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The annoying quest to erase Barry Bonds from history

BOOMER BASEBALL WRITERS TO THEMSELVES: Barry Bonds isn’t real. He can’t hurt you. BONDS’ 2001-2004: 256 OPS+

MLB: Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

I like Aaron Judge and I hope he breaks all the home run records this year. I find it really cool for New York Yankees Yankees fans that their star player is on the cusp of breaking two long-time Yankees home run records (Ruth and Maris), and on top of all that, their team is doing great. Sort of the platonic ideal of a fun baseball season. And if the San Francisco Giants signed him this offseason, I’d vibrate and ascend, even though I know he checks none of the front office’s boxes for value.

All that said, some have decided to use these happy fun times to continue their 10+ year project: erasing the memory of Barry Bonds from baseball history. They’re going to succeed, of course, but it’s worth dropping a turd on their dessert platter as they celebrate.

It began with making sure he doesn’t get elected into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. That’s not all Jon Heyman’s doing, of course, but let’s not deny that he and other writers speak for a lot of powerful people. It’s how they’ve managed to work for so long. With Bonds’ career kicked down the road for a good long while (until the retired players can decide at a later date), the campaign to chip away at his single-season accomplishments has begun.

Jon Heyman asked “Are we watching the greatest individual season ever?”:

His season is maybe better than the very best. Throwing out Barry Bonds’ seasons, and I wish we would, the best seasons were turned in by Mickey Mantle (1956 and 1957), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Lou Gehrig (1927) and of course Ruth (1920, 1921 and 1927).

Joel Sherman:

If I just limited this to the period I started working full-time[...] which is 1984... the best season I’ve ever seen anyone have is Dwight Gooden in 1985[...] this season, not that it needs to be made more great, but beyond the numbers, right? He did turn down $213.5 million in Spring Training, so he has to play to earn his money, right? He got asked to play a somewhat foreign position this year, center field, which improves the team greatly [...] He is the leader of the team. The offense has gone completely cold in the second half, as they’ve blown a big part of a 15.5 game lead — it all goes away without him. He’s carried the team singlehandedly. It is the most impressive season I’ve seen since I’ve began doing this professionally.

In this convo with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, Buster Olney doesn’t mince words!

GREENBERG: How do we put into perspective the meaning of Judge’s 60 home runs in this moment in time?

OLNEY: Yeah, Greenie, this is the greatest single-season performance by any hitter in the history of baseball, because of how difficult hitting has become!

Olney adds a bit more here, which I’m going to take to task right now because Olney always seems to annoy me a great deal more than the other national mouthpieces.

If you didn’t listen to the audio, Olney’s voice rises in volume and pitch as he says because of how difficult hitting has become! because he knows he sounds dumb without a caveat.

This is what my conversation was yesterday with Mike Trout: even since the beginning of his career in 2011, he mentioned the advent of analytics, how teams searched for weaknesses in hitters, ALL THE RELIEVERS, and EVERYBODY throwing harder than EVER, and yet in the second half of the season, Aaron Judge hitting .372, a .506 on base percentage, .853 slugging percentage in 54 games [...] 27 home runs [...] right now, he’s on pace to win A TRIPLE CROWN! It’s absolutely incredible and we’ve never seen anything like it.

Let’s break down the rest of this dumbness:

  • A limp appeal to authority: Mike Trout.
  • The advent of analytics? They existed prior to 2011 — you mean to say the advancements in analytics, as though technology would’ve figured out a better way to get Barry Bonds, and Aaron Judge, having come through a digital panopticon is automatically better? The wisdom at the time was that Bonds was so good so it’s better just to walk him. The wisdom of today is probably that a walk is not great and our data scouting makes it even more likely that we’d get out the hitters around him — but comparing eras is ridiculous! Bonds got pitched around because the hitters around him weren’t great. If the Giants knew then what we know now, wouldn’t those players be different? Wouldn’t it all be different — wouldn’t Bonds have even MORE data on the pitchers he already studied with the skill of an apex predator?
  • More relievers being an obstacle is under that same umbrella of better analytics. There’s no question Bonds would’ve hit fewer home runs facing more high velocity relievers, but if we’re talking about the relievers of his time —
  • One of the best relievers of his time THREW HARDER THAN EVER, and Bonds handled him:
  • And the Triple Crown argument is, ironically, the reason why Mike Trout did NOT win the AL MVP Award in 2013. Old Baseball Guys love the Triple Crown more than anything.

What has always annoyed me about Buster Olney is how he absolutely looks and sounds like one of those “aww shucks” guys but when he speaks and writes he can unleash venom. Pitched as a dude who just loves baseball, he definitely has an agenda. Don’t get that with Tim Kurkjian or Jayson Stark, and even though we absolutely get it with Jon Heyman, there’s something pure about it. He’s not trying to hide his rooting interests or agent relationships. In that case, I respect the hustle.

And on a broader level, I think the national media — particularly the east coast media dudes — loves that it has a legitimate reason to blanket the airwaves and digital media with Their Guy, especially a Yankee.

It’s not hard to see how we get from “A Yankee is having one of the greatest seasons ever” to “Because he’s a Yankee, this is the greatest season ever.” Also, in Heyman’s case, he writes for the New York Post, which means you have to shout the dumbest dogshit a human brain can conceive of as quickly as possible. And for that reason, I don’t actually think this is a conspiracy or orchestration so much as an opportunity to finish a job the national media started ever since Barry Bonds became the face of The Only Time There Has Ever Been Cheating In Baseball, a narrative of their own invention!

Notice how they’re conveniently ignoring Aaron Judge’s own brush with cheating!

Since Major League Baseball clarified its regulations regarding the use of video room equipment on September 15, 2017, the Yankees have had no infractions or violations.

Aaron Judge in 2017: .284 / .422 / .627 (171 OPS+) — 52 HR

Aaron Judge 2018-2021: .279 / .378 / .539 (147 OPS+) — 102 HR

Aaron Judge 2022: .316 / .419 / .703 (214 OPS+) — 60 HR

There are a lot of plausible and probable explanations for 2018-2021, and even 2017, but I’m pointing this out because Judge is getting a lot of credit for doing what he’s doing now because it’s harder now and therefore somehow purer, when the obvious answer is that in the history of baseball, it has never been simple. Something has always been going on.

I am not saying Aaron Judge is cheating. And I wouldn’t care if he is. Let him get caught. Let his cheating be shown as unique or out of step with the rest of the league. Then I’ll start to care. In the meantime, the victors write history through their media. An immortal entity like the MLB will always be the victor.

I’m compelled to point out how embarrassing it is to compare Judge to Bonds based on a single fantastic, incredible season like 2022. Not only does Bonds have four better seasons than Judge’s 2022 —

But Bonds has seven better seasons than Judge’s 2nd-best (171 OPS+ in 2017). And there’s clearly an attempt to rewrite the narrative through this 2022 season. They are asserting that, given the context of Judge’s accomplishments, he is a better career hitter than Barry Bonds. If Bonds has had four better seasons than Judge’s 2022, but they’re trying to argue that this one is the best ever, then they’re trying to say Judge is better than Bonds. Period.

Dodger fan Mike Petriello got into this a bit in his Aaron Judge is having the best hitting season ever post at Baseball Savant:

There’s an elephant in the room here, and then some. Bonds is maybe the greatest hitter to ever live, but there has been widespread speculation that he used PEDs later in his career when he was setting home run records.


At the time, we couldn’t know how history would view those seasons. We can’t know now, either, what fans of 2030 or 2050 or 2070 will think when they look back at Judge’s 2022. But when they do, hopefully they remember more than just the majestic blasts. This may be an all-time great homer season, that’s for sure. But it’s also just an all-time great season – one that might not have some of the baggage that previous great years have had.

So, Judge is the MLB’s chance to fix history. Replace a wart from earlier in the century and send us into a new era. The post-PED era or whatever. We don’t have to like it, but there’s nothing we or the Giants or Barry Bonds can do about it, either.

Unless Aaron Judge signs with the Giants. Then we all win.