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Best known today as the father of Barry, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that Bobby Bonds was one of the greatest natural athletes to play baseball.  Almost the perfect speed/power combo guy, Bobby could hit the long ball with the game’s greatest sluggers and could put the gazelle to blush with his speed.  He retired with 332 homers and 461 stolen bases.  The “power-speed” stat, which judges a players worth by focusing on his career numbers in slugging and stolen bases, has Bobby as the fifth greatest player in the game’s history in that department–behind his son Barry who rests in the top slot.

A native of Riverside, California, Bonds was signed by the Giants in 1964.  He made his debut in 1968 and played in over 80 games which made him ineligible for the Rookie of the Year Award in ’69.  Had he been up for the award, he most certainly would have won it.  Bobby led the NL with 120 runs scored while blasting 32 homeruns with 90 RBI.  He was an unusual leadoffman in that he was capable of swatting thirty homers annually.  Most top-of-the-order hitters have excellent speed and good on-base skills–which Bonds had–but few have the long ball capabilities of a cleanup hitter, which Bobby owned as well.

In his first full year in the Majors, Bobby swatted 32 homers and pilfered 45 bags.  To say that he redefined the leadoff post would be inaccurate because there has never been a leadoffman quite like him since.  Rickey Henderson comes the closest, but Bonds could hit the long ball at a much greater clip than Rick.  Bonds’ only weakness was his propensity to strikeout.  His 187 strikeouts led the NL in 1969 as well, but his large amount of whiffs didn’t hurt his on-base skills any.  He would often have an on-base percentage near .360 in his prime years.  The following year he had his only 200 hit campaign which enabled him to post his lone .300 season.  He also scored 134 runs (2nd in the league), posted an on-base percentage of .375 and slugged over .500. 

Although Bobby again paced the senior circuit in strikeouts, he trimmed his high figure with a terrific 1971 season.  That year he swatted 33 dingers and posted his first 100 RBI season.  His stolen bases however fell from 48 to 26 as he narrowly missed the 30 HR/30 SB Club.  For his great season Bobby was named to the All-Star team and was awarded his first of three Gold Gloves.  His production tapered off in 1972 but he was back to grand form in ’73.  That year he led the National League in total bases and runs scored.  In the five years from 1969 to 1973, Bonds scored at least 110 runs every season (in an era known more for its pitching).  Each of those seasons he either finished first or second in runs scored.  He was named to his second All-Star team, won his second Gold Glove and finished third in MVP voting.

Although Bonds hit 21 homers with 70+ RBI in 1974, it was considered an off-year because he failed to scored 100 runs for the first time in his career.  He claimed his third Gold Glove and posted a fine on-base percentage of .364, but the Giants felt he was declining and traded him after the season for Bobby Murcer, straight up.  Bobby joined the Bronx Bombers and had an All-Star season his only year in pinstripes.  With the Yankees he clubbed 32 homers and tied his career high with a .375 on-base percentage.  However, for the seventh straight year he fanned over 130 times and the Yankees traded their gifted All-Star to the Angels after the season for swift outfielder Mickey Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa.

Bobby’s first year with the Angels was cut short due to injury but he still managed 30 steals in under 100 games played.  He bounced back in 1977 and enjoyed one of his finest seasons.  He slugged 37 homeruns, scored 103 runs and reached a career high with 115 RBI.  He fell three homeruns shy of the 40 HR/40 SB Club.  After the season the Angels made one of their best deals when they swapped Bobby to the White Sox for a young Brian Downing.  Downing would eventually become an offensive force while Bonds was tagged as a nomad.  He split the ’78 season between the White Sox and Rangers but nevertheless posted his sixth 30 homer season.  He was then traded to the Indians for Jim Kern and had his last great season in Cleveland.

With the 1979 Indians, Bonds clubbed 25 homers and drove in 85 runs, while maintaining a batting average above .270 and an on-base percentage above .360.  But the twilight of his career was fast approaching and the Indians made a fine trade by sending Bobby to St. Louis for John Denny and Jerry Mumphrey.  Used as a reserve by the Redbirds, Bobby struggled with the Cardinals in 1980 and never got back to form.  He played one final year with the Cubs in 1981 before calling it a career.  After his playing days, Bonds coached at the Major League level and even reached 10% of the Hall of Fame vote in 1993 but he fell off the ballot in 1997.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,849/R 1,258/H 1,886/2B 302/3B 66/HR 332/RBI 1,024/SB 461/BB 914/SO 1,757/BA 268/OBP .353/SA .471

Baseball’s biggest rockstar of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco was the game’s most recognizable playboy during the Steroid Era.  He can also be seen as the face of an entire era.  Jose conceded to his steroid abuse while most players of his time clam up whenever the drug is mentioned.  Loved by a few and hated by many, Canseco was the preeminent star of the Major Leagues in the late 1980s.  He won the Rookie of the Year Award in ’86 and the MVP Award in 1988.  Looking back on his career, had he been more healthy, he’d be the mirror image of Reggie Jackson.  Their slash lines are almost identical.  Jose had a career line of .266/.353/.515 while Reggie’s wasn’t much different at .262/.356/.490.

Canseco got his first taste of the Majors in 1985 and hit a hair above .300 in 25 contests.  The rebuilding Athletics made him an everyday player in 1986 and he responded with a Rookie of the Year campaign.  Jose cracked 33 homers and drove in 117 runs despite a rather weak batting average and on-base percentage.  Named to the AL All-Star team as a freshman, Jose barely edged out Wally Joyner in ROTY voting.  He had about the same season in 1987: plenty of power and speed but less than stellar batting average and on-base percentage.  He had proven that he was an exceptional athlete but not a polished baseball player–much like Kansas City’s Bo Jackson.  But Canseco became a monster in 1988.

Named the American League’s MVP in 1988, Jose led the league with 42 homers and 124 RBI.  His slash line of .257/.310/.470 in 1987 improved substantially in ’88 when he posted an amazing line of .307/.391/.569.  His .569 slugging average was tops in the American League and he was a member of the exclusive 40 HR/40 SB Club.  Jose had officially become baseball’s biggest star in 1988.  He slugged an otherwordly .938 in the ALCS but the Dodgers had his number in the World Series and all Jose could muster was a feeble .053 batting average in the World Series.  His 1989 season was cut in half courtesy a broken wrist but he redeemed himself in that year’s postseason by leading the A’s to an easy World Series victory over the Giants with a .357 batting average.

Canseco teamed with Mark McGwire to give Oakland a legendary power combo that was dubbed “The Bash Brothers.”  The sluggers led Oakland to three straight World Series appearances from 1988 to 1990.  Canseco bounced back after his injury-shortened ’89 campaign to post yet another 30+ homerun 100+ RBI season in 1990.  But much like the Dodgers owned Jose in the ’88 World Series the Reds stymied him in 1990 when he mustered just an .083 batting average against the Cincinnati mound staff. 

He struggled in the 1990 World Series but he didn’t carry those woes into the next season.  In 1991, Jose led the American League with 44 round-trippers.  He drove in 122 runs and scored an extra 115 to make him one of the top run-getters in all of baseball.  But by this time his batting average and on-base percentage began to sink back down to his early days and Oakland made a blockbuster trade by shipping Jose off to Texas for Ruben Sierra, Jeff Russell and Bobby Witt.  His tenure in Texas was marred by injury and when the Rangers dealt him to the Red Sox after the 1994 season all they got for him was speedster Otis Nixon and failed prospect Luis Ortiz. 

The change of scenery to Boston helped Jose’s slash line but didn’t have any influence on the injury bug.  His first year with the Red Sox he was limited to just 102 games but nevertheless managed 24 homers and 81 RBI.  He played in even fewer games in 1996 but still upped his homerun total (28) and RBI amount (82).  Although Canseco was still a productive player in the 1990s, he had trouble staying on the field. He returned to Oakland in 1997 and had a dismal season back in California before he exploded back into the star ranks with Toronto in 1998.  With the Blue Jays, Jose set a career high with 46 homeruns and posted his sixth 100 RBI season.  He showed that his awe-inspiring speed/power combo package was still there as he also pilfered 29 bags.  However, the red flag was that his slash line was back down to his rookie form.  He only hit a meager .237 with a poor .318 on-base percentage. 

Toronto, clearly noting his poor slash line, allowed Jose to cash in on his rebound season via the free agent market.  The lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, looking for ways to bring fans into the stadium, shelled out cash for Jose.  He joined the Florida club and had his last All-Star season in 1999 when he slugged 34 homers and drove in 95 runs.  After a so-so start to the 2000 season, Tampa Bay waived Canseco and he caught on with the Yankees for the playoff push.  New York won the World Series and Jose had his last Fall Classic at-bat.  He played one final year with the White Sox in 2001.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,887/R 1,186/H 1,877/2B 340/3B 14/HR 462/RBI 1,407/SB 200/BB 906/SO 1,942/BA .266/OBP .353/SA .515

A former World Series MVP and Cy Young Award winner, Frank “Sweet Music” Viola was one of the top workhorses in the Majors during the 1980s. It wasn’t a trick for the southpaw from St. John’s University to log 250 innings a season. As a member of the Twins during their peak, Frank was their staff ace and the face of the pitching staff for many years. When the Twins built their dynasty during this time, they had the offense and defense with guys like Gaetti, Puckett, Gagne, Brunansky and Hrbek, but Sweet Music was their pitching staff. Viola led them to a World Series title over Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals in 1988.

A second round pick in 1981, Frank was rushed to the Majors and made his debut the following year. Not the type who set the league afire after his summons, Viola struggled with an ERA above 5.00 his first two Major League seasons. He finally put it together in 1984 when he won 18 games with ten complete starts. Frank also logged over 250 innings and kept his ERA down to 3.21. An 18-game-winner again in 1985, Frank’s peripheral stats weren’t as sharp as he gave up plenty of hits and too many homeruns.

The southpaw began to post some rather sharp strikeout-to-walk ratios beginning in 1986 when he fanned 191 batters with 83 walks. Even better the following year, Sweet Music whiffed 197 batters on just 66 free passes. The Twins of  ’87–managed by Tom Kelly–reached the heights of baseball as the Metrodome Boys rushed to a World Series title. Viola had one of his finest years that season. He won 17 games, posted a trim 2.90 ERA and logged in the excess of 250 innings for the third season. He won one ALCS game against the Tigers and then turned back the Redbirds in two Fall Classic contests. For his fine postseason worksheet, Sweet Music was awarded the World Series MVP Award.

Although the Twins failed to win their division in 1988, Frank enjoyed his finest season that year. He led the American League in wins (24) and winning percentage (.774) while he posted his career best 2.64 ERA. Frank was named to the AL All-Star team, posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio close to 4-to-1 and was named the league’s Cy Young Award winner. The Twins fell to .500 in 1989 and with Allan Anderson as a younger star in the rotation, Minnesota felt comfortable to trade Frank to the Mets for some much-needed pitching depth. From New York the Twins got future star closer Rick Aguilera, solid pitchers David West and Kevin Tapani and relief pitcher Tim Drummond. The trade worked for the Twins and they made their way back to the postseason but Viola would never again pitch on the grandest of stages.

In his first full year in the National League, Frank won 20 games for the 1990 Mets and made his second All-Star team. He paced the league in innings pitched and finished third in Cy Young Award voting. Frank found Shea Stadium to his liking as he posted a terrific ERA of 2.67. Although his win percentage fell below .500 in 1991, Sweet Music nevertheless made his third All-Star team and posted his ninth consecutive season with 230 or more innings of work. Granted free agency after the season, Frank returned to the American Legaue and signed with the Red Sox. He was sharp at Fenway his first two seasons in Beantown with ERAs of 3.44 and 3.14 but an elbow injury suffered in 1994 all but ended his career. He hung on for two more unsuccessful seasons before calling it a career.

THE NUMBERS

W 176/L 150/PCT .540/ERA 3.73/G 421/CG 74/IP 2,836/H 2,827/BB 864/SO 1,844/SHO 16

Now that Hell’s Bells will no longer be played in the Majors, let’s have a look at Trevor Hoffman’s chances for the Hall of Fame.  The flame-throwing closer currently resides as the all-time saves leader in the game’s history–the only man to reach 600.  Trevor made seven All-Star appearances over the course of his career and was an uncommon finisher in that he actually possessed accuracy.  His career 1.058 WHIP is outstanding as Hoffman fanned over a batter per inning and had a strikeout-to-walk ratio close to 4-to-1.  He posted nine 40+ saves seasons for the Padres, had three Top Five finishes in Cy Young Award voting and is one of the few pitchers in baseball history to work in over 1,000 games.

Hoffman has an impressive resume, but its a worksheet that has limited mileage.  He helped redefine the closer into a one-inning gunslinger post.  Many old relief pitchers turn their noses up to the one-inning wonders that come into a game during the final frame with a clean slate.  Before Hoffman shaped the role, guys like Gossage, Smith and Quisenberry came into the game before the ninth, usually with men on base, and worked multiple innings when asked to get the starter out of a jam.  The two-inning closer is a thing of a bygone era which has enabled guys like Hoffman and his high punchout peers to record those lofty strikeout totals.  They rear back and fire it with all they’ve got because three batters is all they’re paid to face.

But baseball has gone through many positional redefintions over its long life and players shouldn’t be viewed as second-rate because of the shift in managerial style.  When elite pitchers of the early 1900s like Noodles Hahn, Smoky Joe Wood and Orvie Overall blew out their arms thanks to excessive use, teams began to treat their pitchers more conservatively.  That’s why we have the closer, the setupman, the left-handed specialist and the mop-up pitchers–to save arms.  Hoffman’s Hall of Fame chances should not be taken negatively because his job is relatively new.  On the contrary, he should be viewed as a trend-setter because he will be knocked off the top of the hill, perhaps next year, since Mariano Rivera is just 44 saves behind him. 

Now that wrist-shaker Sheffield has officially announced his retirement, let’s have a look at his Hall of Fame chances.  Sheff, always sure of his abilities as a player, may have leaned toward the side of arrogance, but he could back up his boasting.  A fine slugger in a slugger’s era, Sheffield won a batting title, made nine All-Star appearances and had ten Top Ten finishes in on-base percentage.  Gary was one of the best on-base-plus-slugging players in the game’s history and he’s in the Top 25 in career homeruns, runs batted in and walks drawn.  His high ranking in homeruns and RBI will be his strongest case for the Hall of Fame and should carry him to Cooperstown.

But every player has a weakness.  Sheff wasn’t the most durable man and it’s a testament to his natural ability that he posted such lofty career numbers despite his many trips to the DL.  In only five seasons did Gary player in over 150 games, but he was in the lineup enough to make the once coveted 500 Homerun Club.  Perusing the player’s on his similarity scores test you’ll find plenty Hall of Famers, like Mel Ott, Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle.  But similarity scores are misleading.  Reggie Jackson is listed as the second most similar player to Sheff in baseball history but comparing the two is an injustice to Sheffield.  Gary’s career batting average is a whopping 30 points above the game’s most overrated player and Sheff’s on-base percentage rests 37 points above Jackson’s.  Sheff was clearly the better player.

With 509 career homeruns and 1,676 lifetime RBI, I find it hard to make a case against Sheffield.  Naysayers will point to the fact that he rarely led the league in any major offensive categories, but his career stats are enviable regardless.  Those numbers were obvious Hall of Fame stats just a decade ago but with the steroid era, 500 homeruns, although quite impressive, isn’t nearly as magical as it was in the days of Mantle and Mays. 

One of the game’s top run producers in the late 1960s and on through the 1970s, Lee “Big Bopper” May was a terrific slugger for the Reds and Orioles.  A three-time All-Star, May posted eight seasons during his career when he blasted 25 or more homeruns.  The era in which Lee played is noted more for its pitching, but May was a thunderous presence in the heart of any batting order.  Although not the most gifted defender in the league, May made a highlight reel catch in 1985, after he had retired from playing.  As the Royals hitting coach, May saved George Brett from an exploding cranium when he caught the diving third baseman who lunged into the dugout, chasing a foul popup.

The Reds signed Lee as a teenager off the Alabama sandlots in 1961.  As he climbed the minor league ladder, Lee showcased power as the climbed the rungs.  The Reds gave him a five-game trial at the end of the 1965 season and then a 25 game look in 1966.  By 1967, May was in the Majors to stay.  He was part of a coming Cincinnati Reds team in the late 1960s.  In 1968, Lee and Rusty Staub were the only NL first basemen to eclipse 160 base hits and 30 doubles.  The Reds had a strong offense geared around such youngsters as May, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Tommy Helms.  Vada Pinson, at 29, was the oldest regular on the team.

Although the Big Bopper had a solid 1968 season, his breakout year came in ’69.  May drilled 38 homeruns and drove in 110 mates–numbers only eclipsed by Hall of Famer Willie McCovey among NL first basemen.  He proved the following year that he was a legit power source and not a one-year wonder when he sent 34 balls into the seats.  He teamed with Bench and Perez to give the Reds three men with 30+ plus homers in 1970 as Cincy captured the NL West flag.  Off to his first World Series, the Big Bopper was terrific in Fall Classic action.  He swatted a pair of homers, led all participants with 8 RBI and hit a lusty .389.  But poor play by Bench and a dismal showing from Perez allowed Baltimore to make short work of the Reds.

Named to the 1971 NL All-Star Team, May enjoyed his greatest season for homeruns when he blasted a career high 39 dingers–good for third in the National League behind Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell.  But the Reds fell out of contention that year and made a trade that would bolster the team and thus earn them the nickname “The Big Red Machine” after the season when they dealt Lee to Houston for second baseman Joe Morgan.  In the cavernous Astrodome, May’s homer totals fell off but he still swatted an enviable total of 29 homers in 1972.  The Big Bopper hit .284 in an era of low batting averages and led the Astros in RBI.

May enjoyed his second 100-RBI season in 1973 as he led NL first basemen in the department.  But after a down year in 1974, in which he “only” slugged 24 homers, Lee was traded to Baltimore for Enos Cabell.  Cabell became a fixture in Houston but he didn’t have the run producing skills of the Big Bopper.  In Lee’s first taste of American League action, he came within one little RBI of another 100 runs batted in season.  He made certain that he reached that mark in ’76 by pacing the junior circuit with 109 RBI.  Orioles skipper Earl Weaver flip-flopped Lee between first base and DH to get the better fielding Tony Muser some action at the initial sack while keeping May’s big bat in the lineup.

In 1977, May posted his eighth year with 90 or more RBI when he chased 99 mates across the dish.  In 1978 he blasted 25 homeruns as the everyday DH since a young Eddie Murray established himself as the regular first baseman.  The Orioles captured their division in 1979 but in the World Series, the designated hitter wasn’t used, so Lee only had two pinch-hit appearances in a losing cause to Pittsburgh.  Granted free agency after the 1980 season, the aging Big Bopper signed with the Kansas City Royals and gave the boys in blue a solid veteran bat-off-the bench for two years before he retired.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,071/R 959/H 2,031/2B 340/3B 31/HR 354/RBI 1,244/SB 39/BB 487/SO 1,570/BA .267/OBP .313/SA .459

Many naysayers will point at Mr. Pettitte and deride him for his good fortune.  They’ll claim that he never would have been a big winner had he not pitched for the powerful New York Yankees.  But this accusation is a near-sighted assault.  Andy’s best year was spent in Houston, where he pitched to Brad Ausmus (the best battery mate he ever had) in a hitter-friendly park.  Pinstripes or not, Andy was a talented performer who was one of the best pitchers of his time.  Gifted at keeping the ball in the yard, Pettitte was one of the most difficult pitchers to take deep in an era when everyone on the roster was reaching the fences.

The American League wins leader in 1996, Andy finished his career with 240 wins and an amazing winning percentage of .635.  The tall southern southpaw eclipsed 3,000 innings in the era of relief specialists and fanned 2,251 batters.  Just as sharp in the postseason, Andy won 19 games in the after season action and was awarded five World Series rings.  Andy made three All-Star Teams and had as many Top Five finishes in Cy Young Award voting. 

Pettitte’s career rankings are quite impressive as well.  Andy has the 43rd best winning percentage in baseball history, ranks 48th in all-time strikeouts and 55th in career wins.  Sure, his win total would probably be lower had he not pitched for the Yankee dynasty but when he pitched for the offensively challenged Houston Astros, Andy went 37-26.  The main cases against Andy is that he never won a Cy Young Award, was a 20-game winner only twice on baseball’s greatest dynasty and he tested positive for perform-enhancing drugs.  Mr. Pettitte should make for an interesting case study when he makes the ballot in five years.