Throughout the years, I’ve made my opinions on Barry Bonds known. He was a cruel, nasty guy to cover and deal with, and the day he retired was a day reporters everywhere celebrated.
That being said …
Today is Barry Bonds’ 50th birthday, so instead of thrashing him, I’ll take the opposite approach: If we set aside PED for a moment, and pretend they either didn’t exist or didn’t matter, Bonds was—without a second’s debate—the most dominant and fearsome ballplayer I’ve ever seen. There is no close second.
I’ve never seen a guy turn on fastballs like he did. Never. Best memory: 2002 World Series. Giants-Angels in Anaheim. At the time, Francisco Rodriguez is this fearsome, heat-slinging rookie closer. He’s as close to unhittable as I’ve seen. The guy is breathing fire. The radar is hot: 99, 98, 99, 99, 99, 97, 99. I mean—crazy speed. Bonds comes up in Game 6, his team leading 3-0. Top of the sixth. I’m sitting in the auxiliary press box, thinking, “This is the moment when youth kills aged.” First pitch—high and at the chest. Bonds swings—gooooooooone. And gone and gone and gone. An absolutely majestic shot into the right-center stands.
Before he got laughably big, Bonds was a Griffey-level talent. Would steal you 40 bases, hit lots of doubles into the gaps. Didn’t have a very good arm, but knew the angles as well as anyone. The defense of Bonds is that, even pre-steroids, he was Hall of Fame worthy. And it’s true—he was a five-tool guy who would have dominated the game along the lines of Griffey and Willie Mays.
He was that good.