Is Barry Bonds the Ali of baseball?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on whether Barry Bonds is the greatest baseball player of all-time and, if not, what he would have to do to become the greatest player of all time.

We all know, or we all should know, that Barry Bonds is not the greatest player ever. No, that distinction belongs to Babe Ruth. Ruth led the league in OPS every year from 1918 to 1931, except for 1925, but he still finished second in homeruns in ’25. Bonds has led the league in OPS eight times, but not in a row. Ruth also finished in the top nine in ERA every year from 1916 to 1918, winning at least 18 in all of those years and finishing in the top ten in Adjusted ERA (ERA relative to the league average and adjusted for ballparks) every one of those seasons.

Ruth practically invented modern baseball. No one had seasons more dominant than Ruth, which is why he’s the greatest. Bonds did hit 73 homers in 2001, but Ruth hit more homers than every team in the American League in 1920 and 1921. Sure you could say other guys could have done it had they tried to hit home runs earlier, but shouldn’t Ruth get even more credit for being the first guy to try to hit home runs?

It is true that Ruth never had to travel to the west coast, never had to face media scrutiny, never faced a black player, never had to play 162 games, etc. But Ruth also did not know about conditioning, he didn’t know what foods would help him the most, he wasn’t able to study video or do as much statistical research as we can now, he didn’t have the equipment that players now have and he didn’t have anyone to teach him how to be a power hitter because he was the first.

We’ve established that Ruth is the best player of all-time, but where does Bonds rank? Bonds is definitely in the top five. You can make a pretty good case that Bonds’s 2001 and 2002 seasons are the best back-to-back seasons ever, if not the best two seasons of all-time. Bonds was at least as valuable as Ruth in his best seasons. Ruth gets extra credit for being the first guy to do it (hit for power), dominating in more seasons and his ability to pitch. Bonds does have an advantage over Ruth in that he finished in the top 10 in steals in nine seasons, stealing over 35 in five of those seasons. Bonds also is considered a better defender than Ruth was, as he’s won eight Gold Glove awards.

Bonds has his work cut out for him, if he wants to catch Ruth for the title of the greatest baseball player who ever lived. Bonds never was and he’s never going to become an awesome pitcher and he didn’t and never will revolutionize the game the way Ruth did. Theoretically, Bonds would probably need to put together three or four more historic seasons like his 2001 and 2002 seasons. That ain’t gonna happen! He’s already defied Mother Nature beyond belief, waiting until his mid- to late-30’s to have his best seasons.

I don’t see a way Bonds can become the greatest player of all-time, but does it matter? Bonds has a shot at Ruth’s record and he’s already in a class with Ruth, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron, so why get greedy? We’re already lucky enough to see the greatest player since Mays and, quite possibly, since Ruth. George Herman Ruth still holds the title of greatest baseball player who ever lived and the most important figure in American sports, and until someone reinvents and dominates the game in a major way, Ruth will hold that title.