Hat’s off. If you thought he was the devil, then give the devil his due. The Angels may have popped the champagne, but the biggest winner of this all-California World Series was, it turns out, on the losing team. A month ago, Barry Bonds was a giant with a question mark. Now he is a giant exclamation point.
Happy? No, he wasn’t happy. He didn’t come all this way to lose Game 7. But although Bonds didn’t kill the haunting demons of no championship ring, he killed all the others. Choker? October bust? Please! What Bonds did in this Series — what he did in this postseason — was nothing less than awesome. Here is how impressive it was: You will likely remember him long after you forget who won this championship.
This World Series was about Barry Bonds. Lock. Stock. Barrel. Face it. You didn’t yell into the living room and say, “Is David Bell up yet?” Bonds was the attraction, the curiosity, the lightning rod. He was the monster and the hero. Beauty and the Beast. His oppressive skills were matched only by his aloof personality. Here is the strength of Bonds’ persona: He could wear the white hat and the black hat at the same time.
His postseason was spectacular — and that’s for a man 10 years younger. Bonds didn’t just set or tie all kinds of records — most home runs in a postseason
(8), most walks in a postseason (27) and a World Series (13), most intentional walks in a postseason (13) and World Series (7) — but his on-base percentage
(.581) was ridiculous and his slugging percentage (.978) was astronomical.
When was the last time a guy could look at four intentional balls, wait a few innings, see four more balls, wait a few more innings, then smack a ball nearly 500 feet, as if he had been swinging all along? Bonds’ power may be that of a weightlifter, but his concentration was like a chess master’s.
And considering that up to this autumn, he had been a washout in postseasons, it’s all the more impressive.
You know how many career home runs Barry Bonds had in the postseason before this year? One. Total. And he’s 38 years old. He had eight this October — four in the World Series, including a massive wallop in his first at-bat.
Nobody wanted to face him. Entire strategies were changed to avoid a Bonds swing. You want to know when Angels fans realized they were going home happy? When Bonds walked in the eighth inning, and Benito Santiago struck out to end the inning. You could almost hear the sellout crowd sigh, “Whew. That’s it. We don’t have to see him again.”
Bonds, of course, never really leaves the stage. He is the biggest story in baseball because he remains an enigma. He says he just wants “to play the game,” to be one of the guys, but his locker in the San Francisco dressing room is five times the size of everyone else’s, with a giant reclining chair, a big TV, and a set of rules as to who can approach and where they can stand. Not exactly the proletariat, is it?
He points to the skies frequently after home runs, as if thanking a higher power, but he never has come fully clean on steroids or other enhancements that might explain how his 38-year-old body could whip his 28-year-old body in an alley fight.
He keeps his son in the dugout, but he keeps the fans at bay. He talks of being quiet, but he has never been slow with a snarl.
But you take all that and you put it on the shelf because the world of sports is full of ornery characters. In the end, it’s what you do when it counts. Shaquille O’Neal, for years, suffered slings and arrows for his apparent disinterest in workouts, and his love of rap music and movie-making in the off-season. But once he won a title, and then another, and then another — and proved how indomitable he could be when he wanted — people stopped finding fault with all that. They said he was “colorful.” It’s what you call a winner with faults.
Bonds has never been a winner, which is why his faults were atop the list. But in fairness, today, even without a ring, those faults must be moved down now. Barry breaks the rule. He doesn’t need a championship to confirm his greatness. He was that impressive.
He wasn’t perfect. That must be said. His fielding was so-so, and his error in Game 6 led to one of the Angels’ comeback runs, and there’s no telling how each of those runs led to the other. And Sunday night, in Game 7, he popped up and lined out, pedestrian outs for a guy like Bonds.
But that only shows you, in the darkening days of October, how far Bonds has come from September. There was a time when no one expected more than pop-ups and liners from a postseason Bonds. Now, he did everything except win the thing by himself.
Bonds may never get another shot at a World Series. And sooner or later, the advancing years have to catch up, even with him.
But if he never returns to this stage, even his biggest detractors should admit this: He owned almost all of October, everything except the last minutes of Sunday night, Game 7. You don’t win anything by yourself in baseball. But you can lose a few things. Bonds lost his choker label forever. Hat’s off.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).
MEASURING BONDS’ SERIES
Despite Game 7’s loss, San Francisco’s Barry Bonds might have turned in the best World Series by any hitter ever. Here’s proof:
* In seven games, Bonds reached base 21 times and made eight outs.
* He reached base more often than any other hitter in a World Series. According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the former record was 18, held by Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Marty Barrett of the Red Sox.
* Bonds entered Game 7 with a chance to be the first player to hit higher than
.500 for a World Series of at least five games. But he went 1-for-3 with an infield single and a walk and hit .471 (8-for-17). He also lined out to second and popped to shortstop.
* Bonds’ 13 walks set a World Series record, two more than the previous mark held by Babe Ruth of the Yankees and Gene Tenace of the Athletics.
* Bonds had seven intentional walks. That matched the World Series record for career intentional walks, held by Bernie Williams of the Yankees.
* Oh, yes: Home runs. Bonds’ four homers were one short of the record for one World Series, set by Reggie Jackson of the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1977.
* The bottom line: “He’s not human,” Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said before Game 7. “I can’t imagine anyone better than him.”By John Lowe