- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2006

So Barry Bonds has finally passed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list — so what? The San Francisco Giants’ Big Baby will never surpass the Bambino when it comes to being the best baseball player ever.

Bonds (or Henry Aaron) better than Ruth? Don’t make me laugh. You might as well claim Manilow is better than Sinatra, Cruise better than Olivier or Warhol better than Da Vinci.

Leave out the steroids issue, because we don’t really know when and where Bonds did or didn’t. Let’s look at the record, as Al Smith — the former presidential candidate, not the major league outfielder — used to say.

First, a personal note: I wasn’t born until after Ruth played his last game, so my evaluation isn’t firsthand. It doesn’t have to be. Most of the numbers (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com) speak very loudly to the Babe’s superiority.

For instance …

• Batting average: Ruth, .342; Bonds (through 2005), .300.

• Slugging average: Ruth, .690; Bonds, .611.

• On-base percentage: Ruth, .474; Bonds, .442.

• RBI: Ruth, 2,217; Bonds, 1,853.

• Runs: Ruth, 2,175; Bonds, 2,078.

• Hits: Ruth, 2,873; Bonds, 2,742.

And how about this one? Ruth — old, slow and unpleasingly plump in his later years — accumulated 136 triples to Bonds’ 77.

There are a lot of other stats, a few of them favoring Bonds, but you get the idea.

I know, I know — they say you can’t realistically compare players from a different era, except you can. True, Ruth never had to play night games, face black pitchers or take overnight flights from coast to coast. But Bonds never had to bounce along on 18-hour train rides, try to sleep in non-air conditioned hotel rooms in August or swing at balls that were filthy and misshapen. These things even out.

Sure Ruth played two more seasons, 22 of them to Bonds’ 20 through ‘05. But let’s not forget the Babe was exclusively a pitcher for the first four of those seasons — and what a pitcher! (Lifetime record: 94-46, with a 2.28 ERA.)

On another front, impact on his sport, there’s no comparison either. Bonds’ biggest contribution, other than home runs, has been to set new highs (or lows) in boorishness. If Rodgers and Hammerstein were still around, they might honor him, sort of, by changing the old “Flower Drum Song” lyrics to read, “I Enjoy Being a Churl.”

We all know what Ruth did. His soaring swats changed baseball from a base-by-base offensive game to one where hitters began swinging from the heels, and he possibly saved the sport by restoring public confidence and interest following the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Even more, the fun-loving Babe served as a symbol of the Roaring Twenties, when men and women around the nation seemed to be casting off inhibitions, dancing the Charleston and guzzling bathtub gin nonstop. Even years later, on another continent, he remained an icon.

American GIs, confronting the enemy at close quarters somewhere in the Pacific during World War II: “To [eternal damnation] with Emperor Hirohito!”

Japanese soldiers: “To [eternal damnation] with Babe Ruth!” (Pronounced Bebaruso.”)

It is startling to realize that Bonds, at 41, is only 12 years younger than Ruth was when the Babe died of throat cancer on Aug. 16, 1948. The following day, the New York Times noted on its front page that former Undersecretary of State Alger Hiss soon would confront former Communist accuser Whittaker Chambers before the House Un-American Activities Committee, that President Harry Truman had launched another election-year broadside at the Republican-controlled 80th Congress, that Tokyo Rose would be returned to the United States to face charges of treason.

But the day’s biggest story was captured in a five-word lead sentence epic in its simplicity: “Babe Ruth died last night.”

If Bonds did use steroids, there is no way to tell what price he will pay in terms of health and longevity. If he didn’t, we should admire his achievements as we would those of any other sports superstar.

But Barry Bonds better than Babe Ruth?

Forget it.


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