Sunday, September 05, 2004

Sour grapes from the Peanut Gallery

Let me take a wild guess: Barry Bonds once stiffed Neil Hayes for an interview. Or blew him off when Hayes was on deadline and desperate for something newsworthy. Or urinated in his Cha-Cha Bowl. Or something.

Neil Hayes is a columnist for the Contra Costa Times in the East Bay, and a contributing writer for MSNBC. In an article on that latter site, Hayes not only raises the oft-repeated chestnut that Bonds is an inferior player to Babe Ruth, but also claims that Bonds is inferior as an all-around player to Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio.

DiMaggio? You've got to be joking.

Look, Aaron himself says that Bonds is superior to Ruth. Hayes quotes the retired Braves slugger in his own article:
"You have to say in this generation, and I’m sure it’s going to be argued and debated among sportswriters and others, people will say Babe Ruth was the greatest, and I wish them all the luck in the world, but you have to put Barry a little past Babe Ruth."
If I have to judge between the baseball opinion of the all-time home run king and Hall of Famer, and a writer who probably — like most of his local peers — has been pushed aside and walked over by the Giants' sometimes-surly superstar...well, call me kooky, but I'm giving the nod to Hammerin' Hank.

No one asked Aaron, but I'm sure that in his heart of hearts he also knows Bonds is a better player than he was. Make no mistake: Aaron, despite his home run and RBI records, may be the most seriously underrated man in the top echelon of players all-time. You could hit 30 homers, a pretty solid number, every season for 25 years — and almost nobody plays that long — and still be five dingers shy of Hank. But Aaron, as good as he was (and he was a terrific defensive outfielder and baserunner as well as hitter), didn't scare people into changing their entire game plan the way Bonds does. Neither did Willie Mays, who was a better all-around player than Aaron, and probably the best of all until his godson came along.

And DiMaggio? Again, you've got to be joking. I could name 25 players who were better than DiMaggio, and probably leave a few people off the list who should be on it. DiMaggio was as overrated as Aaron was underrated. He may well have been the most overrated star player in the history of baseball, all because of one lucky streak wherein he hit in an incredible 56 consecutive games.

The true mark of a warrior is the fear he instills in his enemies. No one has ever terrified opposing managers, pitchers, catchers, and fielders the way Bonds does daily. And the amazing thing is the success he has despite the drastic measures most teams take against him — the incessant intentional walks, the infield shifts, the wall-hugging outfield stances, the too-careful pitching. Still he crashes homer after homer, and leads the league in batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. Leads, heck — the guys in second in those categories are flyspecks in Bonds's rear-view mirror.

Hayes raises the old argument that Ruth was a great pitcher as well as hitter, and of course Bonds never pitched. That's a little like saying Joe Montana wasn't a great quarterback because he didn't have to play both sides of the ball. Ruth played in an era when that kind of two-level dominance was possible, because he was so much better than anyone he ever played against. Bonds has spent his entire career as a contemporary with some of the greatest power hitters ever — Sosa, Griffey, A-Rod, et al. He's faced more dominating pitchers than Ruth ever dreamed about, including devastating closers — a facet of the game that didn't exist in Ruth's day. And he's outshone them all, year after year, for a decade and a half, and is more imposing at 40 than he was at 30. When Ruth was Bonds's age, he was sitting in taverns in his street clothes pickling his liver and bragging about how he used to be somebody.

Unlike Neil Hayes, I don't know Barry Bonds personally. It's quite possible I wouldn't want to hold his hand and sing "Kumbaya" if I did know him as closely as the writers and players who rip him consistently. But I know this: he's the greatest baseball player I've ever seen, and, not coincidentally, he's the best that ever lived.

0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home