Bonds vs Ruth by Danny Brown

Pinstripe Pete: Barry Bonds couldn’t hold Babe Ruth’s bat. He can hit 714 for all I care, but he’s no match for the greatest home run hitter of all-time. Ruth led the league in home runs 12 times. Bonds — just twice.

S.F. Sam: Greatest home run hitter of his day, maybe, but his beer-and-hot dogs act wouldn’t fly in today’s game. In baseball — in any sport — athletes are bigger, faster and stronger. Bonds has towered above all of them since before Derek Jeter was a glint in some scout’s eye.

Pinstripe Pete: It’s all relative, pal. Bonds gets the benefits of modern training — and science, if you know what I mean — but home runs these days are a dime a dozen. When Babe was socking them out, he was hitting more home runs than entire teams. Let’s see Bonds do that.

S.F. Sam: Look, most players weren’t even trying to hit home runs back in Ruth’s day. It was a slap-and-dash game and power essentially hadn’t been invented yet. But then Ruth comes along with his 42 1/2-ounce bat — which wouldn’t even be allowed today — and starts swinging for the fences. Sportswriters complained that he was ruining the game. At least some things don’t change.

Pinstripe Pete: Look, LeMaster breath, maybe you’re forgetting that the Bambino played 154 games a season; Bonds gets 162.

S.F. Sam: Please. Ruth should be so lucky. Ruth never had to go west of St. Louis. He traveled by train and played nothing but day games. Give Bonds a cushy schedule like that and he’d never need a day off.

Pinstripe Pete: Whoa, man. Those nights at Candlestick froze your brain. What Babe did was actually more impressive. He did it before expansion diluted the pitching talent. There were eight teams in the American League in those days, all on four-man rotations.

S.F. Sam: Diluted? Try deluded. You’d think you New York types would understand population changes. The country has almost twice as many people as it did in Ruth’s day. And — get this — we actually allow dark-skinned players in the league now. Talk about revolutionary.

Pinstripe Pete: More people, sure, but also more competition from other sports. When the Babe played, baseball was the premier game. Talk to any scout now and he’ll tell you that the NFL and NBA are taking your best athletes. Just try to find a sandlot game these days. All the kids are playing youth soccer.

S.F. Sam: Please. I haven’t laughed this hard since the Yankees signed Ed Whitson. Or did you miss Japan playing Cuba in the World Baseball Classic title game? The game has opened up to the whole globe.

Pinstripe Pete: Wow, opening things up has really ensured that the game gets the cream of the crop. Oh, wait: Shawn Estes, Jose Lima and Brett Tomko are still employed. The average ERA in the National League last year was 4.22. Give Ruth a shot at those guys, and he’d have hit 800 home runs. In his first season with a lot of at-bats, 1918, the league ERA was 2.73.

S.F. Sam: Ruth would not only have a hard time keeping up with today’s pitchers, he’d have a hard time keeping up with today’s pitches. The slider didn’t come along until the mid-1930s at the earliest. The hard splitter didn’t sweep the league until Bruce Sutter started doing it in the late ’70s. Bonds finished off his home run record with No. 73 off a knuckleball. Your head is the House that Dumb Built.

Pinstripe Pete: I’d make a crack about your ballpark, too, but it changes so often I can’t remember the name of it. I do know Coors Field though — another advantage for Bonds.

S.F. Sam: Look, there are even more good arms now because pitchers can come back from the dead. Modern medicine can fix what’s broken. Last year, there were more than 20 pitchers on opening-day rosters who had undergone Tommy John surgery. Just when you think John Smoltz is gone forever, doctors give him a new ligament and he’s as good as new.

Pinstripe Pete: The argument about modern advances goes both ways. Ruth never had the benefit of modern medicine, either. He also never got a chance to get scouting reports on DVD. He didn’t have maple bats, laser-eye surgery, protein supplements, steroids . . .

S.F. Sam: Here we go . . .

Pinstripe Pete: Can you imagine Babe Ruth on the juice? We’d still be waiting for his home runs to land. Anyway, you have to be suspicious that Bonds grew as big as a house in his late 30s and started hitting home runs at almost twice the rate he had in his supposed prime.

S.F. Sam: How did you put it before? It’s all relative? Athletes have always looked for an edge — and these days that means weightlifting and all the accompanying supplements.

Pinstripe Pete: Bonds was cheating.

S.F. Sam: First off, let’s wait to see what Major League Baseball’s investigation says about that. Second, steroids weren’t against baseball’s rules, not the ones they paid attention to anyway. And now that there is testing, they haven’t nailed Bonds — but they’ve sure nailed a lot of pitchers.

Pinstripe Pete: See those signs in the stands in Philadelphia over the weekend? “Ruth did it on hot dogs and beer.”

S.F. Sam: Why should the Babe’s slothfulness count as a plus? Bonds works out like a maniac — he’s the Jerry Rice of baseball. You’re telling me you’d admire his records more if he treated his body like a garbage dump?

Pinstripe Pete: More like a toxic site. Were it not for steroids, Bonds would be nowhere near Ruth or Hank Aaron. Bonds deserves a mark by all of his statistics.

S.F. Sam: Kiss my asterisk. You could put a mark by any period of history. Should Aaron and Mays get one for playing in the heyday of amphetamines? Should Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax get asterisks for pitching when the mound was higher?

If anything, all of Ruth’s records deserve an asterisk. He did it against white competition only. He never faced the Pedro Martinez, Bob Gibson or Satchel Paige of his day.

Pinstripe Pete: Believe me, Ruth understood pitchers. You might recall that he was one. He went 94-46 with a 2.28 ERA. Think of how many homers he’d have if he hadn’t spent his first three seasons as a pitcher. When it comes to pitching, Bonds is the Sultan of Not. He couldn’t even throw out Sid Bream.

S.F. Sam: I’ll concede the pitching point, but only if you acknowledge that Ruth had an enormous advantage with Lou Gehrig — Lou Gehrig — hitting behind him in the lineup. With that kind of protection, do you think Bonds would walk 200 times a season?

Pinstripe Pete: Shut up.

S.F. Sam: You shut up.


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