So how many HR did Bonds* really hit?
November 16, 2007 8 Comments
Here we go again…
Thursday afternoon, Barry Bonds* was indicted in federal court for perjury, specifically that he perjured himself (legalese for “told a lie”) when he said that he had never taken steroids. So, that means that someone in the federal government thinks that Barry Bonds* took steroids. I suppose Barry* is entitled to his day in court, but I believe the old saying “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies here.
Bonds* finished the 2007 season with 762 career HR, 7 more than Hank Aaron. But even still, he’s a 40-something-year-old player with bad knees, and even without this particular nastiness hanging over his head, he was pretty much aiming for a DH role in the American League. I’m assuming that Barry* will be tied up with this matter through the off-season and into the spring. So, even if he were just another outfielder, he wouldn’t make sense as a signing in the off-season. If he’s found guilty, it sounds like he’ll get a year or two in prison. By that point, he might not even be in baseball shape, and even if he wanted to continue, I don’t know that MLB would want him back. Barry Bonds* may have retired today.
Would you like me to tell you that Bonds* isn’t really the home run champion of all time? Would you like me to do some clever math and de-throne him? Would you like me to write 1000 words, reference statistical procedures with which you aren’t familiar, and somehow shave 8 HR off Bonds* career home run totals? Want me to restore Hank Aaron to his rightful place in the sun? I can’t do it. Barry Bonds* hit 762 HR* in his career, which is more than any other Major League player has ever hit. The numbers don’t lie.
And I have to say that I’m observing a delicious little irony in the reaction to the Bonds* indictment, as everyone watches in shock as a man who is greater than Babe Ruth is felled. Sabermetricians are often derided as not “getting it” because our numbers can’t describe the full impact of a player. After all, a home run isn’t just a home run. It’s a momentum shifter. It’s the mark of a team leader, a man of virtue, a “great” player. There’s something special about a home run, and to reduce it to a cold, calculated four-base hit doesn’t do it justice, right? There’s one little problem. It turns out that the man who has performed this marvelous feat of virtue the most often may actually have cheated and lied to get there. Suddenly, the home run doesn’t seem to virtuous.
If you have a little knot in your stomach trying to reconcile the fact that Barry Bonds* is both the home run king and a possible cheater (like I do), may I recommend looking at it like a Sabermetrician. Maybe a home run isn’t a mark of virtue and home run hitters don’t belong in our cultural pantheon. Maybe a home run is just a home run, something that surely helps teams win games and makes you the fan feel better, but not something that describes anything about the character of the man hitting it. Bonds* contributed a lot to the teams on which he played, but baseball is just a game, not a magical fairy land, and Barry Bonds* is not a hero.
Don’t come crying to your friendly local Sabermetrician to make you feel better about how much value you’ve mistakenly placed in… well… a number, even if it’s the number 762.