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How Truly Insane was Barry Bonds?

Describing the career of Barry Bonds as dominant would be downplaying his accomplishments on the diamond. His presence at the plate literally brought fear into the eyes of opposing pitchers. From the span of 2001-2004, Bonds’ ability with the bat was unmatched by any player in the history of the game. Putting aside the steroid allegations, Bonds put up one of the most prolific offensive displays ever seen in the sport. The numbers he was able to put up during that stretch made all the other MVP contenders of the league look pale in comparison. Despite being a controversial achievement, Bonds is the home run king, and his unbelievable statistics show what the true meaning of that title granted him.

Over the course of twenty-two major league seasons, Bonds managed to blast 762 balls out of the park. He was always a consistent power threat while a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the full extent of his home run potential was not reached until he arrived in the Bay Area. In his first twelve seasons with San Francisco, Bonds hit 30+ home runs each season, 40+ in eight of those seasons, and a record breaking 73 home runs in 2001. He accomplished this feat just three years after Mark McGuire had reset the record at 70. Bonds was breaking all kinds of home run records in an era filled with phenomenal power hitters, as he was surpassing players like Todd Helton, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez. The intangibles that Bonds brought to the table were more than just his ability to hit the ball far. What separated him from the pack was his spectacular eye at the plate.

During that four-season period in the early 2000’s, Bonds reached unheard of heights in terms of his ability to get on base. He knew pitchers were scared to pitch to him, therefore he would rarely get good pitches to hit. Instead of chasing, Bonds would stay patient, ultimately leading him to rack up a historic number of walks. Bonds holds the top three spots for the most walks in a single season, which includes a 232-walk season in 2004. He was the master at getting on base, with his on base percentage (OBP) not only rivaling, but exceeding the greatest hitters to ever play the game.

This video breaks down the full extent of Bonds’ ability to reach base.

Bonds owns four of the top eleven spots for the best single-season OBP, including the top two slots with a jarring .609 OBP in 2004 and .581 OBP in 2002. Those numbers put him above the likes of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and even Babe Ruth. Becoming a more feared hitter then the Great Bambino himself is seriously noteworthy, as these statistics really helped cement his reputation as a hitter. These legendary sluggers held records that were unbroken for over half a century. Williams was one of the greatest pure hitters ever, as he was the last player to hit above the .400 mark in 1941. During that miraculous season, he would set the OBP record, where it would go untouched until 2002, when Bonds shattered it by nearly thirty points. To only one up himself, Bonds rebroke the record two seasons later. 

It is difficult to put into context how absolutely insane Bonds’ numbers were, but the statistics he put up were actually shocking, even considering they may have been padded by steroids. After the 73 home run season, where Bonds essentially annihilated any pitcher that dared to throw to him, the National League began refusing to pitch to him. The following three seasons saw Bonds break the intentional walk record multiple times. In 2002 he broke the record by twenty-three walks, totaling 68 for the season, but after 61 the next season, his 2004 was staggering.

In 617 plate appearance, Bonds was INTENTIONALLY walked 120 times. That was almost once a game. He only had 373 official at bats that season because he literally walked over a third of the time he stepped in the batter’s box. Yet still, Bonds managed to hit 45 home runs that year, hitting one out every 8.2 at bats. He was never able to eclipse his home run record because he never got the opportunity to. He was the most intimidating player in the sport.

Bonds was intentionally walked 41 times with the bases empty. Analytically, that is one of the dumbest moves in baseball, but he scared opposing managers to such high a degree that they would rather give him the free base, instead of letting him extend his arms. Bonds’ presence was never felt more than in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks held a two-run lead and manager Buck Showalter decided to intentionally walk Bonds with the bases loaded. No player since before WWII had ever had this card played on them. Showalter flat out refused to let Bonds beat them, and after the on-deck batter Brent Mayne lined out to right field, the game became one of the most infamous moments in league history.

How fearsome could a player be where conceding a run is actually considered the better option. Clearly Bonds is the only player to fill this criterion, which is why he amounted over double the career intentional walks (688 IBB) than the second highest total player (Albert Pujols, 312 IBB).

While overviewing the incredible milestones Bonds was able to achieve, nothing became more apparent than his discipline at the plate. He destroyed the baseball because he owned the strike zone. Bonds would spit on pitches that were only mere inches off the plate. He had a fantastic eye and even when counts were not in his favor he still raked.

Two strike hitting is what makes clutch hitters stand out above the rest. The most difficult aspect of two strike hitting is when the count goes 0-2. Bonds hit .207 during that count throughout his career, but during his crazy 2001-2004 stretch, he had a .260 batting average, and even more impressively a .605 slugging percentage. Comparing that number to the competition Bonds had in 2004, a slugging percentage that high would have ranked seventh in all of baseball. That is with an 0-2 count, and only one strike to drive the ball. Hitting the ball that successfully in the most unfavorable count in baseball is miraculous. 

Sidenote: Bonds’ slugging percentage in 2004 was .155 points higher than the next closest.

Fear is an aspect of sports that is discouraged. In baseball, pitchers are supposed to attack the hitters and vice versa. A walk is a free pass, which is generally a negative in most managers’ books. Barry Bonds transcended the game. He created an environment where pitchers were scared to even see him in the on-deck circle. Teams would not strategize for the San Francisco Giants; they would strategize on how to not let Bonds beat them. He only took up one spot in the batting order and approximately four at bats a game. He was a Gold Glove award winner, but that was meaningless in the eyes of the opponent. Bonds was the man pitchers did not want to face because every time he swung the bat, the ball had a chance at leaving the yard. They could not walk him every time, even though they tried, and he would not chase outside the strike zone. Bonds was the most dangerous hitter on the planet, and it was not even a competition.

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