Round 1: Barry Bonds
Love him, hate him, there is zero doubt that Barry Bonds was a monster at baseball. The Pirates used the sixth overall pick in the 1985 draft to select outfielder Barry Lamar Bonds, son of Bobby Bonds, cousin of Reggie Jackson, and godson of Willie Mays. If the bloodline didn’t set him up for greatness already, what he would eventually do to baseballs would.
Bonds really didn’t start to hit his stride until the last three seasons in his Pirates career. That’s not to say he didn’t do well in his first four seasons, but ‘90-’92 were absolutely dominant. Barry hit .301/.424/.566 with a .424 wOBA, and 172 wRC+. He was a speed demon with Gold Glove defense and 30+ home run power. He won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove for left fielders in all three seasons and won the MVP in two of the three campaigns. Heck, he really should’ve won it in ‘91 but didn’t for some reason.
We know what Bonds did in San Francisco, but can we just take a minute to awe in amazement in what he did in the early-2000’s? From 2001 through 2004, Bonds was undoubtedly, and far and away, the best hitter baseball had ever seen. Bonds hit .349/.559/.809 with a .531 wOBA, and 232 wRC+. The difference between a league-average wRC+ and Bonds’ wRC+ in these four seasons is about the same difference between Mike Trout’s career wRC+ and Adam Wainwright’s career wRC+. He drew 284 intentional walks. If you took Juan Soto’s and Joey Gallo’s walk totals from last season, you’d still be 28 walks short.
Bonds is the all-time home run leader. Everyone knows that. He’s also the all-time leader in intentional walks. He has more career intentional base-on-balls than Robinson Cano, Jim Rice, Hanley Ramirez, and even Roberto Clemente have of all walks. His 120 intentional walks in 2004 would have been the second-highest walk total in 2021.
Bond was still among baseball’s best hitters at age age-42 in 2007, his last season in the bigs. He batted .276/.480/.565, posting a .428 wOBA and 157 wRC+. Bonds ranked sixth in wRC+, third in OPS, and seventh in wOBA in his forties. It’s one of the best final seasons put up by any player of all time. He was still hitting at an MVP-caliber, over the age of 40. Most players are super lucky to even be playing when they’re 42-years-old, much less putting up top of the line numbers.
His time in San Francisco made him a baseball legend for all the right and wrong reasons. From 1993 through his last season in 2007, Bonds batted .312/.477/.666. He walked over twice as often as he struck out, with a 23.3% walk rate and 11.4% strikeout rate. He hit more home runs in these 14 campaigns than Mel Ott, Eddie Murray, and Harmon Killebrew did in their 20+ year careers. At the end of the day, he earned a .463 wOBA and 187 wRC+.
I get the steroid argument for these four seasons, but unless Bonds got ahold of some of Captain America’s super-soldier serum, there is no substance or mixture of substances on this plane that makes a player 132% better than the league average. Other notorious steroid users like Alex Rodriguez’s, Mark McGwire’s, Sammy Sosa’s, and Manny Ramirez’s peaks don’t come in the same zip code as Bonds’ peak. Bonds’ best single-season high wRC+ of 244 set in 2003 is 69% better than A-Rod’s, 39% better than McGwire’s, 58% better than Sosa’s, and 62% better than Ramirez’s peak wRC+ marks. Bonds had some off-field issues too, but there is no doubt he was baseball’s best hitter. Bonds had an insane career in Major League Baseball, for better or for worse.