SAN FRANCISCO — His 600th home run has come and gone. So what — or who — is next for Barry Bonds?
The who is Willie Mays, his godfather, and the what is 660, the third highest home-run total in Major League Baseball history.
With some luck, good health and cooperation from opposing pitchers, he could approach the mark late next season, but perhaps more likely in 2004.
At any rate, this is not a subject that Bonds is comfortable talking about. It’s one thing to chase the man many believe to be the greatest player of all time. It’s another to chase your godfather, the guy you looked up to as a child, the guy you hung out with in the locker room for years, the guy who caught you looking for gum and other goodies in your locker many times.
Mays has said it’s no big deal for his godson to pass him on the homer charts. What else is he supposed to say?
“Yeah, but it’s still easier said than done when (it’s) somebody you looked up to your career, your whole lifetime,” Bonds said after hitting his 600th homer Friday night. “It’s really hard to surpass someone that you put so high on your pedestal. You always want to cherish that moment. I love it that he gets all over me and stuff, that I haven’t done it yet.”
Bonds, as a skinny kid breaking in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the mid-1980s, never thought he would hit 300, 400 or 500 homers let alone 600 or beyond. Now that he has reached his latest milestone, he’s not thinking about the Grand Poobah of baseball records — Hank Aaron’s 755 homers.
“No, that won’t happen,” Bonds said. “Every year gets harder, tougher on me. Probably my number of games will probably go down as my years go on, and after four more years I’m outta here. I’m sorry guys — that’s it for me.”
Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon, Bonds’ teammate with the Pirates a decade ago, had no idea then that Bonds would evolve into the player he is today.
“We knew Barry was good,” McClendon said. “At that time we thought he was one of the best players in the game, but not to this magnitude.
As Bonds put forth arguably the greatest season of all time in 2001, and as he approached 600 homers, there has been a ground swell of support for him to be placed alongside Mays as the greatest living player.
Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, who played during the latter stages of Mays’ era, said it’s premature for such a comparison.
“His numbers compare to his peers,” Morgan said of Bonds. “I don’t compare him to Willie Mays. I never would. They played in different eras. If Willie Mays was playing today he’d hit 70 home runs. If you compare him to his peers, he’s the Willie Mays of his generation.”
McClendon said, as great as Bonds is, it’s difficult to put him in the same sentence as Mays.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” McClendon said. “Willie Mays is supernatural. Barry is great in his own way. I sort of think they’re two different ballplayers in two different eras. I don’t think it’s right to compare the two. I think it would taint either one of them. They’re both remarkable individuals, but different players. What Barry has accomplished is tremendous. He’s going to go down as one of the top five players of all time.”
Just for the heck of it, here are some numbers to consider: Bonds, entering Saturday’s game, was superior to Mays in slugging percentage (.592 to .557), on-base percentage (.424 to .384), stolen bases (489 to 338) and walks (1,851 to 1,464).
Mays has the edge in career batting average (.302 to .294), RBI (1,903 to 1,615), hits (3,283 to 2,414), runs (2,062 to 1,795) and Gold Gloves (12 to eight).
Bobby Bonds, the slugger’s father who played next to Mays for six seasons, said he would never publicly compare the two. He said it’s unfair to contrast one great to another in different eras.
Giants managing general partner Peter Magowan, who watched Mays while growing up in New York, said Bonds could be Mays’ equal. He rated the two about the same in hitting and defense, but said no one was Mays’ equal on the bases.
“Willie was the best baserunner I ever saw,” Magowan said. “He wasn’t a basestealer like Rickey Henderson, but he did things I’ve never seen anybody do. He would score from second on a bunt or a sacrifice fly, go from first to third on a single, steal home. You don’t see people do those types of things today.
“I think Barry was a great baserunner in his prime, but he’s slower than he used to be, and now he can’t run.”
That might be so. But, at the advancing age, he’s hitting with an affinity showed by few 38 year olds.
Copyright The Battalion