Career Statistics: 12606 PA, .298/.444/.607, 762 HR, .309 ISO, .435 wOBA, 173 wRC+, 164.0 fWAR (second among position players all-time)
Years Active: 1986 - 2007
Position: Left fielder
Time on the Ballot: Third (34.7% of the vote in 2014)
As we continue looking back at members of the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot and their connections to the New York Yankees, we reach the fifth entry in the series and the first position player; Barry Bonds.
Bonds played for two teams in his career, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants. It was the Giants who drafted him first, in the second round of the 1982 draft out of high school. Bonds chose instead to attend Arizona State University, re-entering the draft in 1985 where he was selected in the first round - sixth overall - by the Pirates. Bonds was playing for the big-league club in Pittsburgh by May 1986 as the leadoff hitter and center fielder; hitting 16 home runs and stealing 36 bases. Bonds also struck out 102 times in 1986, his only triple-digit strikeout season, against 65 walks. His weighted runs created (wRC+) figure of 108 - already he was an above average hitter as a rookie- was the lowest of his career. By 1989 now left fielder Barry Bonds had evened his walks and strikeouts at 93 apiece, for the rest of his career he would never again strikeout as many times as he walked.
Bonds won the first of his record seven Most Valuable Player awards in 1990. With 33 home runs, 52 stolen bases - top five in both - and the first .300 batting average season of his career, he had all the traditional stats an MVP needed; his 165 wRC+ and 9.9 fWAR would have brought a modern sabermetric community on-board as well. After another great season in 1991, Bonds won his second MVP in 1992 with an incredible 198 wRC+ (.313 ISO, 34 HR, 39 SB, .311/.456/.624). Barry Bonds had a legitimate case for being the best player in baseball, already, at this point. However his Pirates were not having quite the same level of dominance, as they came up short in the National League Championship Series three straight years.
"This one is headed for New Jersey!"
John Miller - Giants broadcaster, June 8th 2002
Barry Bonds became a free agent after the 1992 season, and chose to sign with the Giants, the franchise where his father Bobby had played for seven years and his godfather Willie Mays spent 21 seasons. The New York Yankees, however, were very much in the running. New York's top offer was for 5 years and $36 million, which would have been a record financial commitment, however Bonds held out for a 6th year and a total of $43 million. Gene Michael and the Yankees broke off negotiations and San Francisco matched Bonds desired terms.
Barry Bonds became a Giant, not a Yankee, and certainly lived up to his end of the bargain during this contract. 1993 was another MVP season, one that statistically looks an awful lot like his 1992 with the Pirates. He had an extra 19 games and 62 plate appearences, but the rate stats were very similar, a little more power (ISO up to .341), little less by way of stolen bases (down to 29), slightly lower weighted runs created though one can't really quibble with 193 wRC+. The extra games at this insane rate of production got him to a career high 10.5 fWAR. Bonds wouldn't have a season quite this statistically dominant through the rest of the 90's but that's only if he was judged by this ridiculous standard. He was almost certainly better than anyone else was for the rest of the 1990's. By 1999 Bill James was projecting him to potentially end his career as one of the five greatest players ever.
Then, of course, we get to the 2000's. The power surge is what draws headlines - record 73 HR's in 2001, record 762 total by the end of 2007 - but really, what was quite literally off the charts were the walks.
From 2002 to 2004 National League managers decided they were quite happy to not face Bonds, and so he was intentionally walked, a lot. 120 times in 2004. For a modern day reference, not a single batter in 2014 walked 120 times in total (!), only three others did it in 2004 and nobody else walked more than 127 times. Bonds added nearly the same again in uninentional (well, ish, he would have been pitched around a bit) walks to take his tally to 232 walks - he reached base in over 60% of his plate appearances in 2004. Couple that with his ability to avoid strikeouts to a simply fantastic degree for a power hitter, and we get the graphs above, courtesy of Fangraphs.
Barry Bonds won four consecutive MVP awards from 2001 to 2004. In this stretch he posted three of the four greatest offensive seasons ever by weighted runs created, including a record 244 wRC+ in 2002. The other three seasons that make up the top six single seasons in this category belong to Babe Ruth, the only position player in history to have racked up more wins above replacement than Bonds. 2003 was the slump year in this stretch, where Bonds could only post 212 wRC+ for the 14th best season of all time, allowing a few career years from folks like Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Rogers Hornsby to jump ahead.
As Barry Bonds approached his final season in 2007, the rumours of his links to performance enhancing drugs had long since seeped into public consciousness. His involvement in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandals and subsequent conviction for perjury before a grand jury ultimately saw him serve a month in house arrest in 2011. Certainly by then his reputation had long since been tainted; his pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record was treated with sentiments ranging from apathy to outright loathing. Bonds didn't willingly retire in 2008, rather every major league team simply chose not to sign him, perhaps deciding the distraction simply wasn't worth any production he could bring.
In any case, heading back in time to 1992/93, it might be fun and perhaps crazy to image Barry Bonds signing with the New York Yankees. The Yankees certainly tried to acquire a player who was by most accounts 'clean' at that point, though probably not very popular but certainly was dominant. We cannot know if the Yankees could have had Bonds for the extra year and $7 million, but if they could have, and if they did sign potentially the best player in baseball at the time the franchise might have taken a different path. Certainly it would have been difficult to exceed the success of the latest Yankee dynasty that followed so different may not necessarily mean better here. I'm not complaining about how things turned out for the Yankees in the late 90's.
By the way, in case you were wondering, the John Miller quote was about a Barry Bonds home run hit into the upper deck in right field of the old Yankee Stadium. I don't know if this was the furthest a ball was ever hit in the old stadium, but it certainly would be in the conversation.
Congratulations on an incredible career Barry Bonds.
Likely Cap if Elected: San Francisco Giants