It’s the hottest topic of conversation in the sports world today and no, I’m not referring to the Miami Heat’s stunning revelation that they were considering selecting a fourth-grader in yesterday’s NBA draft.
I’m talking about Barry Bonds and the number 70. Heard about it?Unless you have been stranded on Alcatraz, chances are you’re aware that the San Francisco Giants’ slugger is taking aim at Mark McGwire’s home run record of 70 set in 1998.
As of Wednesday, Bonds has gone deep 39 times in 77 games, which is a major league record for most home runs before the All Star Break. It is conceivable that Bonds will be sitting on 40 jacks by the time he takes the field in Seattle for the midsummer classic, and the spotlight on him is just beginning to get bright.
On the sports ticker that flashes across the bottom of the screen on ESPN2, they give an account of which pitcher Bonds is facing that night and how Bonds has fared in the past against him. ESPN has led off SportsCenter nearly every night since the NBA Finals have ended with the Giants game and the “Barry Watch.”
And if you absolutely must know right away how Bonds is doing during the game, ESPN frequently cuts off its broadcast to show you his at-bats.
Is it just me, or doesn’t anyone else realize we are only at the end of JUNE?
That’s right, before everyone jumps on the Barry Bonds Trolley Car, remember there are more than three months left in the oh-so lengthy baseball season. So why has this become an issue of such magnitude?
Look, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but here goes: Bonds will not break McGwire’s record.
First of all, I realize Bonds is on a torrid pace, but he will slow down. He has never been exclusively a home-run hitter.
Throughout his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career, Bonds has been a 25-35 home run guy. His best season, power-wise, came in 2000 when he left the yard 49 times. What Bonds possesses is a pure, left-handed stroke with power to right and right-center fields.
McGwire and Sammy Sosa, on the other hand, have Herculean power to all fields. This season, Bonds has one opposite-field home run.
Second, and this is not a knock on Bonds, but he has always been a selective hitter. He is currently on a pace to amass more than 150 walks, and you can expect that number to grow if by some chance he is within striking distance of the record come crunch time. He holds the National League record for walks in a four-year span (from 1994-97) and has the Major League record for most intentional walks.
Bonds has a keen eye and rarely chases pitches he can’t drive. No one will ever confuse Bonds with free-swinging slugger Vladimir Guerrero. Bonds was even criticized during his days as a Pittsburgh Pirate for not extending his strike zone in order to drive in runs. While Bonds’ selectivity helps his average, as pitchers begin to get more cautious of him down the stretch he’s not as likely to chase a hittable ball that’s out of the zone as McGwire or Sosa.
Third, although Bonds is by no means as coarse with the media as Albert Belle was, his tendency to fold like a Samsonite under pressure has been well documented. Bonds’ postseason average is right at the Mendoza Line (.200) and he has hit a whopping 1 HR to go along with 5 RBI in 23 career playoff games.
He has been abrasive, intolerant and downright rude to the press in the past and the media circus that will accompany him toward the end of the season will be brutal. It’s not easy to not hit a homer for three games and have nit-witted reporters asking ‘What’s wrong?’
Bonds is also not trying to eclipse 61 home runs as McGwire did. McGwire blasted his 62nd homer on Sept. 7, leaving a full month to add to his total. Should Bonds approach 70, it will be right down to the last few games, only increasing the media crush and public scrutiny.
And finally, although he has remained relatively healthy throughout his career, one stint on the disabled list would dash any hopes of breaking Big Mac’s record.
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think Bonds will break the home run record this, or any, year. And what’s worse is all this mumbo-jumbo that he might break the record before we’ve even reached the mid-way point of the season.
Perhaps McGwire, who is the only man in the world to know what it’s like to hit 70 home runs in a season, said it best: “Until you’ve reached 60 home runs by Sept. 1, there’s no point of even talking about it.”
– Brandon Wright is a senior majoring in mass communications and an Oracle Sports Editor.