Thankfully, it’s over: Barry Bonds hits #756

Barry Bonds just hit his 756th career home run.  After all of baseball agonized over the inevitability of this moment for the last 4 months, it’s finally happened.  As a baseball fan, I have an uneasy feeling about that fact, and it’s not the same uneasy feeling I got right before my wedding.  It’s more the uneasy feeling I get before cleaning out my office.  But, now it’s all over, and that particular storyline doesn’t have to hang over baseball for the rest of the season. 
I’m conflicted though.  In a strange way, as a Sabermetrician, I owe Barry Bonds a huge debt of gratitude.  Seriously.  I would vote Barry into the initial class of the Sabermetric Hall of Fame with Bill James, Michael Lewis, and the Mills Brothers.  Consider this: even before the inevitable happened, Sabermetrically inclined folks have taken it upon themselves to show in some way that Bonds is not really the greatest HR hitter of all time.  Putting aside the questions on Vitamin S, we know that Bonds has benefitted from rampant expansion, smaller stadia, a lower pitching mound, better nutrition and medical care, and depending on whom you ask, a juiced ball.  Sabermetricians are able to point out that in today’s game, HR are easier to come by.  (Consider, 50 HR used to be something that happened once in a decade or so.  Since 1997, someone’s hit at least 47 every year!)  We’re able to talk about why that is and what the necessity is for adjusting statistics to reflect the context in which they were produced.
And for once, people will be listening, although for all the wrong reasons.  Sabermetricians are often placed in the role of telling people what they don’t want to hear about baseball.  Using the closer exclusively in the ninth inning really is a waste of a good pitcher.  Clutch hitting ability doesn’t really exist.  The sac bunt really isn’t that great an idea.  Finally, after all that, we get to say something that people want to hear, that 756 home runs might not qualify Barry as the best of all time when you consider the context.  And for a little while, people will (hopefully) be interested in things like park and era effects and standard deviations and z-scores.  And maybe some of them will take the time to understand a few of the rest of the things that Sabermetricians have been trying to tell them about the grand ole game for the past few years.  But it all starts off because people don’t like Barry Bonds as a person and want to hear evidence that he’s really not that good.  As a scientist, I try to work the other way around (evidence, then conclusion).  It’s a rather backward entry into the public consciousness, but surely, we will be thrown into the public consciousness thanks to one Barry Lamar Bonds.
I hadn’t really thought of this until I was talking to Bob Ngo, a doctoral student in sociology, who is conducting his disseration research on Sabermetricians (we’re apparently a sub-culture now!).  He asked me a question on what stake I believed that Sabermetricians had in the steroid controversy.  Oddly enough, the steroid controversy may have a stake in Sabermetrics as a field.  Funny how these things work.

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4 Responses to Thankfully, it’s over: Barry Bonds hits #756

  1. David Hannes says:

    Thanks…don’t forget that Bonds’ also benefitted from new video and personal computing technology, and the 7% harder bats made of maple…and that short fence in rightfield.

  2. dan says:

    every year since 1995* there has been someone hit 47 homers (belle, mcgwire, and galarraga in 95-96)

  3. obsessivegiantscompulsive says:

    FYI: I think I read in a recent Ron Shandler piece on either HR or some HR hitter, but he analyzed everyone who had 30 HR last year and almost all of them are hitting HR at a much lower rate than they were last year.
    Eric Walker had written a piece on his website that the era of the Silly-ball started in 1993, when the run scoring rate went up significantly, for whatever reason, and his take is that the only possible explanation for the sudden change – steriods would have been a gradual one – is that the ball was juiced starting that year.
    Given that Shandler finds the HR rate for the top HR hitters has been depressed greatly (not so much for Ryan Braun! :^), perhaps the ball isn’t juiced anymore, that baseball decided to change the ball back to its previous 1977 composition, so that they can point to the reduced scoring and say, “See, our drug policies are working, run scoring is down now, everything is fine, you congressmen can now get back to other things.”

  4. obsessivegiantscompulsive says:

    Oops, forgot to give Eric’s website link: http://highboskage.com/juiced-ball.shtml

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