Baseball teams have given jobs to players that were just as old as Barry Bonds is today, only with much less ability. Think Julio Franco. They’ve employed admitted cheaters, guys who needed steroids just to stand on the field or guys who used them to make history. Think Jason Giambi, among many others. And they’ve held on to men with issues that went far beyond a huge ego or a bad attitude. Think Ty Cobb for god sakes.
Yet it’s almost March and Bonds, arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport, has generated almost no interest from Major League teams. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where we are starting to hear rumors about him heading to Japan to become a real life version of Tom Selleck’s character in Mr. Baseball.
If that does happen, if he truly is banished from American baseball, you can blame it on ten of his 762 career homeruns.
That’s right. The most damaging homeruns to Bonds’ legacy weren’t the ones that vaulted him past Babe Ruth and ultimately Hank Aaron on the all-time homerun list. They were homeruns 64 through 73 during the 2001 season.
That was the season that Bonds, who apparently was extremely jealous of Mark McGwire, broke Big Mac’s single season homerun record. It was also the season that somehow made Barry Bonds more of a cheater than anyone else who used performance enhancing drugs.
If Bonds had hit ten less homers that year, Sammy Sosa would have led baseball with 64 and he would have never had to endure the witch-hunt in the years that followed. Would people still have questioned him? Of course. Would there still be a BALCO scandal? You bet. But look at the way the rest of baseball has handled these problems. Most players have never even been named in a steroid report, despite seemingly obvious signs of use. And even the guys who have been named, like Gary Sheffield, haven’t had to face all that much heat.
In fact, Bonds would have probably been given the same treatment as Sheffield is handed today. And considering the Tigers’ slugger might end up in the Hall of Fame while voters struggle to elect the all-time homerun king, that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
We act now as though Bonds suddenly started leading the league in homeruns every single season after his 35th birthday. The truth is that he has led the league just twice in his entire career and one of those seasons came in 1993.
Ten homeruns completely changed our thoughts on Bonds.
And now, ten homeruns are the difference between a spot hitting cleanup with a Major League team and Japan. Or forced retirement.