Barry Bonds Passes Hank Aaron – Reaction Roundup
As everyone surely knows by know, Barry Bonds hit his 756th career home run last night, passing Hank Aaron and taking sole possession of the most esteemed record in sports. Given the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that he achieved this remarkable feat with the assistance of performance enhancing drugs, this is naturally quite controversial.
The New York Post headlines its report, “NO. 756 JUST JUNK BONDS.”
Baseball’s official reaction has been muted, certainly, in comparison to lesser achievements. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig declined to attend the game, although he did call and congratulate Bonds. He did get support from one unexpected source, though:
As for Aaron, he said all along he had no interest in being there whenever and wherever his record was broken. He was true to his word, but he did offer a taped message of congratulations that played on the stadium’s video board during a 10-minute, in-game tribute.
“It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination,” he said.
“Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement.
“My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams.”
Blogger reaction has been mixed.
Marshall Manson has perhaps the strongest negative reaction, calling this, “A Sad Day for Baseball” and observing, “A great record, established by an epic hero who endured racism and death threats, had been broken by a spoiled, obnoxious cheater who has taken much from the game and given very little.”
Matt Yglesias thinks this wrongheaded, offering statistics to back up his assertion that Bonds is “the greatest offensive player in the history of baseball” and argues that we should respect Bonds’ accomplishments until “the day when MLB invalidates all the other records from the Steroid Era — rescinds the World Series titles and the division penants, takes back the Cy Young awards and the Golden Gloves, etc., etc., etc.” [Yes, he meant Gold Gloves. – ed.]
David Pinto notes that Bonds was a much more complete player earlier in his career and might have been challenging Ricky Henderson’s steal record rather than Aaron if baseball and its fans rewarded those skills more. But Chicks Dig the Long Ball.
Alex Massie isn’t sure why steroids are any more problematic than amphetamines and other chemical aides.
Steve Bainbridge figures anything that makes “one of the most boring games known to man” a little more interesting is just fine and dandy.
Megan McArdle figures plenty of the pitchers must be juiced, too, so Bonds was just evening things out. (Indeed, Bonds hit #755 off a man who, unlike himself, has actually tested positive for steroids.)
Brian Beutler wonders, steroids aside, how comparable Bonds’ stats are to those of Aaron, Ruth, and other greats.
The elevation of the mound has changed. The balls themselves have become more dense. So have the bats. Training regimens have become more rigorous. These changes have all been to the benefit of hitters, and for the obvious reason that low-scoring games are much more boring than high-scoring ones.
That’s all true, although the fact that modern athletes train harder than their predecessors should hardly be held against them. But the numbers are actually more comparable than most casual fans realize, owing to the obsession of the statheads.
Will Carroll and Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus adjust for park, league, and era using the magic of SABRmetrics and conclude that Bonds is actually just the third best home run hitter of all time:
Babe Ruth 1070 Hank Aaron 971 Barry Bonds 931 Mel Ott 861 Willie Mays 856 Lou Gehrig 792 Jimmie Foxx 765 Reggie Jackson 757 Mike Schmidt 755 Ted Williams 752
Charles Wolfson and Luke Kraemer of Imagine Sports take an interesting approach to this question:
Whether it was primarily steroid use, or some combination of factors, that noticeably boosted home run output throughout baseball since 1993, the end result can be “injected” (so to speak) into Aaron’s career (1954-76), by replaying it contemporaneously with the “Bonds era” (1986-2007) using the rates of offense for those years. Aaron played one more season than Bonds has played to this point (Aaron spent 23 years in the bigs), so we simulated Aaron’s career as if the overall rates of offense prevailing from 1954-76 were those of 1984-2006.
We replayed each season of Aaron’s career 20 times, as if it had taken place in the hitting environment of the corresponding season 30 years later, and averaged the results. Aaron finished his simulated career total of 766 home runs, 11 more than his actual total of 755, and just enough to leave in doubt whether Bonds would be able to catch and pass him — at least before the end of the 2007 season.
Here are the results of our simulations, compared to the actual career records for Aaron and Bonds:
Perhaps the most significant feature of these results is that, halfway into his “sim” career, Aaron was 50 home runs behind his actual career pace. The reason is that the 1950s, when Aaron began his career, actually were more offensively-oriented than the 1980s, when Bonds began playing. Aaron begins making up the home run difference when his seasons from the 1960s, at which time pitching was more dominant, are shifted to the homer-happy 1990s. He finally passes his actual career total when his twilight 1970s seasons are shifted to the new millennium.
More offense also means more at-bats, and Aaron, who achieved his actual HR total over nearly 1,500 plate appearances more than Bonds has had in his career, racked up an additional 387 plate appearances in his sim career. Other factors that may have favored Aaron (or Bonds) from season to season include the parks they played in and the protection they received in their teams’ lineups (Bonds has received a career record 676 intentional walks compared to 293 for Aaron).
There’s no way to settle any of this, of course, which is part of what makes it so fun.
Related posts below the fold.
Written by James Joyner unless otherwise indicated.