|Thursday, July 17
Updated: July 19, 7:53 PM ET
Barry's head has swollen
By Adrian Wojnarowski
Special to ESPN.com
As he creeps closer to Babe Ruth's home run record, Barry Bonds will wish he could take his words back. Let him think about it, let it linger and San Francisco's slugger will wish he had never dismissed Ruth with a snarl and a sniff. Before long, the comparisons will be relentless. But this is the way Bonds wanted it, the debate dwindling down to the two most feared hitters in history: Barry and the Babe.
Bonds wants 714.
Bonds wants the Babe.
"Willie's number is always the one that I've strived for," Bonds said before the All-Star Game on Tuesday. "And if it does happen, the only number I care about is Babe Ruth's. Because as a left-handed hitter, I wiped him out. That's it. And in the baseball world, Babe Ruth's everything, right? I got his slugging percentage and I'll take his home runs and that's it. Don't talk about him no more."
Wipe him out?
Don't talk about him no more?
This is Barry being Barry, right? Brutally honest, telling the truth that nobody can handle. Only, this isn't the case. Barry Bonds doesn't get it. He never has. Never will. Because when Bonds has finally finished baseball, he'll be wiped out. They'll talk about him no more. Bonds can take Ruth's slugging percentage, his home runs and it won't matter. Babe Ruth still will be the greatest baseball player ever.
Eventually, everyone will see Bonds' statistics, his records and appreciate his greatness. There is no debate there. Yet, here's an easy test to determine the greatest player in history, the man worthy to overtake Babe Ruth: When he's done, the thought of his departure has to make people ache. They have to wonder how the game will ever go.
Outside of San Francisco, who feels this about Bonds. Who? This isn't about Bonds failing to appreciate history. He knows his history. This has never been a problem with him. By passing Ruth on the home run list, Bonds believes he's tossing him out of the conversation with his own modern greatness. Never mind Ruth dominated his era the way Bonds hasn't his own, never mind that Ruth was a star pitcher, too.
It is impossible for a living baseball player to even compare himself to Ruth, especially one who has generated so little goodwill for the game. Make no mistake: Because of his time, his era, nobody can have a greater impact on his sport than Babe Ruth. Not Michael Jordan. Not Wayne Gretzky. No one. Ruth inspired the possibilities for an American sporting legend. Barry Bonds is right. Babe Ruth's everything.
How has Bonds changed the game? What's his greatest impact? Let's face it: Along with several stars, he's made us suspicious of steroid use. Until there is legitimate testing, we'll be left to wonder about his biceps and skull growing so late in life, about the rapid power explosion that dramatically elevated in his late thirties. None of this necessarily makes Bonds guilty, but it makes him a suspect.
That's Bonds' asterisk, just like Babe had his own. Ruth never played against the best talent of his time, because many of the best players of his era were segregated into the Negro League. Ruth never had to hit Satchel Paige, tempering a touch his dominance.
The debate is just starting now. Everyone understands that today's athlete has evolved so far past yesterday's, that Bonds is bigger, stronger and faster than Ruth. Bonds wants the Babe. He wants 714. Whatever he says now, Bonds needs to understand: When it comes to debating the greatest of all, those numbers won't make a difference.
He'll take his home runs. He'll take his slugging percentage. He'll take it all, but the ultimate: Ruth is the greatest player in the history of the game. Yes, Babe Ruth is everything, Barry.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.