The quest to erase Barry Bonds from history

I love Aaron Judge and hope he breaks all home run records this year. I think it’s really cool for New York Yankees Yankees fans that their star player is about to break two long-time Yankees home run records (Ruth and Maris), and on top of all that, their team is doing great . A sort of platonic ideal of a fun baseball season. And if the San Francisco Giants signed him this offseason, I would vibe and ride, even though I know he doesn’t check any of the front office boxes for value.

That said, some have decided to take advantage of these moments of pleasure to pursue their project of more than 10 years: to erase Memory of Barry Bonds in baseball history. They’ll succeed, of course, but it’s worth dropping a poo on their dessert platter while they celebrate.

It started with making sure he didn’t get voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. That’s not all Jon Heyman does, of course, but let’s not deny that he and other writers speak for a lot of powerful people. That’s how they managed to work for so long. With Bonds’ career hitting the road for quite a while (until retired players can decide at a later date), the campaign to cut corners on his single-season accomplishments has begun.

Jon Heyman asked “Are we looking at the greatest individual season of all time?”:

His season may be better than the best. Throwing in the Barry Bonds seasons, and I wish we did, the best seasons were shot by Mickey Mantle (1956 and 1957), Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Lou Gehrig (1927) and of course Ruth (1920, 1921 and 1927).

Joel Sherman:

If I limited this to when I started working full time[…] which is 1984… the best season i have ever seen is dwight gooden in 1985[…] this season, not that she needs to be bigger, but beyond the numbers, right? He turned down $213.5 million in spring training, so he has to play for his money, right? He was asked to play a somewhat foreign position this year, the center field, which greatly improves the team […] He is the leader of the team. The attack went completely cold in the second half as they lost much of a 15.5 game lead – it’s all over without him. He carried the team single-handedly. He is the the most impressive season I’ve seen since I started doing this professionally.

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

GREENBERG: How do you put the meaning of Judge’s 60 home runs into perspective right now?

OLNEY: Yeah, Greenie, that’s the greatest single-season performance in baseball history, because of how hard it is to hit!

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

If you haven’t listened to the audio, Olney’s voice rises in volume and pitch as he says because of the difficulty of hitting! because he knows he looks stupid without warning.

That was my conversation yesterday with Mike Trout: even from the beginning of his career in 2011, he mentioned the advent of analysis, how teams were looking for weaknesses in hitters, ALL the relievers and EVERYONE throwing harder than EVER, and yet in the second half of the season, Aaron Judge hit .372, a .506 on-base percentage, .853 slugging percentage in 54 games […] 27 home runs […] right now, he’s well on his way to earning A TRIPLE CROWN! It is absolutely amazing and we have never seen anything like it.

Let’s break down the rest of this stupid:

  • A soft appeal to authority: Mike Trout.
  • The advent of analytics? They existed before 2011 – you mean advances in analytics, like technology has found a better way to get Barry Bonds, and Aaron Judge, going through a digital panopticon is automatically better? The wisdom at the time was that Bonds was so good it was best to just walk him around. Probably the wisdom today is that a march isn’t great and our data scouting makes it even more likely that we’ll take out the batters around it – but comparing eras is ridiculous! Bonds pitched because the hitters around him weren’t great. If the Giants knew then what we know now, wouldn’t these players be different? Wouldn’t everything be different – wouldn’t Bonds have even MORE data on the pitchers he’s already studied with the skill of an apex predator?
  • More relievers being a hurdle is under that same umbrella of better analytics. There’s no doubt that Bonds would have hit fewer home runs against more high-speed relievers, but if we’re talking about the relievers of his time –
  • One of the best relievers of his time THROWS HARDER THAN EVER, and Bonds handles him:

  • And the Triple Crown argument is, ironically, the reason Mike Trout did NOT win the AL MVP award in 2013. Old baseball guys love the Triple Crown more than anything.

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

And on a larger level, I think national media — especially east coast media — loves having a legitimate reason to cover the airwaves and digital media with their guy, especially a Yankee.

It’s not hard to see how we go from “A Yankee is having one of the best seasons ever” to “Because he’s a Yankee, it’s the best season ever”. Plus, in Heyman’s case, he writes for the New York Post, which means you have to shout the dumbest shit a human brain can conceive of as quickly as possible. And for that reason, I don’t really think it’s a plot or an orchestration, but more of an opportunity to finish a job that the national media has started since Barry Bonds became the face from The Only Time There Has Ever Been Cheating In Baseball, a tale of their own making!

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

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

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

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

Judge Aaron 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 gets a lot of credit for doing what he’s doing now because it’s harder now and so somehow purer sort, when the obvious answer is that in the history of baseball, it has never been simple. Something always happened.

I’m not saying Aaron Judge is cheating. And I don’t care if he is. Let him get caught. Whether his cheating is shown as unique or out of step with the rest of the league. Then I’ll start caring. In the meantime, the winners are writing history through their media. An immortal entity like MLB will always be victorious.

I am compelled to point out how embarrassing it is to compare Judge to Bonds based on a single fantastic and amazing season like 2022. Not only does Bond 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 throughout this 2022 season. They claim that, given the context of Judge’s accomplishments, he’s a better career hitter than Barry Bonds. If Bonds had four better seasons than Judge’s 2022, but they try to argue that this one is the best ever, and then they try to say Judge is better than Bonds. Period.

Dodger fan Mike Petriello got into that a little bit in his Aaron Judge has the best hitting season ever at Baseball Savant:

There’s an elephant in the room here, and more. Bonds may be the greatest hitter of all time, but there has been much speculation that he used PEDs later in his career as he set home run records.

[…]

At the time, we couldn’t know how history would view these seasons. We also can’t know now what fans of 2030, 2050, or 2070 will think when they return to Judge’s 2022. But when they do, I hope they remember more than majestic explosions. It might be an all-time great circuit 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 the judge is MLBchance to fix history. Replace a turn-of-the-century wart 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. So we all win.

Garland K. Long