The Batter or the Bat?

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No this article is not about politics, but it is about America. It is about our culture, how we see ourselves, and how we see our icons. Like him or not, think he is juiced or not, Barry Bonds is an icon.

Barry Bonds is now chasing Hank Aaron's all-time home-run record of 755. Bonds, as of June 11, 2007, had 747. Bonds is not my favorite baseball player, that place is taken by Tony Gwynn. Nonetheless, I think Bonds is unfairly treated by the media and the fans, because the media lives on scandal.

Some say Bonds is, or was, on the "juice," steroids. But allow me to compare his output vs. Aaron's, and see if the numbers support that theory.

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Both show a fairly steady improvement with age, until age 40, when things started breaking down for both of them. Aaron's output really suffered; Bond's less so. This can be partly attributed to Bond's dedication to strength training, which was not so pronounced in Hank Aaron's era. Such training late in life can do miracles. Witness Albert Beckles' second-place finish in the 1985 Mr. Olympia contest (to Lee Haney, who won eight times, breaking Schwartzenegger's record of seven) at the age of 55! He was older than the first- and third-place finishers combined!

We also note a drop in Bond's at-bats per home-run in 2000, when he reached an even more impressive level. There are several possible causes. First, he started "juicing up" -- taking steroids. Allegedly. Without clear proof, I like to think he did not. Second, there was considerable league expanssion up to 1998, diluting out the pitching talent. The third is that he switched bats.

MLB made maple bats legal in 1998. Bonds started using one in 1999. Now, about half of the MLB players do. The first broken-bat home-run was made with a maple bat. Maple bats are simply harder than ash ones, and the ball comes off the bat faster.

One more factor goes into Bonds success. When he tied Wille Mays' mark of 660, Bonds was met at the plate with a hug and a kiss from his godfather and mentor -- Wille Mays.

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5 Comments

Ted said:

All you need to do compare pictures of the Bonds of the early 90s to the bonds of the early 2000s to know that either a) he had one hellacious weight coach or b) was he was getting juiced.

Jack said:

Go look at Arnold Schwartzenegger's early pictures, too. Sergio Oliva was a very skinny teen. Strong, but not nearly the man he became after taking up weight training.

CR UVa said:

Barry Bonds could do a lot to eliminate these criticisms; take a blood test. If he never used steroids, and has any concern for his integrity (or even the integrity of baseball in general), it only makes sense. If he is clean, the test will come out that way and most skeptics will pull back. Sure, some will still exist (blood tests are never 100% accurate), but this would help.

I'll also note that just because he can get into weight training, doesn't mean that the argument is over by suggesting that he did. Weight training does not eliminate the possible use of steroids. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, DID use steroids (not to mention other drugs). If Bonds is like Schwarzenegger, then he is in big trouble should he ever be tested.

Jack said:

He could test clean now, and still be accused of having used steroids in the past.

CR UVa said:

He could, but to maintain the kind of muscle that he currently does, he would need to keep taking steroids if he took them in past. Looking at a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger from a year or so ago, Arnold has lost a considerable amount of muscle, replaced by fat. Though Arnold still works out from what I hear, I doubt that he maintains the kind of strength that he did in the past.

You are right; there would still be accusations even with a clean test. However, unless he only quit very recently, I doubt that maintaining even a strong work-out regimen could prevent rapid muscle loss. If he were to pass a test, or if need be, a couple tests, I am confident that most people would drop the accusations.

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