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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, December 05, 2001
Baseball Primer’s 2001 National League MVP Award
Well, the suspense is over. To my immense relief, the BBWAA’s blither about Sosa or Gonzalez or Pujols being better MVP votes than Bonds turned out to be just that. Bonds copped 30 of 32 first place votes, with two hardball scribes registering symbolic "yeah, but he’s a jerk" second-place votes. And not to knock the three aforementioned wielders of the wood, each of whom would have been a viable MVP candidate in most of the years in baseball’s history. Just not this year.
I’d like to think this will be the year we retire the Bonds-bashing in the press. I mean the Bonds-personality-clubhouse thing, of course; anything he does between the lines (okay, I’ll give you the dugout) is fair game, but let’s just cross the adjectives arrogant, jerk, prima donna, and nobody-likes-him out of the lexicon for a while? I’m sure some ‘puter boffin can gin up a macro that will check for the pairing of Bonds and those terms and police you, if you like.
And to those of you who have seen first-hand evidence of Barry behavior that justifies the adjective ordnance, keep it.
I’ve heard enough of Bonds being interviewed to realize he is quite intelligent and articulate. To the very limited extent it is possible to infer a personality from interviews, he seems at times utterly unconcerned with how the media portrays him, almost toying with them in a sort of postmodern "I dare you to misquote THAT" game. Yet if you prick him, he doth bleed; he is not as utterly unconcerned as he appears to be - judging, again, by the number of times HE brings up the subject of how he is treated.
But enough. I got pulled into the Bonds headshrink game. It doesn’t matter what his personality is. He may be a misunderstood, hurt, inner child, or he may be the sociopath of the century. Don’t get too mushy-headed about your sports heroes; that clay on their feet comes from more than the infield. Let’s all, collectively, Get Over It. Okay?
Let’s talk, instead, about that performance. Babe Ruth was great. He was so great his 1927 was not his best season, or even his third-best. Statistally speaking, his best hitting years were when he was 25 26, and 28 years old. Those are the peak seasons of the best hitter who ever lived. They were seasons nobody thought would be bettered, ever. An .847 slugging average? What a joke. As if anyone could do that in the modern age, facing the cream of the baseball talent of a base of at least 400 million people. With night baseball, purebred closers, Randy Johnson, in a pitcher’s park, with no fearsome (sorry Jeff, you had a good year, but c’mon.) hitters behind him.
Oh, wait. That happened. I saw it on TV. He did it. And I wasn’t even thinking about the 73 homers. Okay, I was. But also the .863 slugging percentage, best of all time. And the .515 on-base percentage, the first one since Ted Williams. (Here’s a quick rule of thumb on OBP: just subtract a hundred points (a .400 OBP is as easy a benchmark as a .300 hitter, isn’t it? So Barry had a .415 "smart batting average. That’s how good .515 is.) And let’s not forget those 13 stolen bases, huh? Pretty spry for an old guy.
Did I mention he did all this while being pitched around the english are naming roundabouts after his bases-on-balls. There are 177 of them, one for each of the times Barry did the leisurely toss of the armor to his son the batboy. That’s enough to drive around the Albert Hall.
Just think about that for a minute. You saw the last couple of weeks of the season, when Dierker gave him four wide ones with his team down 8-1. (thus giving back a big chunk of my respect that he earned as a pretty good manager). Barry wasn’t getting one good pitch an at-bat, he was seeing one a SERIES. And yet: 73 homers, 156 hits, 107 of them for extra bases. Did he miss ANY hittable pitches? I guess so, but a man who does what Barry did this year is about as locked-in as the laws of biomechanics allow, and probably beyond what has ever been measured.
Okay, I’ve waxed rhapsodic enough. We saw a one-season performance by a 37-year old left fielder that can be placed next to any season, by any player, ever. Any of Babe Ruth’s seasons, any of Hornsby’s, any of Cobb’s. I think that’s worth a little wax job.
I know that, underneath the savoring or should-be savoring of this unique event, some people are cheesed off, and more than the Barry-bashers. The fact that a 37-year man CAN put up numbers that stand where his stand would by inside indicate that the offensive pendulum has reached the end of its swing and knocked over the little peg, and it’s time for the game to swing back toward a smaller brand of ball.
No argument from me there. I wouldn’t mind a game with more Ichiros and fewer Eric Karroses and Ben Grieveses (sorry guys, just the first names that popped up for me - nothing personal) myself. Just rememeber that that preference is mostly aesthetic. And remind yourself that, even though we’re in a era of offensive domination of the game that has rarely been equalled, there were 749 of the best baseball players in the entire world, peak athletes in peak condition having peak years at the peak of an offensive era, who didn’t come close to what Barry Bonds did in 2001.
It’s going to be a while before we have some perspective on that.
Unless somebody hits 80 homers next year. Against all that contraction pitching.
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