Friday, August 3, 2007

Why Hank Aaron Doesn’t Like Barry Bonds

I don’t agree with this theory that Aaron is jealous or angry with Bonds for breaking his record. After all, Aaron is a classy, intelligent guy who knows very well that the home run record isn’t forever. He’s so much as said so in the past.

I think what irks Aaron is that forever in history he’ll be linked with Barry Bonds, when the reality is that the two of them haven’t accomplished even remotely the same thing. Aaron and Ruth had similar accomplishments; that’s why we can speak of them in the same breath. But Barry Bonds? Spare me. That’s an apples-and-oranges type of discussion.

What is the biggest knock on older baseball players? They can’t handle the grind of the long, hot season. Their body breaks down, they get fatigued, they can’t play as many games, small injuries linger, and their physical skills begin to erode. It’s reflected in their stats, when you compare August and September to April and May, and see that their averaged and RBI and VORP have all dropped.

Aaron broke the home run record under this kind of stress, season after season after season. He felt the grind. Aaron was 40 when he finally broke the record, and two years later he retired. His body had had enough, averaging 38 home runs a year from 1967-1973, and only hitting 20 and then 12 in his last two full seasons (1974 and 75).

Bonds’ experience has been totally different. At the same age he was suddenly hitting significantly more homers per year (about 45) than he had averaged before. Thanks to [allegedly] pumping his body full of chemicals designed to make it bounce back from injury, repair the wear-and-tear of the season, and fight off the deleterious effects of aging, Bonds is suddenly superman! For Bonds, the chase to Aaron is not an exhaustive climb up a rocky slope, but more like a ride on a parade float, snarling at the crowds as they closed in on his leather-clad armchair.

Would you expect a marathon runner to respect a guy who passed him riding a Segway? Of course not! Why do you expect Hank Aaron to respect the human pharmacology that is Barry Bonds?

Lest you think me some crank, simply look at Bonds’ three seasons. For the first time in his career, Bonds missed an entire season in 2005. Then he hits 26 home runs in 2006, his lowest total in 15 years. And now this year his homerless streak is reaching (for him) epic proportions. Barry Bonds looks old, and he looks tired.

Just like Hank Aaron did when he finally broke the record over thirty years ago. But don’t try to peddle to me that their achievements are somehow similar.