I was driving the other day flipping through the stations when I came across Jim Rome talking with Bob Costas. Obviously much of the conversation centered on Barry Bonds with Rome giving Costas a chance to rebut some things Jon Miller had said the week before.
“I like Jon,” Costas said, “but he does work for the Giants so perhaps in this case he should recuse himself.”
Rome spent two segments with Bob, giving him a forum to get into the whole situation with Bonds, the Giants fans, steroids, Bonds’ denials (or not) and baseball’s position on the whole thing. Costas was able to distill much of every fan’s feelings down to their essence: Bonds cheated.
But it was a very solid argument, noting that Bonds was a great player through his career up until 1998-99 when his alleged performance enhancing drug use started. But that his numbers since then are somewhat artificial and that perhaps his “cheating” has allowed him to extend his career to this point.
Whether it’s on his nationally syndicated radio show or his current “Costas Now” on HBO, Bob has always had a long-form outlet for his ideas and opinions, and they’re usually well thought out and insightful. In this case, he filleted both Miller and Bonds (who had called Costas a “midget who never played the game”), leaving anybody with a logical thought with a very convincing argument.
As Bonds “takes” (Costas’ characterization) instead of breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record it comes at the same time as Alex Rodriguez hits a milestone at 500 home runs and Tom Glavine wins his 300th game. Is it just the time we’re living in that allows us to see such monumental feats in baseball? Is it how the game is played now? Are the players just better?
It’s actually all of those things.
The careers are longer, the players are better trained, some naturally, and in fact, it’s the time we live in. I’m sure you’ve seen the stat regarding the time frame for 300 game winners. Eleven before 1925, a couple in the next 57 years and eight since 1982. There won’t be a bunch in the near future based on the players currently in the game.
The three real milestones in baseball are 300 wins, 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. Of the three, 300 wins only comes from a long career, solid performances and playing on some good teams. Three thousand hits means you played a long time and stayed healthy. You had to be a solid player but a long career is part of 3,000 hits. Twenty years, 150 hits a year and you’re there.
Five hundred home runs are all you. Nobody’s got to make great defensive plays, and you have to have that pop in your bat that gets the ball over the fence.
At 32 years old, ARod is at 500 and could easily eclipse wherever Bonds sets the bar at some point in his career. Eight hundred? Absolutely attainable if he stays healthy and wants to get there.
I did the play-by-play for the Florida High School association baseball championships for about six years and I remember doing the title game when ARod’s team played in it. He pitched and played short. (Same with Chipper Jones). You could see he was a special player right away and he’s fulfilled that potential five-fold.
Without the steroid era, that’s one of the things I like about baseball, the stats hold up from decade to decade, century to century. The players, the fields, the agronomy, the bats, the balls, they’ve all gotten better, but it’s all relative. The numbers match and they matter.
Just think about this one fact that continues to amaze me.
Despite all of the changes, one constant is 90-feet between bases. Ninety feet from home to first. And every play seems to be bang-bang. If it’s 91, everybody’s out. If it’s 89, everybody’s safe. But it’s not. It’s 90 and perfect.
Hopefully we’ll figure out where to put Bonds in the context of his numbers versus the history of the game. For me, I’ll stay a baseball fan, Barry or not.