I'm flattered that Brent, the inimitable scholar and gentleman that he is still values my baseball opinion so highly. Clearly, working for the Great Falls White Sox for three months and directing Kenny Williams (architect of a franchise's first World Series title in 80 some years) to the ballpark is good for something.
I like Barry.
I always liked Barry.
I am still sure that he threw out Sid Bream at home in 1991, and that Andy Van Slyke and Doug Drabek are more to blame for the Pirates losses than Barry is. (Okay, not really, but you get my meaning...and if you don't pretend that you do.)
As Barry scales the mountain towards Hammerin' Hank, I--like every baseball fan--have some mixed feelings. Brent gave you the figures (near .300 average, 8 Gold Gloves, 6 MVPs, the only man ever to hit 500 homeruns and steal 500 bases). He's right, Barry's awesome. He's incredibly talented. A gift from the Gods, a newer Mantle, or Mays, but he's forgotten. So what about Brent's questions, allow me to answer them as though they were my final exam (only with more fluency than my students use on their final exams.
1) Why do we hear so much talk about Federer as the best all-time tennis player and so little about Bonds as the best all-time baseball player?
First, I think this is a tad untrue. A few years ago, everyone was talking about Bonds as the best all-time baseball player. Until the whispers about his muscles and head and backne became chatter, became tirades, became fodder for every news organization in the known universe (The Onion has two pieces in the last month on his chase).
But there is precedent. In 1999, when they named the all-century team, the voters in America gave a spot to Ken Griffey Jr. and not to Bonds. Bonds wasn't even close (456,000 votes behind Pete Rose for the final spot, and 13,000 behind Ricky Henderson). Yes, it was a meaningless promo for Mastercard, but still, you have to figure, a game as beloved as Baseball as universally acknowledged, for all its faults and foibles as the American game (much to Football's--dominant as it is--chagrin). So we laud the players we want to laud and lose the rest. When, as Brent pointed out, a player is: " a churlish player on whose grave many beat writers will gladly dance." Griffey smiles. Barry sulks. Jeter's got charm. Barry's got his hand in your face.
So we don't really talk about him as the greatest player of all time, because we really don't want him to be that. We want someone charming and graceful, good with kids and helpful in the community. This is why Roger Maris was loathed during the Home Run battle in '61. This is why Pete Rose was beloved while going after Ty Cobb (a man, unlikable in his own right). It's not spite, it's just denile.
2nd) Where does Bond rank among the greats?
Well, the numbers are compelling. In addition to the history making 40-40 club, and 500-500 club, he'll top Aaron (probably finishing around 770, before knee injuries force him to stop) and though his average will sink a little more (probably around .297-.298, still awfully high for a power hitter) and he has no chance to win a World Series this year. (Though, for the record, the last two trips to the post season he was awfully good, crushing 6 homers against the Marlins in '03, and carrying the Giants to 7 outs from a Series title in '02), he will finish with
That's damn good. In terms of numbers he tops most every player in the game's history. Cobb doesn't have the power. Ruth and Aaron didn't have the speed, and has a better slugging and On Base Percentage than Mays. Williams, DiMaggio, Mantle, the vastly underrated Frank Robinson, and Yogi Berra: great, but really not the same.
Every player has a failing, Williams wasn't a great fielder either, Aaron and Cobb never won titles, and Ruth and Aaron were every bit the offensive hangers on that Barry has become (Aaron actually was a DH in Milwaukee). So all the critiques of Barry really don't stick.
If you notice I've been dancing around the issue of where he actually does rank though. He has ranked ahead of everyone else (as recently as 2002/2003...but Pujols was gaining pretty quick by then...like a young Inigo Montoya ready to challenge the 6 Fingered (or 6 ringed man) again).
I'd say Barry is great. One of the best. The steroids tarnish that. As does the American obsession with "winning the big one," and the general loathing that comes out of most of America about the man. He's not the best. Mays is the best player of all time. Cobb would actually be my vote for a close second followed by Aaron. Ruth, for all his greatness, isn't much more than 4th for me, and to be honest I'd be willing to put Barry above him based on pre-73 numbers.
Those are the 5. For a while.
Until A-Rod's hits 800 with Pujols hot on his heels. Then we have another conversation to deal with.