Friday, June 13, 2008


The excellent Joe Posnaski wrote  a post this morning about hot streaks in baseball. As usual, it is an interesting read, one that shows Mr. Posnaski's personality and intelligence. Oddly enough, he entirely misses the obvious.

In writing about hot streaks, he settles on Ted Williams as having one of the most notable hot streaks in history. Ted Williams is often referred as "The greatest hitter who ever lived," and there's a decent case to made on that point. The problem with Mr. Posnaski's post is that he ignores Barry Bonds, who played the same position as Ted Williams. 

Bonds, who had four whole seasons that were better than Ted Williams amazing 38 game hot streak in 1957.
I admit it, I have always liked Bonds. And I like Kobe Bryant, too. I don't know either of them, so I can't vouch for their character. I don't know anyone who knows them, either, so there are real limits to how seriously I can take what others say about them. To my knowledge, their friend -- however few they may be -- have never come out publicly to explain what makes either of them tick or to explain why they act the way they do with the media or teammates. 

What I do know is that both of them have been the best in the world at what they do. Kobe is a top notch offensive player and a top notch defensive player. I don't mean "above average." I mean that he might be the best in the world at his position at each of them. Bonds has a record number of MVP awards, has broken records previously thought unbreakable and was perhaps the best player in the game many years before steroids took over. He won three MVP awards in four years -- and it likely should have been four straight -- in the early 1990's, all of this five years before anyone suggests he began using performance enhancing drugs. 

All I really care about with Mr. Bonds and Mr. Bryant is how they play the game. To me, they play sports. They are entertainment on the court/field. I know that I will never know them well enough to be able to judge them as people, or even as teammates. I just want them to be great in the only way I am in a position to judge them, in their performance on the field and court. 

So, what's the deal with Mr. Possnanski? Honestly, I think that he just overlooked Bonds. I think that he just took Bonds for granted.

But I want to defend Bonds. 

Bonds is the greatest offensive player who ever lived. He is in the same class as Ruth and Gehrig and  Williams. He had better seasons. He broke their records. 

Ruth was a better baseball players, because he was a good -- sometimes great -- pitcher before he turned to hitting full time. Ruth was a greater baseball player because he changed the game. Williams was a war hero.

But Bonds had more home runs. More walks. More total bases. He had slightly lower on base and  and slugging %s, but he more than makes up for that with his stolen bases. Hie peak was greater. His total was greater. 

Only some people disqualify him for the use of steroids. I think that there are many responses to this.

First, obviously, his accomplishments from before the steroids count, too. He was already a first ballot Hall of Famer, even with many more years to go in his career. 

Second, Bonds did not bring steroids to the game. He was not the first celebrated player to do steroids. He was not the first record breaker to do steroids. He was not not even first MVP to do steroids. Mark McGuire has gotten nothing like the condemnation that Bonds has received. One might argue that McGuire has been off the national stage, but Jason Giambi is still playing. Mr. Giambi won an MVP while using steroids and is still playing for the Yankees. 

In fact, if Game of Shadows is to be believed, it was McGuire's use of steroids and Major League Baseball's response that pushed Bonds to begin using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Barry Bonds looked at the game of professional baseball early in his career, one where both speed and power were important, and became the best offensive player in his sport. Then, in the middle of his career, he looked at the game of professional baseball and saw that power was important, speed was not and PEDs were were an accepted way to prepare, and he regained his position as the best offensive player in his sport. 

Moreover, Bonds was not the first all time great player to take advantage of the immoral rules of Major League Baseball. He was not the first law breaker to play the game. And there have been far more assholes in the game than just him. 

If you want to condemn baseball, that's fine with me. If you want to condemn all the alleged steroids users, that's fine with me.

But that is not what is happening. Bonds has been getting special condemnation. Bonds has been singled out, both in the eyes of the public and the media. He has been singled out by Major League Baseball. The greatest offensive player who ever lived, no doubt one of the top four hitters of all time, has been vilified and virtually excommunicated.

And I can only think of one reason. 

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