08/09/2002 10:03 pm ET
Majors tip caps to Bonds' feat
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
In describing what Barry Bonds has accomplished by hitting 600 home runs, even the biggest names in baseball could think of only one word.
"Unbelievable," said Yankees All-Star Jason Giambi. "When it's all said and done, he'll be one of the best players that ever played this game. He is already. He's going to be the first 500-500 guy.
"He's something special, and he seems to just keep getting better and better. Age seems to have no effect on him. Mentally, he's far superior to a lot of guys. He's in a class by himself."
Tampa Bay's Greg Vaughn, who slugged 50 home runs with San Diego in 1998, agreed with that assessment.
"It's unbelievable, I can't even fathom it," said Vaughn, who has 352 career home runs.
With three seasons of more than 60 home runs, Sammy Sosa knows what it takes to provide consistent power in the Majors. He said it starts with talent and hard work. It certainly has paid off for Sosa and Bonds.
"The years he's been having are unbelievable numbers,'' Sosa said. "For the way he's going, he's going to break every record that's up there.''
And the amazing thing to Sosa is that Bonds usually only sees one or two good pitches a game.
"That's tough, you got to fight,'' Sosa said. "You got to be ready for any mistake the pitcher's going to make, especially a
hitter like Barry and sometimes myself. It's tough. You got to be ready every swing. You don't know if that ball's going to be a strike or not. You have be very, very lucky, so the way he's going is unbelievable."
It seemed to take Bonds a week to get a good pitch to hit for No. 600, but Yankees manager Joe Torre put the time and other teams' approach in perspective.
"It's incredible, 600 home runs," Torre said. "Not only do you have to play for a long time, but you have to put some numbers up along the way. Barry, when you consider that we walked him here with a man on first base, that gives you an idea of the level of respect he gets. He's not only a power hitter, but a hell of a hitter in general."
With a Hall of Fame career of his own, Dave Winfield knows greatness when he sees it.
"That's a pretty awesome feat in any era for any batter," Winfield said. "And he's been such a good hitter for a long time. He's stayed healthy and he's stayed focused. And he's just in that elite group of players who have ever played this game. Simply, as a player, Barry has been superb for a long time."
Winfield added that older players today appear to be hitting more home runs these days.
"Nowadays your whole physical fitness regimen is different, even the technical aspects of the game," Winfield said. "The all-time greats who played this game didn't have the videotapes and the exercise equipment and the dietary supplements the guys have now. So guys start early nowadays and stay in that mode throughout their careers."
Yankees outfielder/DH John Vander Wal said he would always remember Bonds for what he did in 2001.
"Hitting-wise, he's a level above anyone I've played with," Vander Wal said. "He's phenomenal. They didn't really pitch to him last year and he hit 73, and he did it one of the toughest left-handed ballparks to hit in.
"He's the best hitter I've ever played with, by far. I only played with him for two months, but they were the best two months I've ever seen in my life by a hitter."
Another former teammate, Lloyd McClendon, is now the manager of the Pirates, who gave up No. 600 on Friday night. McClendon tipped his cap in grand fashion.
"It was a perfect day -- a real good friend of mine reached a milestone,'' McClendon said. "Emotionally, I'm very happy for him, very proud. I'm proud to say I was associated with him in some small way. He's a tremendous influence on the game of baseball, and he's certainly etched his name into the record books. Bonds should forever be a name that's synonymous with the game of baseball and everything that's right about this game.''
McClendon's catcher, Jason Kendall, had a unique perspective of the big blast.
"It's almost like he's playing Little League out there,'' Kendall said. "He's the best in the game. It's not a secret. You got to be careful because he can hurt you at any time. The pitch he hit tonight wasn't a bad pitch. It probably caught more of the plate, but it was a 96 mph fastball down.''
Still, with 600 home runs and the single-season home run record, there seems to be a debate as to whether Bonds belongs in the same company with Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and his godfather, Willie Mays.
Rays manager Hal McRae started out in the Majors at the time Aaron and Mays were finishing their incredible careers, and he places them on a different pedestal.
"Nobody is ever compared to Mays and Aaron," McRae said. "It just doesn't seem right, proper to compare them. If Bonds hits 700, he still won't be Willie Mays. When [Aaron and Mays] played, there was more competition. All the teams had at least three top-notch starters, and some had five. Today, everybody has a staff where they rush guys to the big leagues. They didn't do that back then. If you couldn't beat the five big guys, you went to the bullpen.
"[Bonds] should get his due for accomplishing what he has accomplished. He's accomplished a lot, but we don't compare them. There are so many teams today. Some older players accomplished it with eight-team leagues."
Pardon the disagreement, said McRae's very own DH, Vaughn.
"If you hit 600 home runs, you hit 600 home runs. I don't care what league it's in," Vaughn said. "That's incredible."
Paul C. Smith is a writer for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. MLB.com writers Mark Feinsand and Sandy Burgin contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.