The battle for 756 may be two weeks past, but the defining of baseball history is just beginning, and since truth in mainstream sports media coverage has become an endangered species… it is time to set "the record" straight on Barry Bonds. From the very outset, the best-selling book “The Game of Shadows” – heavily co-promoted by the previously Bonds-biased Sports Illustrated – was immediately anointed as the document of record in “the case against Barry Bonds” despite a reported less favorable response from the Pulitzer committee. In the court of sports journalistic opinion co-authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams essentially replaced drug testing and court-process as the new judge and jury. They would write what would soon become gospel:
“But after age 35 – after steroids – Bonds improved his game in most categories. From 1999 to 2004, he had far better power and drove in and scored more runs. His batting average increased by an astonishing 38 points, and his on-base percentage soared… At what should have been the end of his baseball career, Bonds became a significantly better hitter than earlier in his career, as a composite of those years shows.”
Bonds late-career excellence is often known as “Prosecutorial Exhibit A” to both longtime Bonds-bashers and many sincerely well-meaning journalists. Last October, Sports Illustrated’s “panel of experts” selected an all-time all-star team but excluded Bondsbecause his statistics "are not to be believed”. Respected baseball commentator and historian Bob Costas recently stated:
“there’s no way he could have been remotely near the greatest player of all time without performance-enhancing drugs. His lifetime batting average was .290 through 1998 and he hit one homer every 16 times at bat. …He then went into the stratosphere when he started juicing.”
The Myths of 755: Hank Aaron Bonds with Barry demonstrated that it is possible to assess Hank’s historic stature without invoking Jesus. This follow-up effort shows that it is reasonable to explain Barry’s historic statistics without invoking “juicing”. This article is NOT about morality: whether it be Barry’s alleged use of performance enhancing drugs OR the mass presumption of guilt of one man that tests and courts won’t validate. For at least one Barry Bonds discussion all ethical matters will be put on the shelf. This is strictly about numbers: what they tell us, and what they don’t. It is strictly about our media: what they tell us, and what they won’t. Now let the homer-counting, number-crunching, and myth-busting begin!
1) The Bonds Power Surge Myth and “The Power Progression Theory”:
In this detailed excerpt from the Game of Shadows, the authors come strong with the statistical evidence:
Pre-PED & Post-PED Allegations
Over 100 point increase in on-base percentage, 17 additional home runs, and what about that “astonishing” jump in batting average! That’s it. It’s a wrap. Case closed. Class dismissed! …Unfortunately, the authors are blatantly guilty of statistical sloppiness at best or intentional manipulation at worst. COSELLOUT has embarked on the annoying and tedious task of dividing Barry’s career statistics into THREE parts: Now, let’s take another look: .
GROWTH PHASE —-AB—-R—HR–RBI–BB–SO–BA–OBP
First 7* (Pirates)—–512—96–25—79—81—84–.275–.378
Mid 6** (Giants)——506–115–39–110–124–77–.307–.445
Steroids 6 (Giants)-413–118–49–105–158–63–.328–.517
*1986-1992; **1992-1998; ***1999-2004 – Thank You Baseball-Reference!
When split into three different growth phases, what was previously presented as an unimaginable late-career power SURGE, or a “stratosphere” as Costas puts it, now looks like a natural and continuous power progression. The growth in virtually every category is either evenly split or is more significant during the first two phases of Bonds’ career! In other words, there is LESS statistical evidence that Bonds was aided by performance enhancing drugs in 1999 than back in 1992. Between Bonds’ early Pirates career and his early Giants career, his batting average increased an “astonishing” 32 points, his OBP 67 points, and added on an incredible FOURTEEN home runs per year! Did “skinny Barry”, perhaps out of jealousy of Terry Pendleton, start using steroids in the early 1990’s? Of course, no one has ever made such a claim.
What is far more likely is that Bonds — a prodigious talent and obsessive student of the game since a young child — kept on maturing, kept taking batting practice, kept working on his conditioning, kept studying pitchers tendencies, and kept improving every single year. All of these explanations can also be applied to the third phase of his career. You might wonder if there is any historical reference for such consistency of power growth across these three career phases? Yes, there is: his name is Hank Aaron. But first we give you Hank — "Game of Shadows version":
– During his first 15 years, Aaron averaged 34 home runs by belting 1 per 17.4 at-bats.
– Between ages of 35 – 39, Aaron averaged 41 home runs a year on 1 per 11.8 at bats.
Wow! Hank must have been “juicing” too! Now, here he is Aaron and Bonds together across three phases:
GROWTH PHASE—–HANK AARON———BARRY BONDS
First 7 Years———31 HRs (1/18.8 ABs)—-25 HRs (1/20.4 ABs)
Middle Prime*—-36 HRs (1/16.4 ABs)—-39 HRs (1/12.9 ABs)
Fine Wine Years**–41 HRs (1/11.8 ABs)—49 HRs (1/8.5 ABs)
*1st 1st 7 & pre-35; **ages 35 – 39
Aaron’s data also shows more of a career-long progression instead of an isolated late-career jump. In each growth phase he increased by five home runs per year by cutting down on his HR-per-at-bat ratio (13%, then 28%). Bonds was able to increase up to 14 home runs each growth phase by cutting his HR-per-at-bat ratio by at least 33% each time. However, it is worth restating: unlike Aaron, Bonds greatest growth increase came between the first and second thirds of his career. Ironically, it is Bonds growth that is more consistent and Aaron who had a greater late-career spike. With both Aaron and Bonds, their home run progressions, at least statistically speaking, were natural evolutions. The only difference is that Bonds has a wider growth curve. And the primary reason his late career growth was so astonishing was because he was being measured against everybody else instead of the one and only true player in his class… HIMSELF.
2) The Bonds Work Ethic and the “Bruce Banner Myth”:
You know the story: One off-season Bonds stuck a needle in his ass and returned the Incredible Hulk. The reality is that his weight and strength gain was also more evolution than revolution. In 1986, Bonds’ weight was listed at 185; at 206 in 1997; and at 228 in 2001. When “the middle man” is included (pre-allegations), we get a much different picture of career-long weight gain that is quite common with athletes. After Bonds smacked his 756th home run, he told reporters once again that his late father and god father — Bobby Bonds and Willie Mays—taught him everything he knows about the game of baseball. His father, an incredible all-star player before bouts with drinking and addiction curtailed a potential Hall of Fame career, also provided a lesson to his son on what NOT to do. Not only does Bonds have a disdain for drinking and drugs, but from the outset, Bonds has gone great lengths to prepare his body for the rigors of a long career. In 2001, Esquire Magazine named Bonds the hardest working athlete in all of sports. Okay, okay that 2001 date is questionable. How about this passage from Sports Illustrated’s Hank Hersch in 1990: While it is quite fair to state that Aaron’s late-career prowess was an exception to the baseball rule, the same can also be said of Bonds career-long workout regimen long before any steroid allegations surfaced.
“During the off-season, Bonds trained five days a week, five hours a day. ”We’d start working out at 10:30 in the morning,” says strength-and-conditioning coach Warren Sipp. ”And every day Barry would be in the parking lot, waiting for me.”
3) Bonds vs. His Peers in 2007:
Where Have You Gone, Juan Gonzalez? In 2003 Major League Baseball implemented its steroid testing policy and either as a result, coincidence, or injury, many of Barry Bonds’ YOUNGER all-star peers free-falled into decline in the ensuing years. Some got caught using PEDs (Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro); some were soon gone from the league (Juan Gonzalez, Jeff Bagwell, and Roberto Alomar); and others saw significant decreases in production and/or weight loss (Sammy Sosa, Todd Helton, Ivan Rodriquez, Mike Piazza, and Nomar Garciaparra). This list is not provided for needless witch-hunting, just for necessary referencing.
The Natural: At age 43, two years after missing close to a year because of knee surgeries, Bonds is currently hitting home runs at an astonishing rate of 1 per every 11 at bats and maintains an on-base percentage of close to .500. Both of these figures currently lead the National League and STILL eclipse his rates from his 2nd growth phase. Unlike many of his younger all-star contemporaries, he has: failed no drug tests, not retired, not lost significant weight, or has not had major decreases in production (not including injury) since testing was implemented four years ago. Had any of these scenarios occurred, media members would surely have presented it as yet another exhibit against Bonds. His 2007 production only validates that his “third growth phase” was no illusion. His detractors are almost forced to accept that, maybe, just maybe, Barry Bonds is just THAT GOOD unless they believe that Bonds is CURRENTLY using PEDs. The latter is an extremely difficult scenario to imagine given his surrounding circumstances.
4) The 650 Home Run Myth (if presumed guilty):
For argument’s sake, let’s assume Bonds is guilty so we can address the popular "how many would he hit clean" question. Bonds career growth challenges the almost universally held assumption that if he did take PEDs it would have some kind of drastic effect on his current home run totals. Sports Illustrated’s columnist Rick Reilly urged fans to celebrate Barry’s 756th home run by “holding up a big sign that says 650, which is about how many home runs Bonds would have if you replaced the homer totals from his alleged juicing years with his previous pace of 32 per season.” This 32 figure, borrowed from the Game of Shadows flawed data, presumes a 20% DECREASE in production from his previous six years. However, if an assumed “clean” Bonds” merely improved at the very same post-35 rate as Hank Aaron, he would have hit 733 home runs . When considering other BENEFICIAL factors of NOT being on PED’s, this home run total could easily be 756 right now.
Conclusion: Does Bonds power progression prove that he never used performance enhancing drugs? No, of course not. Does it prove that the Game of Shadows authors and their promoters are unwilling or unable to tell the full Bonds story? Yes, of course it does. It should also demonstrate that Bonds’ late-career power was not only “possible”, but with statistical hindsight, was even predictable. And if number-crunching wasn’t your cup of tea, you could have just asked his former Pirate teammate:
”I think one day he [Bonds] will put up numbers no one can believe.” — R. J. Reynolds in 1990
In summary, Bonds career home run trajectory, his career-long work ethic, and his 2007 statistics should leave readers with two options to consider: either Bonds did not use PEDs and steadily and naturally improved throughout his career, or he did use them but it really didn’t help him nearly as much as so many seem to believe. While debates about guilt, innocence, and morality will surely continue for years to come, it is time that both career-minded authors and fair-minded journalists stop using Barry Bonds’ unmatched excellence as damning evidence. Just because “the evolution has not been televised” doesn’t mean it never happened.
Part 1: The Myths of 755: Hank Aaron Bonds with Barry
Related: Barry Bonds 101: The Starting Five Rolls 12 Deep… TWICE!
Sports Illustrated’s Curious COVERage of Barry Bonds Series
PART 1 – The Pre-BALCO Covers
PART 1A – Giving Sports Illustrated* and Rick Reilly Their Due
PART 2 – The Asterisk Covers (coming soon)
PART 3 – The Home Run Covers (715 & 755)
OTHER – Rick Reilly is a Dork and Why it Matters
 Clemens, Rodriguez, and Piazza were the only “steroids era” contemporaries to make SI’s all-time roster. Given Bonds absence they were curious inclusions as Clemens has had steroid allegations come his way and Rodriguez and Piazza each experienced significant declines in weight and production shortly after drug testing was implemented in 2003. While this is no proof that either three men are guilty, the same can be said for Bonds.
 The 1999 season (Bonds is 34) was included in the “Fine Wine” data only to keep consistent his alleged “steroids period” data claimed by GOS authors.
 Bonds incredible improvement translated into incredible fear by pitchers which translated into lost at-bats due to base-on-balls. Assuming that Bonds did not receive the additional 34 walks per year in his “declining years” he would have been projected to average 53 HRs – another identical 14 home run increase.
 The lowering of the pitching mound in 1969 may have also contributed to Aaron’s growth. While some hitters benefitted, others like Aaron’s closest aging contemporary—Willie Mays—did not.
 It should be noted that Bonds off-season post-weight-training jump in weight from 2000 to 2001 was similar to his jump from 1996 to 1997 – pre steroid allegations.
 30/30 Vision: Barry Bonds Sees those Numbers Coming (Hank Hersch 1990)
 The prospect of current PED use is quite difficult to imagine being with the quadruple-layered Bonds oversight that is 1) MLB’s current drug-testing; 2) George Mitchell’s baseball’s investigation; 3) a wolf-pack of investigative journalists; AND 4) a still ongoing federal probe monitoring whether he eats Wheaties or Cheerios for breakfast.
 Aaron’s HR-to-at-bat ratio increased 28% from his 2nd phase (16.4 per AB) to his 3rd phase (11.8).
 By adding Aaron’s 28% HR-to-at-bat-ratio “3rd phase increase” Bond’s 2nd to 3rd phase ratio would decrease from 12.9 to 9.3. Bonds would have hit 267 instead of 294 homeruns.
 Game of Shadow’s authors claim that Bonds injury in 1999 that took away about 150 at bats was steroid-related. As a result of unprecedented pitcher fears Bonds also walked more than 200 additional times between 1999-2004 from his previous 6 year stretch. If someone assumes Bonds guilty; assumes that he benefitted greatly from PEDs; and is playing the “how many would he have hit naturally” game, then they would have to factor in hundreds of his at-bats lost in the process.
 30/30 Vision: Barry Bonds Sees those Numbers Coming (Hank Hersch 1990)