“Solid Season”

I am in New York right now, and not able to get in front of the computer for significant chunks of time, but I did want to get off a quick note about something I saw in the Times this morning. Due to a late voting push, Barry Bonds will be starting in left field for the National League All-star team next Tuesday in San Francisco. Much of the discussion over the past few weeks has been about whether Bonds, were he not voted in by the fans, would be added to the team as a reserve player. Some speculated that the commissioner might even step in to prevent Bonds from being named to the team. What’s been lost in that discussion, however, is what kind of season Bonds is actually having. Jack Curry’s article in the New York Times puts it this way:

“Even if the fans had not voted in Bonds as a starter, he is having a solid season and probably would have been selected by the players…” (my emphasis)

Not to pick on Curry here, but Bonds is having a “solid” season in about the same way one might say that the Great Wall of China is “sizable.”

All of the talk about Bonds and steroids over the past few seasons has, of course, diminished Bonds’ accomplishments in many people’s eyes. But, it’s also true that Bonds’ own greatness has established such an absurdly high baseline level, that most folks are inured to the magnitude of his performances. And, this year is a clear example. As of yesterday, Bonds’ batting average is .304 and he’s hit sixteen homeruns. These are excellent numbers and undoubtedly the ones that Curry has in mind when he describes Bonds’ season as solid. The batting average is 34th best among all qualifying major leaguers and the home run total is tied for 14th. But, batting averages and homerun totals provide an incomplete picture of a player’s offensive contributions. And, in Bonds’ case, more so than most. Bonds is also slugging .603. That’s fourth best in all of baseball. Bonds is first in all of baseball in OPS – on-base plus slugging. And, he’s first in on-base percentage, with a .516 mark. How good is that . 516 figure? Well, it’s 72 points better than the next best player, Magglio Ordonez. And, that gap in percentage points, between the first and second best in baseball in on-base percentage, is the same as the gap between the second best player and the 48th best player. But, it shouldn’t be surprising that Bonds on-base percentage is lapping the field. Because in all of baseball history, there have only been twenty season in which a player eclipsed the .500 mark in OBP, and three of those were achieved in the fluky, and pre-Cambrian season of 1894. In fact, the feat has only been accomplished fifteen times since 1900 (including in 1900, by John McGraw). Who’s on the list of players who’ve managed to get on base more than half the time in a full season? You’ve probably heard of them. Ted Williams, owner of the best single season OBP of all time until Bonds’ 2001-2004 run, makes the list three times (including at ages 22 and 38). He’s also got three more seasons just below that mark. Babe Ruth graces the list five times. Bonds himself is on it four times (I’m not counting this season, obviously). And Mickey Mantle and Rogers Hornsby make it once each (Hornsby cracked the magic barrier in the season in which he set the modern record with a .424 batting average).

That Bonds is in such rarefied air again, and could be described as having merely a “solid” season is a testament to the ongoing failure to understand the significance of getting on base. But, it’s also an illustration of the point I made above: Bonds’ greatness is so out of proportion to the game as we’ve known it for the past 100 years, that it’s hard to put it in its proper context. There are, of course, plenty of people who think that Bonds is still using something and therefore would begrudge whatever he does. But, that’s not Curry’s point, I don’t think. Just shy of his 43rd birthday, with bad knees and all, Bonds is still playing a different game than his peers, and it’s still hard even for professional baseball writers to see it.

18 Responses to ““Solid Season””

  1. Kinda like MJ only averaging 20 per game.

    I really think baseball should have a “living legends” spot on the all-star rosters for players in the tail end of their careers. Especially position players. Put Biggio, Bonds, etc on the roster, even if they don’t play. Just let the fans cheer them one more time as members of the all-star team.

  2. The Bonds coverage in the media is absurd these days. As you mention Jweil, his numbers alone are only ‘solid’ when you compare them to his numbers. He’s set the bar do high that media types can deminish his accomplishments by only comparing him to himself.

  3. Yeah… but, but, but…. his hat size has grown 6 inches!

  4. Well put Jweiler. My problem with this entire steroid argument is the fact that baseball has been full of cheating since day one. The hypocrisy is ridiculous. There are so many arguments that can be made in regards to stats–from the lack of minority players, doctored bats, balls, in the earlier years pitchers pitching for longer periods of time, and amphetamines to name just a few. So get off Barry’s back because his stats have always spoke for themselves. Baseball is certainly a sport that has had all kinds of cheating and a lack of integrity. So stop it. Judge one judge all!!

  5. CJ Scudworth Says:

    I find it hard to believe Selig would have kept Bonds off the All-Star team. In fact, with the game in Frisco, I think MLB is thrilled that he’s there, and that they didn’t have to make a decision one way or the other. Otherwise, the story of the game becomes Giants fans screaming where’s Barry.

    It’s my own pet theory that MLB will rig an All-Star vote on occasion. After all, the Commissioner and the owners probably worship Karl Rove. It just seems more years than not the fan balloting will take a last-minute turn for some player. Not that it’s a huge scandal, but I mean, seriously, who’s checking MLB’s vote-counting?…

  6. CJ Scudworth Says:

    Actually, I wonder if the ASG is the start of Bonds receiving more positive media coverage. Or maybe it will just be a respite from the usual coverage that lasts until he reaches 756. This excerpt from Tim Brown’s Yahoo! column — though not snark-free — will serve as my for instance:

    “Seeing as this All-Star Game is going to be a San Francisco thing anyway, they might as well have put Barry Bonds in the middle of it, in the city and amid the fans that adore him without reservation.

    “Besides, most of the game will be played at night. No shadows.

    “Bonds overtook Alfonso Soriano in the final days of balloting, a quarter million-vote rally that put him into the National League outfield with Ken Griffey Jr. and Carlos Beltran.

    “So, presumably in the hours before he chases down Hank Aaron, before he forces an in-or-out answer from Bud Selig, Bonds will stand on the ball field where they count his home runs with panels in right-center field, his walks with rubber chickens down the right-field line, his detractors with rigid forefingers from the big glove to McCovey Cove.

    “I’m at a loss for words right now,” Bonds told reporters in San Francisco. “It just means more ’cause I’m at home. This is my town. This is my house. You can’t say enough about being at home. It’s great. This is the one I’ll remember all time. This is the one I’ll remember forever.”

    “Bonds has been selected to 13 others and this will be his 12th start.

    “He is batting .304, back from .265 a little more than a month ago, with 16 home runs and 40 RBIs. He leads baseball in on-base percentage, OPS and raised eyebrows. Matt Holliday and Carlos Lee were more deserving of the start, and the sport probably could have done without the headache, but this is Bonds’ summer and, like he said, this is Bonds’ town.

    “He’ll make his first All-Star appearance in three years, so this could be viewed as a comeback of sorts, a couple weeks before his 43rd birthday. Bonds has hit 69 home runs since the 2004 All-Star Game, which was played in Houston, where his fellow starting outfielders were Lance Berkman and Sammy Sosa.”

  7. Matt Holiday? are you SERIOUS?

    bah.

  8. CJ Scudworth Says:

    The quote on Holliday and Carlos Lee is from Yahoo!’s Tim Brown, if I didn’t make that clear…

  9. Nice piece

    I think his absurdly tremendous body of work more then Bonds hate is the cause for most people viewing his prosperous first half as “solid”, but as a long time fan of the man I’ just happy to see he got in.

  10. What does this statement say about the fans?

    Not just the fans of SF but all fans.

    Does anyone think Bonds starting is a conspiracy to take the thought process from fence sitting Selig?

  11. I have noticed a bit of softening of Bonds coverage this year – Sports Weekly had a cover story last week that was mostly kind (and seemed to be drumming up All-Star votes for Bonds), and sympathetic voices have been popping up here and there, including a couple of SF Chronicle sportswriters who had been antagonistic. Some of that comes from his continuing to play at a high level since the steroids ban, some from general disgust at the ineffectual investigations, which are no closer now than ever to nailing him for anything and, just maybe, some folks are so tired of all the negativity that it’s being outshone by his accomplishments. One Chron writer this week wrote “At least he’s not Kobe” – that is, he’s not whining about his circumstances. Despite the media’s attempts to portray Bonds as a jerk and Personification of Evil, about the only thing I can recall his complaining about is having to deal with the impact of all the negative coverage on his kids. Terrible.

    I’m not sure this is the right place to bring this up, but I’d like to throw it out for this forum. In all the talk of juicing, juiced balls, and the endless theorizing about the boom in home run production since the mid-nineties, there’s one factor I’ve never seen mentioned – the fact that the entire game is now played with brand-new baseballs. Every time a ball hits the dirt, it’s thrown out. Almost every foul ball is tossed into the stands, as is every ball fielded to end an inning. This means that the ball in play has no scuffs of nicks the pitcher can use to advantage, no soft spots from being walloped. It seems obvious to me that this gives every edge to hitters, and makes long balls more likely. Ruth brought an end to the Dead Ball Era, and home run production went up for everybody. When did the New Ball Era begin? Doesn’t it seem likely to be a big factor in the increase in big flies? Just wondering.

  12. “Does anyone think Bonds starting is a conspiracy to take the thought process from fence sitting Selig?”

    i wondering if you could expand on this? i’m ready to blast selig, especially after what he just pulled with the cubs, but i want to make sure i’ve got your meaning correctly…

  13. I’ve also noticed a softening of the coverage. There was a valentine piece for Bonds on the front page of the sports section (for my locale) this morning.

  14. The ESPN Sports Nation poll question today is: Which is the bigger feat, Bonds 751 or Clemens 350?
    55% have actually voted for Clemens. Wow.

  15. Classic BSPN MT.

    Make the news-Denigrate and demonize Bonds while elevating Clemens for years and years.

    Sensationalize the story you created with another hate-based poll which is really nothing more than another opportunity for those you incited to hate, to express that hate and then

    Comment on the new piece of news you’ve created-Expect there to be numerous articles and ATH/PTI segments about how the majority of BSPN readers choose Clemens over Bonds.

    Just sickens me.

  16. [sarcasm] Clemens didn’t cheat… he did it the right way! [/sarcasm]

  17. Jimmy Paz Says:

    Hal: You make a very good point about the importance of keeping new balls in play. The generally accepted view is that after Ray Chapman was killed by a pitched ball in 1920, umpires were ordered to keep clean balls in play. It was widely believed that the ball Carl Mays pitched to Chapman was dirty and nicked up. This is used to explain the “hitting revolution” of the 1920′s–not a “live” ball (the cork-cushioned ball was in fact introduced in 1912) but a clean ball.

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