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Fellow players amazed by Bonds
09/17/2004 8:53 PM ET
Barry Bonds' baseball contemporaries have watched in amazement along with baseball fans as the Giants' superstar slugger has rocketed up the all-time homers chart.

For many of them, 700 is off the charts.

It's a number that's hard to fathom. To the men who are paid to crush baseballs in abundance, it's something seemingly beyond infinity.

It's as though the term "700 homers" is spoken in another baseball language.

All they can do is shake their heads.

"I can't put that in perspective. That's unreal," said Toronto's Carlos Delgado.

"There's only three people that have ever done it. It's amazing," says Jeff Bagwell, Houston's iconic first baseman. "And how quickly he's done it, in the last two years."

Bonds' predecessors on this incredible road of homers have to be equally impressed, particularly with the rapid rise in Bonds' older years.

Frank Robinson, who smacked 586 homers himself and has seen Bonds' rise to 700 from its very beginnings, certainly knows what it's like to go above and beyond significant milestones.

But not like this.

barry bonds, the road to 700
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"Bonds has blown by 500, 600 home runs," said Robinson, now manager of the Montreal Expos. "He is going to be well into the 700s before the season is over. Bonds came back to life when he hit 73 home runs [in 2001]. Before that, nobody was talking about Barry Bonds [reaching 700 home runs].

"All I can say is, amazing."

What else is left to say?

The superlatives have been flying since Bonds' homers started soaring in bunches in 2001. The comparisons to the greats of the game's history, with Bonds being spoken of on a level above the greats of his contemporaries, have mounted with each passing milestone.

Anymore, the hitters who have been mentioned in the same breath as Bonds in All-Star credentials and slugging prowess are now breathless, knowing he's taken it all to another level.

"There's no player that's like him," Bagwell says. "I don't know if there ever has been a player like him that's changed the game like he did."

Indeed, what Bonds has done in reaching 700 transcends baseball generations.

For third-generation Major Leaguer Bret Boone, someone who knows like Bonds the feeling of growing up around the game at its highest level and achieving All-Star status himself, there's no legend like the present one.

"Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter in the history of the game, bar none. He's the best, end of discussion," Boone said. "Who does what he does? No one is even close. I never saw Babe Ruth play, but he couldn't have been this good."

The thing that seems to strike home with his contemporaries the most is that Bonds has gotten to 700 while racking up walks at a record-destroying pace.

"He might see one good pitch a game and hit it off a concourse somewhere," Boone said. "The respect he has from pitchers and other managers is something I've never seen. I have seen a lot of great players and played with a lot of great ones, but Barry is on a different level than anyone I have ever seen."

Added Bagwell: "To see what he does with the amount of pitches he gets to see is absolutely amazing. If he gets one pitch a game, he usually hammers it. To walk as much as he walks, and to have the patience not to go outside the strike zone and not to swing at bad pitches, to have that patience to get a pitch to hit and hit it, and hit home runs, it's not that easy."

That's what's really awe-inspiring: Thinking of 700 in terms of it not even being up to his capabilities, just more a reflection of his opportunities.

"Can you imagine if they went after him?" says the Rockies' Vinny Castilla, a longtime slugging rival in the National League West who surpassed 300 homers this year. "There is no doubt in my mind he could hit 100 home runs in a season. The year he hit 73 home runs, he walked 170 or something like that. If they pitch to him, he could hit 100 home runs."

Yes, the numbers are getting ridiculous.

You can count 700 among them now.

Who could have imagined? Sure, Bonds had superstar written all over him even before he came out of Arizona State to join the Pirates. But 700 homers?

Not even longtime friend and Pirates cohort Bobby Bonilla could see that coming.

"Everybody knew he'd be good. He turned out to be great," Bonilla said. "But he's past that now. He's gone on to legendary status."

Said Yankees manager Joe Torre: "We knew Barry Bonds was a special player when I managed against him when he was with Pittsburgh. We never wanted to pitch to him then, and he's only gotten stronger, only gotten more experienced. He's always been a very good hitter in regards to having a plan going to the plate.

"I can't imagine anybody scaring people as much as he does when he has a bat in his hands."

Now that he's 40 and breaking barriers like 700, he's setting a standard that goes beyond belief for some.

When you're talking about 700 homers, you're talking about two decades of averaging 35, and that's an amazing amount even in this day when Bonds hasn't been the only one sending them out in droves.

"I can't even fathom hitting half that many," says the Marlins' Mike Lowell. "It's unbelievable. The stat I saw that is amazing is how long it took him to get to 100 and how quickly he advanced each hundred after that. He's gotten better, better, better and is just flying through those record books.

"Barry Bonds is in a class all by himself. I actually hope he breaks all the records so I can say I played with him in an All-Star Game and I played against him."

Even imagining another of the current superstars doing it is tough.

"First, you have to stay healthy; you have to play over 20 years injury free and that's hard to do," says the Cubs' Aramis Ramirez. "[The Cardinals' Albert] Pujols can stay healthy and [the Yankees'] Alex Rodriguez -- they have a chance to do that. To me, Bonds might be the last one to hit 700."

And therefore he might become the next man to set a record that proverbially won't be broken. If, that is, he reaches Hank Aaron's 755 mark.

Now there's a number to really wow baseball's fraternity of players, past and present.

Dusty Baker, who played with Aaron and managed Bonds, knows that breaking the 700 barrier and breaking Hammerin' Hank's all-time mark are two different things.

"Every year, you get a little older," Baker said. "He's on track, and the way he takes care of himself, he has a definite shot. It depends on how he finishes this year; he has a pretty good shot of breaking it next year."

Regardless of where he winds up, getting to 700 has helped put Bonds on a totally different plane among his contemporaries.

"He's done for the game what Michael Jordan did for basketball," the Mets' Cliff Floyd said. "The only thing he doesn't have is the rings to show for it. He's to baseball what Jordan and Wayne Gretzky were to their sports."

But perhaps none of those icons have the kind of number recognition attached to their careers that Bonds is mounting. Whatever his home run total ends up becoming, it will be a number all sports fans will know by heart.

For now, 700 is plenty impressive to those Bonds shares an era of baseball history that's more and more got his name written across it.

"It's a heckuva feat," Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "I have not seen all of the great players in the past and obviously they were very, very talented. But I just don't see how anybody could be better than Barry Bonds."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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