The extraordinary and increasingly controversial career of Barry Bonds trundled onward Monday.
He is the National League’s most valuable player for the seventh time overall and the fourth time in four years, after a season in which he hit his 700th home run, lugged the San Francisco Giants nearly to the postseason and feathered the notion he had become the best ballplayer ever.
At 40, he led the NL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and walks, of which he drew an astounding 232, 120 of them intentional.
He received 24 of 32 first-place votes, finishing well ahead of runner-up Adrian Beltre, the Dodger third baseman, who received six first-place votes. St. Louis Cardinal teammates Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, in that order, were behind Bonds and Beltre.
Even as Bonds homered his way toward Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, a federal investigation into performance-enhancing drugs reportedly provided to many athletes by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative has appeared to advance on him.
According to news reports, Bonds, through personal trainer and long-time friend Greg Anderson, initiated his relationship with BALCO after the 2000 season. He has 209 home runs in four seasons since, including a record 73 in 2001, and, of course, four more MVP honors.
Against the backdrop of baseball’s soft steroid policy and Commissioner Bud Selig’s public appeals for more rigid testing and penalties, Bonds’ body of work is measured against that which makes his body work.
The evidence against Bonds is circumstantial, tied in part to his relationships to Anderson, a defendant in the BALCO case, and Victor Conte, BALCO’s founder. It is also anecdotal, among it Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield’s complaint that he had unknowingly taken steroids provided by BALCO while working out with Bonds. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in October that Anderson was caught on audio tape acknowledging that Bonds used an undetectable performance-enhancing drug two seasons ago.
“I don’t owe you a response,” Bonds said Monday afternoon from his Beverly Hills home. “I don’t owe anybody a response to anything.”
In a national teleconference, Bonds spoke of his desire to be on a World Series champion, of playing out a contract that runs two more seasons, and of his affection for Carlos Beltran, a free agent who would offer protection in the Giant batting order.
Generally, he deflected questions about the steroid conspiracy, finishing the interview when a female reporter began a question regarding Conte’s role in his baseball career.
“I think you’re going too deep, sweetheart,” he said. “No one helped me with anything except my father.”
Bonds commended Conte and Anderson in a June 2003 Muscle & Fitness magazine article, however, saying, “I’m just shocked by what they’ve been able to do for me.”
Indeed, Bonds became the oldest player to win an MVP award in one of the United States’ four major sports. His 45 home runs came in only 373 at-bats; Beltre’s major league-leading 48 came in 598. And his batting title was his second in three seasons.
A patient, ferocious hitter in a lineup that offered little other resistance, Bonds altered the strategies of opposing managers. His 232 walks were 34 more than the record he set two seasons ago. His .609 on-base percentage broke his own major-league record.
Yet, Bonds, who recently had minor knee surgery, rued his lack of a championship, saying, “I need to win a World Series. I’ve won enough individual awards.... That’s the only thing that’s eluding me, to enjoy these other accomplishments.”
During the interview, the conversation subject returned more often to his trainer, the indicted Anderson, to BALCO, and to the specter of steroids.
Answering a question about playing at such a level into his 40s, Bonds seemingly defended himself against the drug suspicions, asking, “Can’t I just be good?” and then ran off a list of other athletes who played beyond their expected primes, among them Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Willie Mays and Rickey Henderson.
“People are just gifted with a talent,” he said. “I can’t explain it.... I don’t understand why God has blessed me to do what I do for so long. I’m overwhelmed by it as much as anyone.”
Asked specifically about Sheffield’s accusations in Sports Illustrated, which reported Sheffield’s claims to have been duped into taking “the clear,” a steroid cream provided by BALCO, Bonds said, “First of all, I will never say anything negative about another ballplayer. I never have or ever will. I love Gary Sheffield and his family.”
He added, “I don’t have any respect for the media for having African American players degrade other African American players.”
Advised the inquiry was not intended to invoke either player’s race, Bonds snapped, “You just need to write some other story.”
Bonds insisted the rumors and criticism do not affect him; his consistently remarkable play upholds that position.
“I’ve been dealing with adversity my whole entire life,” he said. “I don’t really get concerned about what you guys write.... I kind of just walk right through it.”
In fact, he said, he recently ran into Jordan and they talked about their careers, Bonds’ in particular. According to Bonds, Jordan asked him, “Barry, do you understand what you’re doing?”
Bonds said he responded, “No. Did you?”
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Comparing Barry Bonds’ seven MVP seasons:
*--* YEAR AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OB% SLG% 1990 519 104 156 32 3 33 114 52 93 83 301 406 565 1992 473 109 147 36 5 34 103 39 127 69 311 456 624 1993 539 129 181 38 4 46 123 29 126 79 336 458 677 2001 476 129 156 32 2 73 137 13 177 93 328 515 863 2002 403 117 149 31 2 46 110 9 198 47 370 582 799 2003 390 111 133 22 1 45 90 7 148 58 341 529 749 2004 373 129 135 27 3 45 101 6 232 41 362 609 812
Most MVP awards among players in the four major U.S. sports:
*--* 9 Wayne Gretzky (NHL) 7 Barry Bonds (MLB) 6 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA) 6 Gordie Howe (NHL) 5 Michael Jordan (NBA) 5 Bill Russell (NBA) 4 Wilt Chamberlain (NBA) 4 Eddie Shore (NHL) 3 Brett Favre (NFL)
Others with 3 -- Yogi Berra (MLB); Larry Bird (NBA); Roy Campanella (MLB); Bobby Clarke (NHL); Joe DiMaggio (MLB); Jimmie Foxx (MLB); Magic Johnson (NBA); Mario Lemieux (NHL); Mickey Mantle (MLB); Howie Morenz (NHL); Stan Musial (MLB); Bobby Orr (NHL); Mike Schmidt (MLB).
Race for the Trophy
The leading players in the National League MVP voting. Four received at least one first-place vote:
*--* PLAYER TEAM 1ST 2ND 3RD TOTAL Bonds San Francisco 24 7 1 407 Beltre Dodgers 6 21 3 311 Pujols St. Louis 1 1 20 247 Rolen St. Louis 1 3 7 226
Where Barry Bonds ranked in various offensive categories in the NL:
*--* CATEGORY STAT RANK Batting Average 362 First On-Base Percentage 609 First Slugging Percentage 812 First Runs 129 Second Home Runs 45 Fourth Walks 232 First Intentional Walks 120 First