Thomas Sowell

It is not coincidental that Ruth and Bonds each holds his respective league's season records for being walked. These are not the kind of guys you can afford to pitch to when the game is on the line. It is significant that Bonds hit his 70th home run in the last inning of a game where the score was 9 to 2. He had been walked again and again earlier in that game and in previous games when the score was close.

Where does this incredible season put Bonds among the all-time greats? It certainly moves him up the list but one season is not a whole career. Like Roger Maris, Bonds hit over 20 home runs more in his record-breaking season than he did in any other season. Will he turn out to be a one-year wonder, like Maris?

This is not to say that Bonds would not have been a star player, even if he had never had this spectacular season. He would have been headed for Cooperstown anyway. Maris too was an outstanding player and had won the Most Valuable Player award the year before breaking the home run record, as well as in that year.

But if you are talking about being up there in the rarefied atmosphere of Babe Ruth, that is another story. Bonds never had a slugging average of .700 before this year. Mark McGwire reached that level twice and Babe Ruth nine times. Ruth's lifetime slugging average was .690, a level Bonds never reached in his best season before this year.

Take nothing away from Barry Bonds. He hit home runs this year with a greater frequency, in proportion to his times at bat, than anyone in the history of baseball. He homered once every 6.5 official times at bat, compared to once every 7.3 at bats for McGwire and once every 9 at bats for Ruth in his best seasons.

While Bonds' incredible performance gave new prominence to slugging averages, Ruth's lifetime dominance in that statistic makes clear that the Babe was still the greatest all-around slugger of them all, regardless of how many home runs others have hit.


Thomas Sowell

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

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