The most Home Runs in a career. The most Home Runs in a single season. The most MVP Awards ever. The most Bases on Balls and the third most Runs scored in baseball history. A career OPS+ higher than Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle. It’s difficult to like Barry Bonds, but you cannot deny that his accomplishments are among the greatest of all time.
We all know that he was implicated in the Mitchell Report, that he put on suspicious amounts of muscle late in his career, and that given all of the evidence, he almost surely was on some sort of steroid for the peak of his career. I, for one, hope that he does not get voted into the Hall of Fame by the writers. Instead, I hope he gets in via Veterans Committee, maybe ten or fifteen years from now. Make him wait. But I’ve come to the conclusion that he was just too darn good to not be in the Hall. The drugs may have boosted his numbers to ridiculous heights, but he was an MVP even before he started using them. Steroids alone don’t make a Hall of Famer.
Anyway, most baseball fans already know all this. What I want to do is get a reminder of how good he really was. So if you will, set aside the “steroid” cloud in your mind and just see what kind of player he was on the field. Here he is compared to four of the most famous outfielders ever to play the game. At least according to these numbers, he’s no Babe Ruth. But then again, he has a higher wRC+, fWAR and rWAR than Willie Mays, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. Ruth is the only other player in history to be able to say that.
Disregarding the on-field stats, how did Bonds fare in terms of popularity? By this, I don’t only mean fan support, but also the yearly recognition of peers, writers and others who vote for the various awards. In other words, what about his “fame”? I won’t use Ruth or Cobb in this comparison, because both played their peak years before there was an all-star game, before their was a Rookie of the Year award, and before the MVP Award was a standardized, yearly event.
*Number of top 5 finishes in MVP voting.
**Number of years receiving MVP votes.
We can see that Aaron and Mays look really good in this category. Both were in many more all star games, Mays had more Gold Gloves, and Aaron had more seasons in which he received MVP votes. On the other hand, the league was much smaller during Mays’ and Aaron’s time, so the ASG voting was concentrated on the same stars every year. And Bonds won seven MVPs, more than twice as many as both Aaron and Mays combined. Even if you still give Mays and Aaron the edge in this section, you would have to admit that Bonds belongs in the same discussion.
When it comes to the “Rings” debate, it usually doesn’t matter as much when you reach this level of talent. Nobody is asking for Ted Williams or Ernie Banks to be removed from the HOF because they never won a World Series. Similarly, people don’t often bring up the fact that both Hank Aaron and Willie Mays won only a single Ring during a quarter century of play. The same goes for Bonds. His accomplishments far outweigh the lack of a championship.