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Bonds versus Aaron

Bonds versus Aaron: A Statistical Comparison

By: Austin Alexander-July, 2007

One career was marred by racism, the other by performance enhancement allegations. Two power-hitting outfielders separated by a generation have been drawing comparisons all year long, today we'll take an in-depth look at baseball history and why Hammerin' Hank's record is the most revered in all of sports.

Barry Bonds is now eerily close to surpassing a numerical figure that has stood my entire adult life. Seven Hundred and Fifty-Five dingers. Astounding. The homerun record is widely recognized as the biggest number in any sport, American's have always been fascinated with the long ball and for the past 33 years, Hank Aaron's name has been the one we associate with it. When Aaron pursued the record in the early 70's, his chase was surrounded by racism and death threats even landed in his mailbox prior to the April 8, 1974 landmark homer.

Bonds and baseball avoided a potentially embarrassing moment this past weekend as the Giants spent three days in commissioner Bud Selig's backyard. Milwaukee was also the stage for Aaron's first 354 jacks and his last 22 as a Brewer. How would fans have reacted had Bonds hit the record-breaker in their stadium? Would they cheer, would they boo, would they litter the field?

With Bonds in the midst of a seven-game homestand and the mark of 755 in eminent danger of falling, a myriad of potential problems face the game. Most of Bonds’ signature homeruns have been hit by the Bay and the Giant hopeful hope two more splash hits land in McCovey Cove this weekend because San Francisco plays 15 of their next 22 games on the road. Aaron has already stated that he will not be in attendance, Selig has waffled on the topic with each inquiry. Either way, a Bonds bomb in a visitor’s uniform could prove to be a black eye for the game.

Bonds does have supporters, as did Aaron during his pursuit of Babe Ruth's record. He also has a host of detractors and most them reside east of the Bay area. What does it do to the state of baseball for the image of a ‘roided up’ Bonds circling the bases to a chorus of boos during #756?

Regardless of one's opinion of Bonds, a greater understanding of his accomplishments warrants an appreciation. Let's take a look.

In sports debating, an argument is sure to ensue as soon as era's crossover and father's try to trump the opinions of their sons. It is best to compare players against their contemporaries and what they accomplished against their peers. Let's now take a magnifying glass to two of baseball's most prolific players of all time.

With the majority of our audience as anti-Bonds folk, we’ll split his career into the pre and post-2001, the period of time that allegations have placed him as a substance user and then beyond. Before 2001, Bonds won three Most Valuable Player awards, finished second twice in the voting and was a member of eight all-star teams. Bonds had homered 494 times, stolen 471 bases and won nine gold gloves. At that time, he was considered by many as baseball’s best player and among the all-time elite. If you’d polled an America that had already fallen out of love with Bonds years earlier, most would have named him a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Then he went a got really, really good. Of course everyone has their own opinion on the matter and I believe the media has more than covered the topic but consider this. The era that he dominated during the next five years was the steroid era whether you choose to believe it or not. Sources much closer to Major League Baseball than me have put the number at over 50 percent, including the pitchers that Bonds tortured between 2001 and 2005.

The ballpark that Bonds calls home has seen the fewest homeruns of any other stadium since its opening in 2000...and that is counting all of the ones that Bonds has hit there. The right-centerfield porch that Bonds takes aim at sits 421 feet away from homeplate with a 25-foot wall to boot.

In today’s game, hitters can face three or four specialized arms in a single game, seldom do they get the opportunity to take shots at a tired arm in the late innings. Though expansion is one argument against the talent level in major league baseball now, the borders have now been opened and players from across the globe make big league jobs more competitive. Plus, scouting has become much more sophisticated than it was 50 years ago, fewer secrets exist and the best of the best play at the highest level.

Let’s just face it, Bonds is good, very good. I have never been a fan of the guy. His personality has always been surly and I am opposed to performance enhancement activity but to deny yourself that we have witnessed the career of baseball’s most prolific hitter is pure ignorance.

In the coming days, Bonds will pass Aaron. Sometime next year he will get his 3,000th hit to make him one of only four players (Willie Mays, Eddie Murray and Aaron) to accomplish that feat. Add in his 514 bags and he is the only 3,000-500-500 guys in the history of our game and you have to take notice. Factor in that his seven MVP’s are more than twice of anyone else (no other player has had more than three in a career) and you have to declare him the most dominant player in the most explosive offensive era that the game has ever seen.

Aaron had a stellar career and should be forever praised for his work as a civil right activist and power hitter. This forum was not intended to demean the 23 years he spent in professional baseball. Rather, I felt it was important to put into perspective what Bonds has done right in front of our very eyes.

Don’t like Bonds, wish he wasn’t making an assault on the homerun record? Well there is another controversial figure in the Bronx firing balls into the bleachers at an alarming rate. His name is Alex Rodriguez and it will just be a matter of time before he runs down Bonds and we’ll be right back here at DP comparing their careers.

As big as this mark is, the records and the people who set them pale in comparison to the enormity of The Game itself. While we may not approve of the actions of those who play or we don’t find favor with the personalities of these rich, pompous babies (to quote a friend of mine), you have to respect their ability to play the game a whole lot better than any of us.

…And Bonds has done it pretty well.