Frankly, I am looking forward to seeing Bonds play. He is a great player albeit an as yet unindicted cheater. I am understandably far less enthusiastic about his ever hitting another home run in his career let alone against the Phillies over the next few games. A couple of harmless, non-run-producing line drive hits would be OK but nothing dramatic let alone record breaking.
As I ruminate about Bonds’ chase of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron a few new thoughts occur to me.
Babe Ruth played 22 seasons, the first four of which were exclusively as a pitcher. Throughout his entire career a season consisted of 154 games. The additional eight games that are standard now began in 1961, well after Ruth had retired and, coincidentally, the same year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs. The season was increased to 162 games due to expansion.
Assuming Ruth the pitcher started every fourth day in his era and hit for himself, he would have had roughly 154 at-bats if he pitched the entire nine innings of each start he made. In fact, Ruth averaged 382 AB’s for his career, but in those first four years (1914 – 1917) he averaged just a shade over 90. By 1918 the Red Sox realized what kind of hitter Ruth was and his AB’s for that season soared to 317 from the previous year’s 123. That season, his last in Boston, Ruth split his time between the outfield and pitcher’s mound before being sold to New York.
Bonds, on the other hand, has averaged nearly 460 AB’s per season during his twenty year career. Henry Aaron averaged a whopping 537 AB’s for his 23 year career.
Aaron finished with 12,364 at bats or 3966 more than Ruth and 3224 more than Bonds to date.
During his career Ruth walked 2062 times, Aaron 1402 and Bonds an astonishing 2311 and counting. It is safe to say that Bonds never got to swing at any pitches during a lot of those AB’s resulting in walks, especially during the last several years.
We could endlessly debate how much impact travel by plane versus train, day versus night games, flannel uniforms versus modern fabric, spitters versus splitters, the advent of relief specialists and changes in the overall quality of starting pitching have had on batters not to mention race relations, but a few things still remain very clear to me when comparing these great sluggers:
- No one has ever questioned how Aaron achieved his record total.
- Ruth achieved his totals in substantially fewer at bats than either Aaron or Bonds.
- Bonds achievements have come under a cloud of suspicion.
Is it any wonder so many fans in and outside the dugouts feel such ambivalence toward Bonds?
Is it any wonder I am curious to see him despite my misgivings?