Alternate history: If Barry Bonds hadn't used steroids

Think of all the possibilities for Barry Bonds if he had never chosen to take steroids following the 1998 season.

I assume, of course, Game of Shadows correctly reported that Bonds began juicing following Mark McGwire’s record-setting 70-home-run year.  Bonds was a lock for the Hall of Fame beforehand, his generation’s version of Willie Mays.  Clean, Bonds was perhaps among the ten best offensive players of all-time.  After Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Mays, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, there aren’t too many hitters I’d take before Bonds circa 1993.

Had Bonds stayed clean, we’d be preparing for his Hall of Fame induction in a not-too-distant summer, instead of wondering if he’ll ever get enough votes from the writers.  Bonds might not have set the home run record, but he likely would have gotten 3,000 hits, instead of stalling out at 2,935 when no one would sign him after 2007 because he was a steroid-addled clubhouse cancer.  Bonds might also have finished with a dozen Gold Gloves, instead of seven, since he stopped winning defensive awards when he started juicing.  Clean, Bonds would have solidified himself as the greatest left fielder ever.  Additionally, he may have been the first player with 600 home runs and 600 stolen bases.  That might have been harder to top than 756 home runs.

In some parallel universe, I like to think Bonds stayed clean.  After all, steroids weren’t his only option for changing himself.  Perhaps the following could have happened:

October 1998: Bonds finishes with 37 home runs, 122 runs batted in and a .303 batting average. It’s one of his best years, though it goes unnoticed as McGwire surpasses Roger Maris with 70 home runs.  Shortly after the season, childhood acquaintance Greg Anderson offers to put Bonds on a steroid regimen.  He unilaterally refuses.  Instead, he tries meditation.

1999: While Bonds in our universe struggles with steroid-related injuries and plays just 102 games, clean Barry plays 157 games, wins his eighth Gold Glove and begins to mend fences with teammates, notably Jeff Kent.  “I’ve been doing some work on myself, and I’m starting to realize I’ve been a selfish asshole most of my life,” Bonds tells Kent.  “What can I do to make things right?”  Kent tells Bonds to kiss his own ass.

2000: People have begun to note the unusual changes in Bonds.  “You don’t meet many players who’ve undergone such a profound spiritual transformation late in their career as Barry Bonds, it just doesn’t happen normally,” Dusty Baker tells Sports Illustrated, after the magazine names Bonds its Sportsman of the Year. “It’s one reason I decided to name my son after him instead of Darren Lewis.  Also, I didn’t want a kid named for a .250 hitter.”

2001: All the spiritual retreats and yoga pay off as calmer, happier Barry hits .340 with 42 home runs, 138 runs batted in and 36 stolen bases, winning his fourth Most Valuable Player award and carrying the Giants to their first World Series title since 1954.  Overjoyed, he appears on Oprah and jumps on her couch, beating Tom Cruise to this by nearly four years.  Interestingly, Bonds has also begun dating Katie Holmes by this time.

2002: Bonds saves little Barry Baker from being run over at home plate during the World Series, which the Giants win again.

2003-2004: Bonds starts to decline, approaching his 40th birthday.  He accepts it as part of aging and has his final full season and All Star appearance in 2004.  He also wins the Roberto Clemente Award, though he’s initially uncertain what this is.  After learning it is for the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team,” Bonds laughs for a full three minutes before conceding that, yes, maybe that kind of accolade is realistic now.

2005-2006: Bonds assumes a bench role with the Giants, sticking around for his 3,000th hit and to serve as elder statesman.  He retires in 2006, and the Giants promptly offer him a coaching job and begin planning a statue of him outside AT&T Park, near the one of Mays.

So, let’s recap.  In my version, Bonds wins the World Series twice, has his own statue and gets to sleep with Katie Holmes.  In real life, he’s under federal indictment and alienated from the baseball world, all alone.  When I stop and think about it, I don’t know which version is crazier.

P.S. Also in my version, Bonds retires with a head of wavy hair and gets to keep the Mr. Belvedere mustache.

3 thoughts on “Alternate history: If Barry Bonds hadn't used steroids”

  1. Graham, if you remember in 1999 (before Bonds was suspected of juicing), when MLB announced its All-Century Team, Bonds couldn’t crack the starting lineup and finished in the middle of the pack of 32 outfielders selected to the team. Among those, Bonds wasn’t even the top 2 left fielders, according to the voters. At the time, Ken Griffey, Jr. was the shining star of that generation.

    And I believe that, coupled with McGwire’s 70 HR record, compelled Barry to seek the elixir.

    Otherwise, I agree with your assessment of what Bonds would have accomplished had he refrained from the Juice. Alls I know is, for a three-year period I couldn’t miss a Bonds AB, as he was the greatest living hitter I had ever seen in person or on TV. And that includes Mays.

    1. My Dad and I saw Bonds hit a walk-off in extra innings around 2003 or 2004 against the Braves. I had this feeling beforehand that if the hapless reliever on the mound pitched to Bonds he was going to hit one out. His home run to dead left center was one of the longest I’ve ever seen.

  2. It sure is a weird time for the baseball HOF. Although each revision of statistical analysis always manages to find that the (admittedly great) Babe Ruth was the greatest player ever, in my opinion Barry was hands-down the best. We now live in a world where the greatest player ever, the greatest home run hitter ever (McGwire), one of the greatest pitchers ever (Clemens), and assorted other all-time greats are languishing in Joe Jackson land.

    Nowadays, whether a player was suspected of juicing is as much a component of HOF voting as the player’s performance.

    In 2004, Barry was intentionally walked 120 times. I don’t imagine a batter this feared will ever rear his enlarged head again.

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