Alex Massie

Barry Bonds Passes Hank Aaron

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Even political bloggers and policy wonkers seem to feel the need to write something about Barry Lamar Bonds. Matt Yglesias says he must be the best ever; Brian Beutler - being a self-respecting Dodgers fan - must and does decline to endorse that opinion; Megan McArdle is infuriatingly non-commital while Dan Drezner reminds one that Tom Glavine should receive more respect for winning his 300th game (though of course the "wins" statistic is one of the most misleading and useless in all baseball; this is the only explanation for its continued existence)

Clearly this is one of those situations that can only be judged by a foreigner. That being the case, it's quite clear that Bonds get into the starting line-up for your All-Time baseball team.

Would Bonds have hit 756 without using steroids and other dubious training methods? Perhaps not. But it's never been quite clear to me why using steroids is considered an artificial enhancement whereas other medicinal aides to preparation (and, just as importantly, recovery) are not considered so terrible. The widespread use of "greenies" in baseball - that's amphetamines to you and me - may be considered a natural response to the sport's gruelling schedule (especially the travel) but it's also, surely, the case that it contributed to higher career figures for many players than would otherwise have been the case. Yet no-one calls for asterisks in this instance, do they? But steroids are still considered beyond the pale, presumably because they're seen as a free-ride: take these pills ad improve without having to do any work. As far as the public is concerned steroids offer unearned rewards. There's not enough blood sweat and tears for our taste and it offends our notion that sports ought to be a better, idealised, version of real-life and, consequently, an arena in which the concept of "something for nothing" doesn't exist. (Yet here too there's a strange inconsistency: if Tiger Woods has laser surgery on his eyes - helping him read greens etc - no-one considers that "cheating" yet taking drugs to help improve power off the tee would be an affront to everyone's tender sensibilities...)

Alas, that's not the way the world works. Sport is not impervious to human nature. That we seem to need to be reminded of this over and over again demonstrates the human minds' capacity for wishful thinking and self-delusion.

As for the question of who is the greatest: one needs to assume, in these hypothetical situations, that players from the past would be able to take advantage of modern training methods and technological advances. This is not an especially foolish assumption. Secondly, it's fairest to compare players against the standards of their own era. Here Bonds comes out ahead of Aaron but behind Ruth (Ted Williams is also ahead o fAaron in most of the important statistical categories). The Babe, remember, hit more home runs some years than entire teams - it was as though he were playing on Lilliput.

Against that, one may reasonably suppose that Bonds would have proved capable of feasting in a pitching pool that did not include specialist relievers or LOOGYs, let alone black or foreign pitchers.

Even so, most detailed statistical comparisons declare Ruth the narrow winner, though I think I'm right to think that Bods has now accumulated more batting Win Shares than anyone in baseball history.

But perhaps the most telling indicator of how tough it is to reach 755 home runs, comes from the fact that a modified version of the PECOTA statistical projection system says that despite becoming the youngest player to reach 500 home runs, Alex Rodriguez has just a 46% chance of reaching 756.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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