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Thursday, August 09, 2007

In Defense of Offense

Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record. There should be no Astrix, the record is not tainted, and this should be a celebrated achievement. Now, I'm not naive. I'm pretty sure Barry used HGH and probably steroids. But my point is that so did everyone else. The pitcher he hit 755 off of was suspended a year because he tested positive for steroids. Ironically enough, Barry has not ever, ever, ever tested positive. But the evidence is rather convincing. Now as a lifelong Giants fan. this is not blind celebration. But just reality. There is no way ever to find out who and who didn't use, or a way to go back and change the record books. Baseball fans just need to look back at their history. And as someone who dearly loves baseball, and played it since I could walk, Baseball has always been about getting an edge. Bending the rules is accepted, if not celebrated. Now, it is important to point out that HGH and steroids were not against the rules when and if Barry and others used them. But to say that Barry's milestone is not a real milestone, is quite simplistic, and naive. For everyone who no matter what, won't ever forgive Barry, it was the MLB record he broke. The all-time record still belongs to Sadaharu Oh, the Japanese player hit 868 home runs in his career. And Josh Gibson hit anywhere between 800-1000 homers depending on who you talk to, in the Negro leagues. Now this brings me to my point. It is impossible to compare records to records from different generations. Baseballs today are more tightly wound, and back in the old days there wasn't really a regulation size. The equipment is better today, as is nutrition, including non-illegal supplements, and even Hank Aaron probably never thought of weight training. Oh's record is rationalized by saying that his competition wasn't good enough, but how do we know that expansion era pitching is better than Japanese pitching? Gibson officially has 146 career home runs in the Negro Leagues, but played in hundreds of games that because of segregation weren't official, and the records were never kept or lost to history. Babe Ruth may have hit 900 if he had the modern training methods and nutrition players have today, and if Hank Aaron lifted weights to strengthen his immortally strong wrists, who knows how many he'd have hit. Bonds did what at least 1/4 of all players during his career were doing. And Palmiero, Canseco, Caminiti; players we know used steroids, as well as a list of nearly anonymous minor league players, didn't come close to putting up numbers like Bonds has, nor have lasted as long. And even though steroids may make you stronger, and in some cases HGH can improve eye sight, though only about as much as having a good contact lens, there is nothing harder than sports than hitting a baseball. And no steroid can really give you the knowledge it takes to time, and guess what a pitcher will throw at you. Something Barry has done better than anyone else, not only because of his HR's but perhaps even more so because of his astounding number of unintentional walks. If you want to put an Astrix by 756, or keep Barry out of the hall, for using steroids, you'd also have to take out all the pitchers who threw spitballs, and all the players who used amphetamines, which were legal until last year, and a staple of clubhouses for years. You'd have to go back and see which games were played with balls stored in humidors, or which games had players stealing signs, or which games had the grounds crew changing the direction of the dirt to favor the home team, or the fact that ballparks like the Polo Grounds had center fields over 483 feet deep, and had Willie Mays played in ATT instead he would have reached maybe 800. So, while you may not like him. Or his methods, what Barry has done, so eclipses what anyone else of the Steroid Era has done, he deserves celebration. Baseball records are just so variable that it is impossible to compare. And while A-rod will pass Bonds in a few years, in my mind Josh Gibson will always be the Home Run King. Simply because he did it in such difficult circumstances (often not having a hotel to stay in or towns where they couldn't get off the bus to get food, and playing 2 or more games a day sometimes with subpar equipment, against future hall of fame talent. So I congratulate Barry Bonds on being the all-time MLB home run king. But still marvel at the legends of the past.

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