Who is the greatest left fielder in Bay Area history?
Recently, one of my best SF State students, Joaquin (a die-hard A’s fan), shared with me a debate he heard on sports talk radio (95.7 The Game) about the greatest left fielder in the history of Bay Area baseball. Some A’s fans might instantly think of Joe Rudi or Yoenis Cespedes, while some Giants fans are probably thinking Pat Burrell or maybe Moises Alou. In my mind, however, the best left fielder in the history of the Bay Area comes down to three players: Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds on steroids (ed. note: For Giants fans in denial, simply substitute “intense regimen of flax seed oil” wherever you see the words “steroids” and you will be fine).
When Bonds first came to the Bay Area in 1993, he had won two MVP awards. He had a career batting average of .275 and he was hitting about 25 home runs per year. In 1993, Bonds had his best “non-steroid” year where he hit 46 home runs and hit .336. He won his third MVP award. At this point in his career, it is safe to say that Bonds was one of the best players of his era. Bonds without steroids would be in the same category as Hank Greenberg, Joe DiMaggio, Harmon Killebrew, Carl Yastrzemski, or Ken Griffey Jr. Bonds was not, however, destined to be one of the All-Time Greats.
When Henderson came to the Bay Area in 1979, he and manager Billy Martin electrified baseball with what quickly became known as “Billy Ball.” He had 100 stolen bases in 1980 and he shattered the Lou Brock‘s record with 130 stolen bases in 1982. He was traded to the Yankees in 1984, but returned to the A’s in 1989 to lead the A’s to a World Championship. You can look up all the various records that he set yourself, but simply put, Rickey Henderson became the greatest leadoff hitter in the History of Baseball. Henderson became one of the All-Time Greats playing in Oakland.
When Bonds first started using steroids in 1999, his frequency for hitting home runs almost doubled. Prior to steroids, Bonds hit a home run every 16.2 at-bats, and after taking performance-enhancing drugs he started hitting home runs every 8.5 at-bats. Think of a home run every four games vs. a home run every other game. Of course, Bonds shattered the single season home run record set by fellow steroid user Mark McGwire. Eventually Bonds on steroids would end up with the career record of home runs with a total over 762.
Some might call Bonds the Greatest Power Hitter of all time. I disagree. Bonds on steroids managed to hit seven more home runs than Hank Aaron without steroids. It is difficult to compare players across eras, but just imagine how many home runs Babe Ruth could have hit if he had been on steroids. Babe Ruth might have hit 80 home runs a season. Or imagine Aaron on steroids playing in Atlanta. He might have had 800 home runs.
Or, if you have a really good imagination, imagine Mays playing in Atlanta (instead of Candlestick or the Polo Grounds), without losing two years to the Army – and using steroids. Mays would have had 1000 HR easily. If you want to think of Bonds on steroids as one of the all time great power hitters, then you have to imagine all the other power hitters on steroids. Just imagine Ted Williams at Fenway on steroids…
Every time voters pass over Bonds, some fans insist that he is a “Hall of Famer” even without the steroids (or flax seed oil). You will get no arguments from me on that score. Bonds without steroids was a very good player. But if we’re talking the “Greatest Left Fielder in the History of Bay Area Baseball”, I’m going with Rickey Henderson, who remains one of the All-Time Greats.
That’s what I think. What do you think?