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Wrapping Up 2001
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BONDS: The greatest season ever?
by Ken Gurnick
MLB.com


Oh, what a season for Barry Bonds.
Considering world events, it's too painful to look back on 2001 and say, "Gee, what a great year."

But in the limited context of baseball, we're all pretty lucky to have witnessed what Barry Bonds pulled off.

It's likely to go down as the greatest offensive season the game has ever seen.

That would mean better than Ruth. Better than Gehrig. Better than Cobb and Hornsby and Foxx and Williams and Mantle and Mays and go ahead, name a Hall-of-Famer. Considering what Bonds did and how he did it, it's not too far a reach to say that Bonds' performance tops them all.

"This is something that, as time goes by, you'll appreciate what you've witnessed," said retiring teammate Eric Davis. "We saw history being made."

Bonds, now 37, broke or tied five single-season Major League records, and we're talking big-time categories:

  • 73 home runs, shattering Mark McGwire's 70, set in 1998.
  • .863 slugging percentage, topping Ruth's previous .847 mark, set in 1920.
  • 177 walks, seven better than the total Ruth established in 1923.
  • 6.5 at-bats per home run, easily surpassing McGwire's 7.3 in 1998.
  • 1.378 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), matching Ruth's 1920 total.
  • Bonds also did this:

  • 230 runs created, one shy of Ruth's 1921 record.
  • .515 on-base percentage, best in the Majors in 2001, 10th-best all-time and third-best in NL history, behind marks set in 1899 and 1894.
  • 10 multi-homer games, giving him 56 overall, good for fifth on the all-time list.
  • 122 home runs in two seasons, best in the Majors (eight more than Sammy Sosa) and the most by a left-handed hitter over consecutive seasons in history, topping Ruth's 114 in 1927-28.
  • 36 road homers, best ever in the Majors and four better than Ruth and McGwire's 32.
  • 137 RBIs, most ever by a Giants left fielder, passing "Irish" Bob Meusel's 132 posted in 1922.
  • 47 of his 73 homers either tied the game, gave the Giants the lead, extended a one-run lead or brought the team within a run.
  • 10 Hall of Famers fell behind Bonds on the all-time home run list, and he ended up in seventh place, six homers behind Harmon Killebrew with 567.
  • For this, the Baseball Writers Association of America, with which Bonds has had a contentious relationship to say the least, made him the first four-time Most Valuable Player. Only in the past year or so has Bonds shown a softer side, and the fact that he was approaching free agency had some skeptics wondering if the nice-guy transformation was less than sincere.

    It has always been that way for Bonds. Between the lines, he has been the player of his generation, no less a dominant performer in his sport than Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky in theirs. But by burning bridges earlier in his career, he never reaped the endorsements or widespread adulation of Jordan or Gretzky.

    Maybe his 2001 performance will help Bonds break through that barrier.

    "His season is something you can't even grasp," said teammate Shawon Dunston. "People don't appreciate who he is or what he's done. He's the best there is. The way he played this year was outstanding. He had one of the greatest seasons of all time."

    The competition?

    Well, drawing comparisons eight decades apart isn't easy. Ruth hit .376 with a .532 on-base percentage, .847 slugging percentage, 150 walks and 158 runs scored in 142 games in 1920, generally considered by many historians to be the best offensive season until now. Ruth's numbers that year were better than Bonds' in runs, average and on-base percentage, they tied in RBI, and Bonds had the edge in home runs, walks and slugging percentage.

    Ruth followed that in 1921 with 59 home runs, 171 RBI, a .378 average and 158 runs scored. Rogers Hornsby hit .401 with 42 homers, 152 RBI and 250 hits (102 for extra bases) in 1922, then Ruth hit .393 in 1923. In 1927, Ruth and Gehrig combined averaged .365, 53 homers, 153 runs and 169 RBI. Try pitching around that lineup.

    Of course, Bonds didn't have Gehrig batting behind him, making his stats more impressive.

    "What Barry did this year was just awesome," said manager Dusty Baker. "That's as great an exhibition as you're going to find. Pretty soon, Babe Ruth won't have any records left."

    Other great seasons include Jimmie Foxx hitting 58 home runs with 169 RBI in 1932, Ted Williams' .406 average and record .551 on-base percentage in 1941 and McGwire's electric march to 70 homers in 1998.

    "I think he's the best ballplayer of his generation. I think he'll eventually be considered one of the top five players of all time," said Giants owner Peter Magowan, who now must decide how much it will cost to keep the best ballplayer of his generation on his team.

    Ken Gurnick is a regional writer for MLB.com, based in Los Angeles.
     


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    Vote on the best plays of 2001 in the following categories:
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    2001 Retirees: Players who ended their careers
    2001 A to Z: A handy reference for the season

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