Sports Outside the Beltway

Barry vs. Babe: No Contest

USA Today columnist Sandy Grady argues that the “Barry vs. Babe” argument is “No contest.”

Some evening in late spring or early summer, Major League Baseball will come face to face with its ultimate nightmare, the shame of its lies and evasions on gaudy full-screen display. That’s the moment a gimpy, sulky, bulky 41-year-old named Barry Bonds struts around the bases after hitting his seventh home run of 2006 and the 715th of his career. He will have passed the game’s iconic Babe Ruth for No. 2 in lifetime homers.

Ignite the fireworks! Roll the videotape! Let the bugles blare! But while the rockets explode, I suggest the scoreboard light up with the following message: “Mr. Bonds and baseball’s executives would like to thank the makers of Winstrol … Deca-Durabolin … human growth hormone … trenbolone … insulin … testosterone decanoate, Clomid and Modafinil for this historic moment. Thank you, chemists of the world!”

And before Bonds disappears into the dugout, I would hope several people would share in the adulation for Bonds. They would include MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, leaders of the baseball players union, executives of the San Francisco Giants, Bonds’ former manager Dusty Baker, owners of all other big-league teams present, the drug experts of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, and assorted TV and print journalists. They were co-conspirators in Bonds’ inglorious achievement. By turning away with sly winks, they were enablers who created the Great Home-Run Drug Fraud.

The problem with this is that we will never know how many of Bonds’ homers are a direct result of these substances. After all, he was hitting them at a prodigious pace before he is alleged to have started the Juice.

In between steroids rants, though, Grady makes a more cogent argument:

Even if he hit 1,000 homers, the chance of Bonds eclipsing Babe Ruth as the most famous player in history would be as slim as – well, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush knocking Abraham Lincoln off his presidential shrine.

Look, it’s futile entertainment to compare athletes of different eras. Who was greater: Jack Johnson or Muhammad Ali, Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods? So I’ll let baseball’s legion of addicts bicker over the hitting numbers, Bonds vs. Babe.

I’d submit that Ruth had one edge as a complete player. Before he became the Yankee home-run attraction, he was a superb Red Sox pitcher who won 18, 23 and 24 games in 1915-17. Unless Bonds develops a fast ball, he can’t match Ruth as a World Series winner as hurler and slugger. I agree, though, that Ruth played in an all-white game while Barry’s modern era of black, Latino and Asian players is faster, more athletic.

Quite right. Both men were phenomenal athletes in their time. Even without the drugs, though, one has to admit that Bonds stayed in better shape. And, let’s not forget, Bonds had hundreds of potential at bats in his prime wiped away because of labor disputes, something unthinkable in Ruth’s era.

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