ATHLETE OF THE DECADE: Like him or not, Bonds drew all eyes - and most MVP votes By Ben Walker
A month ago, during simpler times, Tiger Woods was presented with a tricky question: Who would he pick as the athlete of the decade?
Plenty of possible choices - Lance Armstrong, Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Barry Bonds, Tom Brady, among them. Tiger, too. Told the list of candidates, and leaving himself out of the mix, Woods contemplated their merits for two holes during a pro-am in China before he finally found himself torn between Federer and Bonds.
Federer set the record for Grand Slam victories. And what did he find appealing about Bonds?
"Take the scandal out of it," Woods said. "He changed the game."
So there you have it. The whole Barry Bonds case, summed up by one of sports' greatest hitters.
On the field, with his maple bat cocked and his body covered in black armour, Bonds was a beast. Off the field, well, perhaps he also epitomized exactly what the era meant in baseball.
"No matter what people were thinking, they still came out to the park to see Barry," said Dusty Baker, Bonds' longtime manager in San Francisco. "Accuse him, cheer him, boo him, whatever. He was turning those turnstiles."
MVP in 2001. MVP in 2002. MVP in 2003. MVP in 2004. Remember this: No other player has won more than three MVP trophies in an entire career.
Oh, and the home runs.
A whopping 73 in a season and a record 762 for his career. Cameras flashed all over the Giants' waterfront ballpark in 2007 when he broke Hank Aaron's lifetime mark by launching No. 756 deep into the August night.
Bonds thrust both arms over his head when he connected, and the celebration began. He didn't seem to mind that Aaron and commissioner Bud Selig were absent, further fuelling the debate about steroid accusations and asterisks.
"This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period," Bonds declared.
Baker wasn't with the Giants then, but he once got a firsthand look at a similar scene. He was on deck in Atlanta when Aaron hit No. 715 in 1974 and broke Babe Ruth's record.
"I saw Hank Aaron every day," Baker said. "But when Barry Bonds was at his peak, boy!"
Easy to see why Bonds' achievements put him among the candidates for The Associated Press' Athlete of the Decade. And who would the slugger choose if he had a vote?
Woods, Bonds picked a few weeks ago. "He is an amazing golfer," Bonds told the AP through his publicist, Lisa Nitta.
Bonds' accomplishments may be equally amazing.
In 2001, he broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record of 70. In 2002, he capped a monster post-season performance with his only World Series appearance - Bonds hit .356 with eight homers and 27 walks in 17 games that October, only to see the Giants fall short in Game 7 against the Angels.
In 2004, at age 40, Bonds became the oldest player to win an MVP award in North America's four major pro sports. He hit .362 with 45 home runs and 101 RBIs, yet those were hardly his most impressive stats.
His true dominance showed up in how teams pitched to him. Or rather, didn't pitch to him. Bonds drew 232 walks that year, 120 of them intentional passes. The Pittsburgh Pirates once gave him an intentional walk when he led off an inning - the 10th inning, that is.
Boosted by all those walks, Bonds reached base nearly 61 per cent of the time in 2004. Chances are, he didn't even do that as a kid playing Wiffle Ball in the backyard with his famous father. Who could?
Some pitchers basically decided to never fool around with Bonds. Consider Bonds' lifetime stats against reliever Guillermo Mota: 1-for-1, which was a home run, and eight walks. Arizona manager Buck Showalter took the same approach several years earlier, ordering Bonds to be intentionally walked with the bases loaded.
"Teams would try to take him out of the game, and he'd still find a way to beat you," Baker said.
Bonds missed most of 2005 because of knee trouble and couldn't find a club to sign him after 2007, when he led the majors in on-base average for the sixth time in seven years.
After winning three MVPs in the '90s, Bonds' totals for his shortened 2000s: 317 home runs with a .322 batting average, .517 on-base average and .724 slugging percentage.
Whether all of that will eventually lead Bonds to the Hall of Fame is uncertain. To some fans, he was the face of baseball's drug scandal, mentioned 103 times in the Mitchell Report.
Bonds steadfastly said he never knowingly used steroids - and he wasn't penalized by baseball - but still faces legal issues. In a case stemming from his testimony before a federal grand jury in December 2003, he pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice.
The cloud of suspicion certainly cost Bonds an opportunity to play longer, he was indicted seven weeks after his final game, and could cut down his chance of being elected to Cooperstown.
His agent, Jeff Borris, contacted teams for more than a year trying to find Bonds a job. Now 45, Bonds has not officially announced his retirement.
"He was run out of Major League Baseball. Barry's been unfairly vilified in the Steroid Era," Borris asserted. "If he had been allowed to keep playing, he would've hit 800-plus home runs in his sleep."