Now I know you must be thinking that Barry Bonds shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as The Babe due to his supposed steroid use. The fact of the matter is though Bonds was never found to have used steroids, some of you might remember how people speculated that he used items like the cream and other things to hide the use but we still don’t know. I did some research and even if he did use steroids, they haven’t been proven to help hit home runs, only hit them farther. I also discovered that steroids typically help upper body strength and home runs usually come from ones lower body strength. Even if Bonds did take steroids starting in 1998 he was still putting up numbers that were ridiculous. If he did take them I don’t believe they helped his power, honestly I’m not sure they did anything at all. Babe Ruth wasn’t a goody two shoes either. In 2008 baseball historians found 53 bats belonging to Babe Ruth. Every single bat was corked. A corked bat shifts the center of a bats mass to the handle and makes the bat lighter, thus increasing the distance a ball is hit.
Besides the controversy that surrounds both players you also have to factor in the era that both players played in. Do we know if Babe Ruth would have faired better during the time Barry Bonds played? What about Barry Bonds, maybe he would have done better during Ruth’s era. If you really wanted to you could break down all of the statistical data and find out for yourself.
You also need to weigh other factors. Ruth struck out during a period where strikeouts weren’t something that were tolerated and he struckout a good portion of the time. Did he make up for that with his defense and power? Maybe.
One more thing, besides their overall career stats you also want to compare their peak years. Those years are generally last between the age 27 and 32 season.
Babe Ruth is quite possibly the greatest player to ever play the game. He would hit monster home runs and has put up some of the best seasons of all time. He also was a pretty good pitcher too. Was he the greatest player of all time though?
Barry Bonds, was equally impressive. He was an incredible 5 tool player who could hit the ball, play exceptional defense and possessed solid speed.
Babe’s career WAR is 177.7, which is the greatest all time. Who’s in second you may ask? Barry Bonds at 168.2. 10 times in Ruth’s famed career he had a WAR over 10. Ruth’s career ISO was .340 which is ridiculous, a testiment to his power. Two stats that really jumped out to me were his career .474 OBP and .510 wOBA. Over a career you just don’t see those numbers. It’s no secret pitchers feared Ruth, he walked 19.4% of the time and struck out only 12.5% of the time. During his career Ruth averaged a 197 wRC+, that number is staggering. To put in perspective Jose Bautista has a 193 wRC+. Ruth averaged more then that for his career! Ruth did have a pretty high career BABIP, .340 to be exact. I’m not sure exactly what caused that but if I had to guess I would assume playing at the Polo Grounds had something to do with it.
His best season was easily in 1923 when he totaled a 15.4 WAR, one of the best single season WARs. During 1923 Ruth posted the best OBP and wRC+ of his career. His OBP was a staggering .545 and his wOBA was .566. His ISO was a robust .372 and he also had the highest BABIP of his career, .423.
During his time period no one would hit home runs, much less as much as Ruth did. Who knows though how much can be contributed to corked bats. Less then 100 years later the closest thing to a modern day Ruth arrived.
And his name was Barry Bonds. Barry wouldn’t just hit home runs. He would crush them. No one would hit home runs into McCovey Cove unless your name was Barry Bonds. Unlike Ruth, Bonds did it all. He hit, was an exceptional fielder, had a great arm, speed. The whole package.
His career numbers were fantastic, amassing a 168.2 career WAR. He went over 10 WAR 6 times, his best was 12.9 in 2001. Bonds’ career numbers were nothing to laugh at either. He had a .309 career ISO, not exactly Ruthian but pretty darn good. His .444 OBP and .439 wOBA weren’t too far off Ruth’s. Like Ruth, pitchers feared Bonds as evidence of his 20.3 carrer BB%. He also had a good eye at the plate, striking out only 12.2% of the time. His 175 career wRC+ isn’t as good as Ruth’s but still pretty darn good. His .285 career BABIP was much more reasonable then Ruth’s.
If you compare their peak years Ruth has the advantage even though his WAR when he was 30 was low. You can see how Ruth dominated those 5 years then slowly started to fall of the table. Bonds was good too but that spike when he was 35 is ridiculous. Still, Ruth had the way better peak.
Without question Bonds’ best season was in 2001 when he had a .536 ISO. That is insane. His .515 OBP and .539 wOBA were also incredibly high as well. His wRC+ really jumped out at me though. It was 236! Not even Ruth had that good of a wRC+ although he was close, coming in at 235 in 1920. The scary thing is that wasn’t even his career high. His career high came in 2002 when he had a 245 wRC+. He walked in over 25% of his at-bats, 26.7% to be exact and only struck out in 14% of them. He was hit with a low BABIP of .266 so one wonders if he could have had an even better year, which is scary to think about.
Let’s see how they match up now.
I wasn’t sure what to do with the BABIP but I gave it to Bonds because it was a more sustainable number but that interpretation can be left to you. Overall Ruth was the better player, his BB and K% weren’t to far off Bonds and he was superior in career ISO, OBP, WAR, wOBA and wRC+. While both may have cheated the game both were still amazing players. Based on WAR Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds are the two best players in baseball and both should be in the hall, not just Ruth. Bonds was hall of fame bound before people believe he started juicing in 1998. Whether he did or not we may never know but if Ruth and his corked bats are allowed in the hall then so should Barry Bonds.