Only Baseball Matters
…. Alone in second

Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth, hitting his 715th career home run today. As only the second man to surpass the greatest player in baseball history, Bonds has put the icing on the cake of his career. Next up is Aaron, at 755, a seemingly insurmoutable 41 home runs away for the sore-kneed gimpy Bonds. The surging Giants fell to the Rockies, but the story was Bonds.

…. As Bonds circled the bases, banners from the light towers on each side of the center-field scoreboard were unfurled. The one on the left field side showed a portrait of Bonds swinging a bat. The one on the right showed Aaron swinging a bat above the number 755.

Bonds slowly circled the bases and was greeted at home plate by his son Nikolai. They hugged and his son picked up Bonds’s bat. Then Bonds greeted several teammates, who congratulated him. He took two curtain call bows from the dugout as the game was delayed.

When Bonds jogged onto the field for the next inning to play left, another banner this one on the left-field fence was uncovered. It said “715″ next to a picture of Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and Willie Mays.

UPDATE: I thought I’d throw out a few more opinions on Bonds’ accomplishment. Here’s Lupica, on rails, as usual:

…. Aaron was never as unpopular as Bonds is outside of San Francisco, because he was and is too good a man. But he wasn’t close to being the darling of baseball in his prime. Mickey Mantle was the glamor boy. Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson might have been the two most thrilling players of all time. There was always the shadow of Ruth, a shadow the size of the Stadium. Then Roger Maris got to 61. Aaron never got to 50, much less 60.

Only now, because of who passed Ruth yesterday, does Aaron get the honor he deserves, even when elements of the media try to play you for suckers and make this about race; the African-American slugger who first beat Ruth is the symbol of what we still want our home run hitters to be.

Which means clean.

So now, Aaron, long considered a second class home run hitter, who reached Ruth only because of the luck involved in his late career move to the home run friendly confines of Atlanta, is held up as a paragon of virtue by the Lip. Oh, and by clean, Lupica must mean, if you don’t pay attention to all of the speed the ballplayers of Aaron’s era were taking.

I once thought Lupica the greatest sportswriter of my generation. Perhaps he once was. Today, he’s a shill, ignoring facts and distorting reality as it serves his efforts to appear the most righteous, the most upstanding member of the sportswriting community. Rush Limbaugh would be proud of Lupica, unbelievably including Mickey Mantle in his tale of athletic virtue, (Mantle, who apologized for being a drunken asshole for most of his career, was highlighted as a two-faced lout, willing to do anything for an edge in Jim Bouton’s Ball Four). Lupica stands out as the king of right, even as we re-read about Bonds denigrating Ruth, (widely acknowledged at the time to be a tongue-in-cheek effort)

…. Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury wrote for the July 18, 2003 edition of that newspaper explaining how it was obvious to anybody in the room that Bonds was playing around, that he was not serious when he said it.

(thanks to Obsessive Compulsive for the link)

Meanwhile, real writers are actually looking at statistics and analyzing facts in their efforts to hang an asterisk on Bonds, and finding themselves unable to do so:

…. At least one analyst even doubts that the rise in home runs is sufficiently remarkable to require any explanation beyond sheer chance. The cluster of six 61-plus home run seasons by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Bonds from 1998 through 2001 is entirely consistent with the randomness of home run records, according to a 2006 paper by Arthur De Vany, an emeritus professor of economics at UC Irvine who runs a consulting firm.

“Steroids do not come into the picture,” he wrote, “nor is there any need to invoke explanations that go beyond the natural variation of home run hitting, at-bats, chance, and the laws of extreme human accomplishment.”

Statisticians are wary of giving steroids credit for the offensive explosion not only because their effects are hard to pin down, but because of other changes in the game. In his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” published in 2001, Bill James, perhaps the best-known sabermetrician, listed six trends contributing to 1990s offense, of which only one the rise of strength training could even remotely be connected to steroid use. The others included changes in bat design that enhanced bat speed, changes in pitching and hitting styles that increased opposite-field home runs and, especially, a wave of new, hitter-friendly ballparks.

Seven of the 10 most hitter-friendly parks in major league baseball in 2005 (ranked by comparing home and road statistics by the home team) were built in the 1990s or later. At the top of the list is Denver’s Coors Field, a high-altitude stadium so offense-enhancing that the Colorado Rockies led the National League in home runs in four of their first five years in the park; in 1997 the Rockies out-homered the runners-up in the category (the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves) by 65 homers despite finishing third in their division.

Others conjecture that the relationship between pitching and hitting has lost its equilibrium. “I have a general impression that pitchers have reached some sort of physical limit,” Traven said. There’s evidence that fastball speeds have reached a plateau short of 100 mph, while hitters still have room for improvement. “It may be chemicals, but also technique and training,” he said.

Major league expansion in 1993 and 1998, which added four teams, may have diluted pitching. Bradbury has compiled figures showing that the range of earned-run averages from worst to best among pitchers has reached a historical high. “If you have hitters taking advantage of lesser pitchers, you’ll have an uptick in offense,” he said.

You think Lupica or Verducci or any of these other Chicken Little’s care about anything like facts or science or reality? Not a chance. All they care about is making sure you and I know how important their anger and their opinions are. All they want to do now is let us know how important it is for them to protect us from ourselves. Good thing they’re here, to let us know how Bonds doesn’t like kids or believe in Santa Claus.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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