Babe Ruth. Willie Mays. Barry Bonds. In any order, these are no doubt the three greatest baseball players ever. Yet while Mays and Ruth are legends both on and off the diamond, Barry Bonds has yet to be embraced similarly by baseball fans.
Why is this, you ask? Most will say that it is because he is surly with the media and that the common fan can't identify with Bonds. Some say that it is his flashy character, the low baggy pants, and the home run trot (or walk) that detract from his star power. Still others say that it is his relations with his teammates, in which he acts like he is above the team, leading fans away from Bonds.
However, Barry Bonds is exactly the type of player that America should be falling in love with. American sports fans love the pure, raw athletic ability that defines Bonds. Who else can stand in the batter's box and watch pitch after pitch go by outside of the strike zone for walk after walk, and then, on his fourth at-bat of the game, see one mistake by the pitcher and hit it out of the park?
Former Yankee first baseman and future Hall of Famer Don Mattingly recently said, "He's so patient. I don't know how he can take so many pitches, and then when you throw him a strike, it's over. It's amazing."
Look at Bonds' stats so far this year: .514 batting average, nine home runs, 19 RBI, and a 1.378 slugging percentage to go with 19 walks. He had also homered in seven straight games, one shy of the record. All of this has come while playing on a team whose best hitters besides Bonds are Marquis Grissom and Ray Durham.
Who protects Bonds behind him in the order? None other than Edgardo Alfonso, who is hitting at a .163 clip. Bonds has done all of this at the ripe old age of 39.
I saw Bonds play one time in Pittsburgh, two seasons prior to that ridiculous season of 72 home runs (which is one of the two greatest individual seasons of all time, along with Babe Ruth's, when he hit more home runs than all of the other major league teams combined). While the Giants were taking batting practice and Bonds was shagging balls in left, fans were screaming at the top of their lungs for his autograph. Bonds responded that he was working, and that he didn't go into these people's offices while they were at work to ask for theirs.
While his comments may sound a little brash, they are true. Bonds' office is the baseball diamond, and he is quite possibly the best employee that baseball has ever had. Instead of being angry that Bonds takes his job seriously, we should respect his desire for the game and embrace it. Bonds is the ultimate five tool player: he hits for average and power, is a great base runner, thrower, and defensive player. He has lost a few steps with age, but he still remains someone we should be in awe of, not angry at.
Let's consider what Bonds has done in just the last year. After losing his father, his best friend and mentor, during the middle of last season, he hit a game-winning, walk-off home run in his first game back.
Then in the off-season, he was in the middle of a large-scale steroid controversy. Bonds said then, and still maintains, that he is clean and that he welcomes all the testing that can come his way. Furthermore, even if he did take steroids, which I don't believe, it doesn't take away from the fact that he has the best eye in the majors and can hit a 95 mile per hour fastball. Despite the controversy, a couple weeks ago he passed his godfather Willie Mays on the all-time home run chart. He probably gained the title of "Greatest Living Player" in the process.
Despite all of his successes, he is still not embraced by the baseball fans outside of San Francisco. His flashiness is a distraction, some say, but I say that baseball needs a player with some flash and Bonds has earned the right to be that player. When Bonds hits a missile into McCovey Cove and starts his walk down the first base line, fans should appreciate what he just did rather than yell at the TV set because he is not running down the first base line.
Instead of coming up with reasons of why we should hate Barry Bonds, I say it's time to do the opposite. Let's start loving the man who has hit 245 home runs after the age of 35 and is just 88 home runs shy of becoming the all-time home run leader.