Thomas Sowell

THIS season, Barry Bonds has been a Giant in more than name. While baseball fans and the media have been focussed on his record-breaking home-run feats, far less attention has been paid to his other feats that have been even more spectacular -- and, in fact, unique.

Barry Bonds is the first batter in the entire history of the National League -- going back into the 19th century -- to have a slugging average over .800. The only other player in the history of baseball to slug over .800 was Babe Ruth, who did it two seasons in a row.

In other words, a slugging average of .800 is rarer than a batting average of .400. The last player to hit .400 -- Ted Williams -- did it 60 years ago. But Ruth slugged .800 twenty years before that -- and nobody else has done it again until this year.

Slugging averages tell you more than either batting averages or home run totals. As far as batting averages are concerned, a bunt single and a tape-measure home-run are the same. But they are rarely the same in their effect on the outcome of a ball game.

The total number of home runs is not the whole story either. The year that Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record for home runs in a season, Mickey Mantle actually hit home runs in a higher percentage of his times at bat. It is just that Mantle was walked more than Maris, A big reason why Maris was walked less than a hundred times that year was that Mantle was on deck. Walking Maris would just get you in deeper and deeper.

Just as batting averages count hits in proportion to your times at bat, slugging averages count your total bases in proportion to your times at bat. If you hit a single and a double in five times at bat, that's three total bases and a slugging average of .600. That slugging average for a whole season is rarer than a batting average of .300.

A slugging average of .700 is of course even rarer. Some of the great sluggers of all time -- Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays -- never reached a slugging average of .700 in even their best seasons. So a slugging average over .800 is practically unheard of.

What does an .800 slugging average mean? It means 8 total bases every ten times at bat -- all season long. You can get 8 total bases with two singles, a double and a home run. Or you can do it with two home runs or four doubles or other combinations. But, however you do it, it is hard to keep on doing it for a whole season. Only Barry and the Babe have done that.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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