Barry Bonds Hits 700th Home Run
What Babe Ruth was to the first half of the 20th century and Hank Aaron was to the second, Barry Bonds has become for the home run generation. With one uncharacteristic blast in the third inning Friday night, a high fly ball that sliced into the left-field stands at SBC Park, Bonds became only the third Major League Baseball player to reach 700 home runs. For all the speculation about juiced balls and steroid-enhanced players in this era of home run records, no one had reached the milestone in more than three decades.
Thirty-one years after Aaron accomplished the feat, and 70 years after Ruth set the standard, Bonds cemented the link from baseball’s golden age to its modern one. The sport’s most insulated and controversial superstar has joined its most exclusive club.
As Bonds took his triumphant trot during the Giants’ 4-1 victory Friday night, thousands of black, orange and silver streamers fell from the rafters. A light display rose from beyond the center-field wall. Two banners were unfurled on the sides of the scoreboard, one a picture of Bonds, the other a depiction of Ruth and Aaron. “The good thing is I get to sleep now and stop having nightmares about this,” Bonds said. A dabbler in baseball history whose father played for the Giants and whose godfather is Willie Mays, Bonds understands the importance of 700 home runs, but more significantly, he understands what it portends. Bonds expects to hit his 715th home run early next season, passing Ruth, then he figures to take aim at Aaron’s record of 755 home runs. “Some of the great things this man does will finally be recognized,” said Felipe Alou, the Giants’ manager. “Truly, fully recognized.”
In Bonds’s first at-bat Friday, San Diego pitcher Jake Peavy hit him in the back. On the first pitch of the third inning, Peavy started Bonds with a breaking ball that settled on the outside corner for a strike. With the second pitch, Peavy tried another breaking ball on the outer half, but Bonds kept his weight back and went with it. Most of his home runs are towering drives to right field. By comparison, this looked like a flare. The moment Bonds made contact, cameras lit up the stadium like a thousand fireflies. San Diego outfielder Ryan Klesko sprinted from his spot in left field and leapt into the fence in left-center, but the ball trickled into the seats, 392 feet from home plate. A scrum ensued in the stands until one hand shot triumphantly in the air, holding the home run ball.
After responding to one curtain call, Bonds headed out to left field, then savored another. A sign was unveiled on the left-field fence behind him that read “A Giant Among Legends.” This season, which started with Bonds’s trainer and nutritionist indicted on charges of illegally supplying performance-enhancing drugs from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, culminated in a celebration. Just as there are three hitters who have posted 700 home runs, there are now three pitchers who have given them up. Peavy, one of the best young starters in the National League, ushered Bonds into history the same way that Philadelphia’s Ken Brett did for Aaron in 1973 and Detroit’s Tommy Bridges for Ruth in 1934.
No one had hit No. 700 in decades, but the moment felt exceedingly familiar. In the past four years, Bonds has hit his 500th and 600th home runs, as well as numbers 660 and 661, which tied and passed Mays for third place. He also set the single-season record in 2001 with home runs No. 71, 72 and 73. Each of those blasts came here, in Bonds’s hometown of San Francisco, the only city where he is regularly and roundly cheered. Before Friday night’s game, Bonds napped in the clubhouse while highlights of his home runs played on the scoreboard.
A remarkable achievement, to be sure. That he’s passed the 500, 600, and 700 milestones in four seasons is simply remarkable. Only a freak injury or Bonds’ retirement can stop him from getting 755 now, something no one would have thought possible five years ago.
Bonds hits No. 700 off of Peavy (AP/ESPN)
Barry Bonds hit his 700th home run Friday night, toppling another milestone and edging closer to Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in his quest to become the greatest slugger in baseball history. Bonds rewarded his fans in the opener of the San Francisco Giants’ nine-game homestand with an opposite-field homer to left center leading off the third inning. It came on an 0-1 pitch from Jake Peavy and gave the Giants a 4-0 lead over the San Diego Padres. “It’s great that I could do it at home,” Bonds said.
As Bonds rounded second base, the Giants launched streamers and a fireworks display from the scoreboard and light towers in center field. He pointed skyward as he crossed home plate, then took a curtain call to a joyous standing ovation. The Giants also unveiled two enormous banners on the light towers: One featuring Bonds with “700″ below him, and another featuring action shots of Ruth and Aaron and their corresponding totals.
Bonds’ 42nd homer of the season is a mere steppingstone in the 40-year-old’s march toward Ruth’s once-unthinkable 714 and Aaron’s 755. Bonds hasn’t been slowed by age, steroid suspicions or the collective fear of pitchers and managers walking him with record frequency.
Bonds most comfortable on the field (Mark Kriedler, ESPN)
Now, of course, the question jumps right off the page: Is it possible for a player to continue to excel while plying his trade directly in front of a sign that compares him with the immortals of his industry? The answer is: Yes — for Barry Bonds. Which is to say, he probably already can’t remember the sign. To the list of superlatives that naturally accrue when a hitter in baseball does something monumental — and Bonds’ reaching 700 career home runs on Friday night at SBC Park in San Francisco unquestionably qualifies, no matter how obvious it had become that the man would get there sooner or later — we can safely append one: Focus.
It is possible, that is, that Bonds took only the briefest look at the banner unveiled along the left-field fence after his homer off San Diego’s Jake Peavy landed not too far away, just beyond a beer sign and a relatively modest 392 feet from home plate. The sign says this: “A Giant Among Legends.” It shows these people: Bonds, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. And it probably meant something deep and poignant to Bonds — for about five seconds. After which, the man flipped the switch once again. He is, in the end, a baseball player. “You can’t put it into words to be in a class with those two great players, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth,” Bonds later said of the only other members of the 700 club in Major League history. “It’s just unbelievable.” Except, of course, that Bonds believes it. He made it real. The one thing you can be absolutely certain of, when it comes to Bonds, is that the man is incapable of surprising himself with what he does on a baseball diamond — with the possible exception of staying healthy long enough to do it. So he won’t be surprised when he overtakes Ruth’s 714 total. There will be no shock when Bonds encroaches on Aaron’s turf, 755, and either decides to purposely pull up short (in honor of Hank) or blow past Aaron and put the new record as far out there as humanly possible (in honor of, well, himself).
Bonds won’t be shocked, because this is what he does. He blocks out the world and gets inside his own head and focuses on baseball and doesn’t let go, and it is one of the reasons why he’s great, and it is at least a dozen of the reasons why he is at times so remote as to be inscrutable to a public that, all things being equal, probably wouldn’t mind adoring him a little bit. The back story of Bonds’ latest historic threshold crossing is the way in which that focus has been tested en route. He dealt throughout 2003 with his father Bobby’s diminishing health and then his death. He came into the 2004 season under the dark cloud of the BALCO scandal and its implication of him as a steroid-fueled cheater. Under those conditions, he delivered two of his finest seasons as a pro, which for Bonds is going a ways. But that’s the thing, of course: The ballpark is the place to be, for a person who seemingly can’t feel comfortable anywhere else.
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