In recent seasons there has been a lot of talk about whether Barry Bonds is deserving of being called the best to ever play the game. The game of baseball, that is. Fortunately, this year as it has become apparent to all but his most voracious supporters that Barry’s game improved significantly as a result of medicinal “help” (ALLEGEDLY-wink-wink, nudge-nudge), a lot of that talk has quieted down.
There’s still enough speculation going on to make it apparent that those who know little about the game’s history can be hoodwinked into buying into the myth that even without the help of steroids-ALLEGEDLY-Barry Bonds somehow has even a tenuous claim to the honor of being mentioned as the best who ever played the game. Let’s look at some stats.
This article is going to take the position that when it comes to who was the best baseball player in MLB history, there is no argument. It was Babe Ruth. Not only was he clearly the best, but Barry Bonds isn’t even deserving of being mentioned in the argument.
Barry may hold on long enough to break past Babe’s home run mark of 714, though it’s becoming increasingly doubtful that he can pass Hank Aaron’s all time mark. An argument against the Babe is that he played in the segregated era and therefore didn’t really have to face the all best pitchers in the game. True enough, Ruth’s numbers may well have suffered a bit had he been forced to face the likes of Satchel Paige and the other pitching greats of the time who were unfortunate enough to have been born black. However, it’s equally deserving of mention that in the recent expansion era Barry Bonds has had arguably the even greater fortune of being able to face, and very often at that, pitchers who wouldn’t even have made it onto the rosters of the teams in the MLB or the Negro leagues of Ruth’s time. Ruth played during the days of the four man rotation, while Barry plays against a five man rotation. An extra pitcher on a league with far more teams makes it very likely that Barry Bonds has at the very least anywhere from 50 to 100 homers under his belt off pitchers that would never have made it out of the minors as little as twenty years ago, much less during the days Ruth was playing. Much talk is made of how fearsome Barry is, to the point where he’s intentionally walked an inordinate number of times; he’s even been intentionally walked with the bases loaded! What’s left out of this conversation is the fact that most of those intentional walks have come against these very same pitchers that desperate owners are forced to use down at the bottom of the rotation. If Bonds was facing the caliber of pitchers that Ruth faced, he wouldn’t be getting so many free passes.
The Babe’s reputation has pretty much always rested upon his stature as the greatest power hitter of his time, but in fact George Herman Ruth was also a great hitter for average. In fact, unless Barry goes on a rampage unseen in the annals of baseball history, he stands to end up with a lifetime average thirty to forty points below Babe. That’s THIRTY to FORTY points! You want to tell me how the greatest player of all time can have a lifetime average hovering around the .300 mark? If he plays long enough in order to break Aaron’s record, he may just wind up below .300. He may wind up significantly below .300.
As it stands now, Bonds trails Ruth in all time numbers in the following big-time categories: home runs, hits, triples, RBIs, runs, slugging percentage, on-base-percentage, and batting average. Disregarding the averages, Bonds trails Ruth in homers, hits, triples, runs, and RBIs even though he’s played in more games and had more at-bats than the Babe. And guess what?
I don’t really even take that into consideration when I say that Babe Ruth is far and away the better baseball player. Because, yes, there are other players who have bettered Babe Ruth in those categories. And, no, I don’t think they rate as better players.
So what is it that makes Babe Ruth stand out as so clearly being the best player of all time, then?
When you picture Babe Ruth in your mind, what do you see? A rather large, ungainly, perhaps even fat man, right? Barry Bonds’ stolen base number may seem titanic compared to Ruth’s, but did you know that this fat man stole home ten times in his career? Most of the great base-stealing legends never stole home that often. But even that isn’t what separates Babe from the rest of baseball.
In order for Barry Bonds to have a chance at truly deserving of being called the greatest baseball player of all time, first he must pass Ruth’s numbers in homers and RBI. He’ll never get to Ruth’s batting average, so forget about that. But once he passes Ruth’s power figures-if indeed he ever does-then he’s going to have do something else.
He’s going to have to go out onto the pitcher’s mound and win 95 games. Then he’s going to have pitch 30 consecutive scoreless innings in the World Series. (First he’ll have to actually get to a World Series, of course, but that’s another matter).
You see, in order for Bonds or any other player to lay claim to being the best to ever play the game, they will have to prove themselves not only as one of the best hitters ever, but also as one of the best pitchers ever. Had Babe Ruth never started to bang home runs out of the park, his name would still echo through the history of baseball and he’d still be in the Hall of Fame. As a pitcher. Judging by his stats, it’s easy enough to predict that he’d have won at least 200 games as a pitcher if he’d just stayed on the mound. No matter how many home runs are ever hit, no many how many RBIs are ever driven in, no matter how high a career batting average a batter reaches, the fact remains that those numbers won’t matter; they won’t be enough to entitle the bearer to the title of greatest player ever.
Until they also prove they could have been one of the greatest pitchers ever.
And it sure would be nice if the player who attains those lofty goals-provided they are ever attained again-could do it without a cloud of mystery surrounding his physical abilities.