofton walked on five pitches, and then Rich Aurilia blooped a single to right. The bases were loaded with one out, and more, the bases were loaded with one out and Barry Bonds coming up. The Padres’ win expectancy was 81%, but realistically, given the Bonds thing, it was quite a bit lower.

Coming into the day, Bonds had a 1.390 OPS. The leverage index at this plate appearance was 4.76, making it Bonds’ second-most important plate appearance of the season. In Bonds’ most important plate appearance of the season, he was intentionally walked. Hoffman didn’t have a chance to do that to him here, not given the situation, not with Jeff Kent on deck. Hoffman had to challenge Bonds, in what was the greatest offensive season ever.

Details are scarce. What we know is that Hoffman started Bonds with a called strike. Then he got Bonds to foul a pitch off, giving Hoffman an 0-and-2 advantage. I don’t know what hope a pitcher had of trying to get Barry Bonds to chase, but Hoffman nibbled, throwing consecutive balls. Even 2-and-2, Hoffman came with another delivery. Bonds didn’t think much of it. Mark Hirschbeck did, and Bonds was called out on strikes. Barry Bonds struck out with the bases loaded and one down in a three-run game, putting all the pressure on Kent. Kent also struck out looking, and Hoffman completed a 29-pitch, high-intensity save.

The win-expectancy swing was only about 10%, but the leverage of the Bonds plate appearance was astronomical. Sadly, no one seems to have written about the showdown in depth, and one wonders how different things would be if this plate appearance happened today. But here’s Bruce Bochy, then on the Padres’ side of things:

“Hoffy clutched up when he needed against two of the better hitters in the game,” San Diego manager Bruce Bochy said. “Those are the last two guys you want to see up with the bases loaded, but with the game on the line, Hoffy has an unbelievable ability to keep his focus.”

Hoffman himself:

“The last two times I faced Bonds I intentionally walked him and he hit a home run on a fastball in,” Hoffman said. “With the bases loaded, you just try to get ahead. There’s no room to put him with him being the winning run. That’s not a situation I wanted to be in.”

That season, Hoffman faced Bonds on June 24, and Bonds hit a first-pitch dinger. They met again on June 26, and Bonds walked on five pitches. On September 12, Hoffman walked Bonds intentionally. On September 15, Hoffman won. Jake Peavy added more:

“That was awesome,” Peavy said. “No one in this dugout wanted anybody else but Hoffman in that situation. When you see him walk out there you expect to win. I don’t think there are two tougher outs right now in the National League. I’m glad he’s on my side.”

Interestingly, minutes before the Bonds plate appearance, Dusty Baker, Dave Righetti, and Benito Santiago were all ejected. The Giants had problems with the umpiring crew, and Righetti went so far as to throw a bucket onto the field. It might be coincidental that the game ended with consecutive called strikeouts. It also might not, although I don’t want to suggest anything about Hirschbeck’s integrity. Half of Bonds’ strikeouts in 2002 were called. Nearly half of Bonds’ strikeouts in his career were called.

The game’s conclusion was such that this was the entire recap in the Herald-Journal:

Padres 4, Giants 1: In San Francisco, San Diego’s Trevor Hoffman struck out Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.

Kent posted a .933 OPS that season. This is more about Bonds and Hoffman than it is about the game’s bottom of the ninth, but I felt like that ought to be pointed out.

With the leverage way up, Trevor Hoffman struck out Barry Bonds. Prior to September 15, Bonds hadn’t struck out since August 22. His streak of plate appearances without a strikeout reached 96 before it finally gave. This is how amazing Barry Bonds was; this is how amazing it was that Hoffman put him away.

The next day, Bonds reached base four times and homered. The day after that, he reached base four times and doubled. The day after that, he reached base four times and singled. But in the greatest offensive season ever, in Bonds’ highest-leverage plate appearance in which he had an opportunity to swing the bat, he struck out looking in the bottom of the ninth. I wonder if Trevor Hoffman remembers that showdown. I wonder how one could forget it.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Tim
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Tim
3 years 8 months ago

I check Bonds’ numbers at least once a month and get more amazed every time I see them. I keep wondering what Bonds could do right now in 2013.

brett
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3 years 8 months ago
Jim
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Jim
3 years 8 months ago

It’s not hard to have a high OBP when pitchers won’t throw you anything within a foot of the plate.

YanksFanInBeantown
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YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 8 months ago

It’s pretty damn hard to have pitchers not throw you anything within a foot of the plate, however.

carpengui
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carpengui
3 years 6 months ago

hmmm… -28 vs. +57 votes. That the biggest WPA swing I’ve ever noticed in comments before.

Blockhead
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Blockhead
3 years 8 months ago

You’re implying Bonds didn’t have arguably the greatest eye at the plate ever.

The ball could be a centimeter off the plate and Bonds isn’t gonna swing.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 8 months ago

The electricity that Bonds created every time he came to the plate in the early-to-mid aughts was incredible. I’ve never seen anything else that remotely approached it in my life as a baseball fan (1957-?) and I’m sure I never will.
He would be my first choice of all players of all-time to place in the Hall of Fame.

Nick
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Nick
3 years 8 months ago

Hoffman was lucky.

TheGrandslamwich
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TheGrandslamwich
3 years 8 months ago

I remember watching a good amount of Bonds that season and he did tend to receive many more “assists” from umpires than the average player, sending his already incredible walk rate to even more incredible heights.

olethros
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olethros
3 years 8 months ago

I suspect confirmation bias in that recollection.

And I have the same recollection.

TheHoustonian
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TheHoustonian
3 years 8 months ago

I used to have Padres season tickets, and Brian Giles would get a lot of those borderline calls, too. I think when you’ve established a good eye as a batter, umpires tend to give you the benefit of the doubt.

jaywrong
Member
jaywrong
3 years 8 months ago

Tom Glavine made a career out of establishing *his* strike zone.

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
3 years 8 months ago

Bonds did get a very small strike zone called against him, but it was largely similar to a number of very elite, veteran hitters in the league at the time. Chipper Jones also benefited from much the same calls, as he got older.

It’s strange, because some of the veteran superstars don’t really get that many calls. Frank Thomas’s zone actually expanded as he got older, which drove him crazy and led to a lot of grumbling from him as he walked back to the dugout.

quincy0191
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quincy0191
3 years 8 months ago

Said Umpire Bill Klem “Son, when you pitch a strike, Mr. Hornsby will let you know it.”

TBH, I’m not convinced that Bonds didn’t have a better idea of whether a pitch was a ball or a strike than the umpire a lot of the time anyway.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 8 months ago

The “assists” may have been unintentional. The umpires undoubtedly recognized that Bond’s eyes were better than their own. Ted Williams was similarly recognized.

Nash
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Nash
3 years 8 months ago

The guys caused plenty of Heart-attacks rooting for the Angels in 2002. His OPS during the WS was almost 2. I just remember him either drawing a walk or demolishing Troy Percival’s fastball in game 2.

Brandon S
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Brandon S
3 years 8 months ago

I had Bonds on my fantasy baseball team that year. Luckiest 1st overall draft slot ever!

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 8 months ago

Smartest.

Brandon S
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Brandon S
3 years 8 months ago

You forget his homer in game 6 in the bottom of the ninth, even though the halos won that game. I also happened to be in Anaheim that night, and watched the at bat on a portable tv of a guy standing in line at the Knott’s Scary (Berry) Farm. Awesome, awesome moment. Then after the halos won, all these guys dressed as zombies and ghouls were just running around howling in delight, with angels hats/jerseys on.

WillieMaysField
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3 years 8 months ago

Game six was in Anaheim. Bond’s AB was in the top of the 6th off Krod and it was beautiful.

Greg
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Greg
3 years 8 months ago

Just further proof that the bat always got heavy for Bonds when the games got more important. He never won it all.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 8 months ago

Mmm. Because Barry Bonds struck out, once, in a high-leverage situation, against one of the greatest late-inning relievers of all time, he’s clearly a choking choker who chokes.

Brian Recca
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Brian Recca
3 years 8 months ago

I guess you missed the 2002 playoffs.

Stringer Bell
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Stringer Bell
3 years 8 months ago

Go ahead and look at the world series that year, Greg. Please.

Mark
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Mark
3 years 8 months ago

He hit 8 HR in the 2002 playoffs (in 45 ab) and walked 27 times.

Bill
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Bill
3 years 8 months ago

He FAILED to hit a homerun in 37 of his at bats. Clearly he was a choker.

Greg
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Greg
3 years 8 months ago

Greg, you are an embarrassment to us other gregs who post on Fangraphs.

Ian R.
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Ian R.
3 years 8 months ago

This one story should be enough to get Trevor Hoffman into the Hall of Fame.

Well, maybe not entirely. But I do find it funny that this huge strikeout came against a legitimately excellent pitcher.

J
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J
3 years 8 months ago

Would be more bizarre if it was against some chump like Ugueth Urbina.

Venezuelan Peasant
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Venezuelan Peasant
3 years 8 months ago

Don’t bust on Urbina. You’ll regret it.

rustydude
Member
rustydude
3 years 8 months ago

.609 OBP in 2004. I still can’t wrap my head around that.

Brian
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Brian
3 years 8 months ago

232 walks and he still hit 45 HR’s.

ptabubo
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ptabubo
3 years 8 months ago

45 HR against just 41 SO in 617 PA’s.

Daniel
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Daniel
3 years 8 months ago

Steroids: They are amazing.

Justin
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Justin
3 years 8 months ago

Which is why everyone that took steroids put up similar numbers.

Daniel
Member
Daniel
3 years 8 months ago

I am not disputing the man’s ability. Clearly he was better than pretty much everyone else. But I do not understand why the mere fact that he was immensely gifted and, I have no doubt, hard working, is a reason to either ignore the fact that he took steroids or else entirely absolve him of any responsibility for doing so.

Poopski
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Poopski
3 years 5 months ago

What, do we need to put an asterisk next to every Bond post? Should the original post read .609 OBP* in 2004? Not ignoring his steroid use doesn’t mean it has to be brought up after every single comment about his career. No one up to this point to this point “absolved” him of his steroid use, they just chose not to talk about it because it is boring and useless.

Chicago Mark
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Chicago Mark
3 years 8 months ago

It’s really too bad he has such a cloud over his head. I’d bet he used. Had he not…..He might very well still have been the very best hitter of all time. And we might very well have had one enductee today. By the way, he was a jerk too. All too bad for us….and maybe him too.

Stringer Bell
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Stringer Bell
3 years 8 months ago

I think the kid whom he paid for an entire college fund for would disagree about the jerk part. And he was an asshole to media, whoop.

Brad
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Brad
3 years 8 months ago

He was an asshole to more than just the media. Sure, maybe he paid for one kid’s college tuition but the stories of his assholishness (is that a word?) extending to clubhouse attendants, bat boys, and interns know no bounds. Have a look at the article written by Kevin Guilfoile on Clemente’s 3,000th hit for one good example. An asshole is an asshole no matter the occasional good deed. That said, no other assholes could hit like Bonds.

spoonful
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spoonful
3 years 8 months ago

The ugly personality as well as the impossible numbers both came, at least in part, because of the steroids. My favorite line about him was by Andy van Slyke when, after he retired, he was in the Giants locker room where Barry Bonds was coming out of the shower and he was shocked to see how large one of Barry’s heads had grown since their days in Pittsburgh, while the other head had shrunk.

Barry B.
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Barry B.
3 years 8 months ago

I was a dead fish in my post-season career until I….

Well, let’s just say that without chemicals, life itself would be impossible. (Ask your parents.)

Thanks for all your support!
Suckers.

James
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James
3 years 8 months ago

“This may not be an exact quote.”
– Josef Stalin

psychump
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psychump
3 years 8 months ago

He(Bonds) would often get one ONE pitch in the strike zone per game! And he would smash it. His at bat vs. Gagne is AWESOME 101 mph fastball deposited far into the centerfield bleachers.

sips Racer 5

d240z71
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d240z71
3 years 8 months ago
Bubba
Member
Member
Bubba
3 years 8 months ago

Thanks for the link! And reminding me how stupid the MLB policy is for video clips. It takes some Japanese site for me to see awesome.

Bellwood #1
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Bellwood #1
3 years 8 months ago

Just to clarify: It’s a Taiwanese site.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 8 months ago

He hit a foul into the water in the same at bat!!

Fletch
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Fletch
3 years 8 months ago

And the ball he turned on and pulled foul into the bay was on a 101 MPH fastball. Jesus.

Zach
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Zach
3 years 8 months ago

As mentioned above, I’m actually more impressed (and that’s saying something) by the foul ball on the pitch before. He pulled a 100-mph fastball foul. Insane.

Dillon
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Dillon
3 years 8 months ago

Thank you for also (perhaps inadvertently) reminding everyone how stupid it is to keep Bonds out over PEDs. Gagne is another confirmed HGH user and Bonds just abused him in that video. It’s impossible to say what percentage of MLBers were getting some sort of help out of a bottle, but I don’t think anyone doubts that it was high enough that Bonds was still head and shoulders a more dominant player than even his chemically enhanced peers.

Tim A
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Tim A
3 years 8 months ago

I remember from that season being very happy when Zito buckled Barry’s knees with his 12-6.

Table
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Table
3 years 8 months ago

Awesome writing!!

Downer Debby
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Downer Debby
3 years 8 months ago

No doubt Bonds is an amazing player whose likes won’t be seen again for quite some time. However, I always think about how he crowded the plate so much to take advantage of his power. He had a behemoth of an elbow guard that so many prior sluggers didn’t have. Guys like Willie McCovey got knocked down and sometimes beaned continually from crowding the plate. If Bonds played years ago he wouldn’t be able to crowd the plate like he loved to do and it may cut down on his plate coverage and discipline.

TheGrandslamwich
Member
TheGrandslamwich
3 years 8 months ago

I agree with the elbow guard thing. Those things should have been banned. It completely eliminated the up and in fastball with any player who crowds the plate. It’s easy to turn away from a pitch to look like you are getting out of the way of it while actually extending your front elbow further over the plate more into the path of the ball. With Bonds’ talent of turning on fastballs mid-to-low and inside while keeping his hands back enough to keep them fair, it was just was brutal.

bSpittle
Guest
3 years 8 months ago

2004 was better than 2002, aside from BABIP.

2004 bonds had higher ISO, SLG, OBP, walked more and struck out less.
Slightly lower batting average, though.

Craig
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Craig
3 years 8 months ago

.609 OBP in 2004… That is silly, would have led the majors in slugging last year. His slugging btw: .812, I’m awe just reading it, his slugging alone would have almost put him in the top 50 for OPS this year. Wow.

That Guy
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That Guy
3 years 8 months ago

As long as we’re drooling at his numbers – where would his ISO of .450 have stood this year for straight SLG?

Just ridiculous.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 8 months ago

Imagine having a leadoff hitter who gets on base more than 60% of the time. I actually replayed the games on paper with Bonds batting 1st, the next best hitter batting 2nd, the next best hitter 3rd, etc. that year. I don’t remember the average number of runs scored, but it was way more than the actual lineup scored.

The Party Bird
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The Party Bird
3 years 8 months ago

I can’t get a .582 OBP in MLB the Show on easy mode. This guy did it in real life.

pft
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pft
3 years 8 months ago

Small strike zone, smaller parks, maple bats, more time in the gym lifting for his contract year in 2001, and a juiced ball in the steroid era all contributed to Bonds great stats. Steroids helped too, how much is hard to say.

From age 36-42 Bonds had 268 HR. Aaron is a lower offensive environment and bigger strike zone had 201 HR in 600 more AB.

snoop LION
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snoop LION
3 years 8 months ago

I actually frequent Bond’s player page too. Is this a thing for many fangraphs readers?

Tom
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Tom
3 years 8 months ago

It’s definitely a thing for me. As a Bay Area kid, I grew up watching Bonds every night, but I think I appreciate what I saw even more when I look back at his stats. Maybe I’m numb to steroid use because I’ve never seen the MLB without it, and maybe I should be mad at Bonds and the rest of them for “disrespecting the game”. But damn it, I’m still in awe.

Ray
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Ray
3 years 8 months ago

Same here. As a Red Sox fan I also hit up Pedro’s numbers frequently. The steroid era has some taint to it, no doubt…but the intersection of expansion teams, smaller ballparks, juiced balls, and a greater emphasis on weight training and conditioning led to some of the most absurd, almost unimaginable seasons in the history of baseball. Maybe steroids played a hand in it, certainly the sportswriters believe it did. But you can’t argue that we didn’t see some of the most amazing players and accomplishments in the history of the sport in the late-90’s/early-2000’s.

Hurtlockertwo
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Hurtlockertwo
3 years 8 months ago

I never saw a hitter as relaxed as Bonds at the plate, plus choking up on the bat to boot. I’m a life long Giants fan, but I would still put Bonds as the third best hitter of all time after Ruth and Williams. It’s a shame that Barry is the face of PED use when it’s likely most of the league used too.
He should have been in the HOF with 95% of the vote.

dl80
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dl80
3 years 8 months ago

Great article. The funny thing about Trey Lunsford is that this is the only out he made all season (out of 3 at bats, but still!).

Steve
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Steve
3 years 8 months ago

Steroids make for super, long-bomb type walks. I’ve never seen such explosive walks since the Steroid era.

jp_on_rye
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jp_on_rye
3 years 8 months ago

I actually remember that game pretty vividly, though I didn’t watch it. I was listening to it on the radio though.

Jeff Self
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Jeff Self
3 years 8 months ago

You also have to remember that Bonds was allowed to wear body armor due to an “elbow injury”. I remember that stuff he wore. He looked like a football player in the batters box. Because of the armor he had on, he was over top the plate. And in this era, if you threw high and down the middle, you were basically aiming at his head which would get you ejected. I always argued that they let Bonds wear this gear when other players were not allowed, because seeing Bonds hit home runs sold tickets. He still did steroids. And he still belongs in the Hall of Fame. But I’ll never put him on the level of Ruth and Williams because of the fact he was doing steroids, wore protective gear, and could not be brushed back. He basically got to take batting practice during the game.

Jason
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Jason
3 years 8 months ago

If your comparing players across era’s you have to take everything into context. The talent pool that Ruth & Williams competed against was much smaller. Bond’s wouldnt have been allowed to compete against Ruth. Thats much more worthy of an asterick in my opinion.

James
Guest
James
3 years 8 months ago

Especially when you’re talking pre- and post-slider baseball. I forget which player it was but he said he would have made it another three years if that pitch hadn’t become popular

rogue_actuary
Member
Member
rogue_actuary
3 years 8 months ago

This may or may not have been touched on in other Fangraphs articles, but I read at one time about an analysis of Bonds’ hinged elbow armor.

There were more than two or three points to the analysis, but, IIRC, the punch line of the article suggested that the fact that the brace was hinged was a big deal.

I’m not trying to suggest that I understood all of the details, but the people doing the research proposed that the hinge allowed Bonds to be a lot more precise with his swing. Similar to the way offensive linemen often have hinged knee braces that don’t allow their knee joint to easily move in compromising ways, Bonds’ elbow brace ensured that his lead arm would always move on the same plane.

And it make some sense. The process of the baseball swing is an orchestrated chaos. There are about a bazillion things going on. Rotating hips/thighs, pitch recognition, etc. And what these researchers were saying is that Bonds was able to dramatically dampen a very meaningful variable in that equation. That it was hinged and spring loaded, I believe, also added a measure of “pop”.

http://insidesportsgeek.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/barry-bonds-hr-record-tainted-by-elbow-armor/

I don’t remember if this is the exact article I read or not. But I’ve always found the mechanics behind Bonds’ elbow brace to be very interesting.

Tanned Tom
Guest
Tanned Tom
3 years 7 months ago

I’ll take Musial over Bonds anyday. May Bonds rot in baseball hell.

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