Designated HitterMay 18, 2006
Barry Bonds Homers
By David Vincent

The words in the title have been spoken hundreds of times in the last twenty years by broadcasters and fans alike. Through Sunday, May 14, 2006, Bonds has hit 713 round-trippers, which places him third on the all-time homer list for the majors behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. In this article, we will examine some of the statistical breakouts of those 713 long balls and compare them to Ruth's 714. Many of the differences are simply a sign of how the game has changed in 80 years, with many new teams and a different treatment of starting pitchers among the changes. When Ruth played, there were 8 teams in each league so there were fewer pitchers to face during a season. Also, a starting pitcher was expected to work much further into the game than starters do now, so a batter might only face two hurlers in a contest. Now it is common to have three or four pitchers work in one inning.

Barry Bonds hit his first big league home run on June 4, 1986 off Craig McMurtry of the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The solo shot came in the fifth inning of a game in which the 21-year-old Bonds played center field for the Pirates a week after making his debut. McMurtry became the first of 419 different pitchers to surrender a four-bagger to Bonds; Babe Ruth hit his 714 homers off 216 hurlers, with 17 of the blasts off Rube Walberg. In fact, Ruth hit at least 10 home runs each off 13 different pitchers. Bonds has not hit more than eight homers off any one pitcher, although he has reached four pitchers for that total: Greg Maddux, Terry Mulholland, John Smoltz, and Curt Schilling.

Bonds, hitting in the first spot in the order for most of the 1986 season, smacked sixteen homers his rookie year. He reached 100 on July 12, 1990 against the San Diego Padres, with a blast off an Andy Benes pitch. In his career, Bonds has hit 82 home runs off Padres hurlers, more than any other team. In fact, the second highest total, 63 off the Expos/Nationals, is far behind that of the Pads. Ruth hit 123 four-baggers off Tigers pitchers and 108 off hurlers for the Philadelphia Athletics. The Babe hit home runs off all eight American League teams in his career and six homers off four different teams in the Senior Circuit in 1935. In contrast to Ruth, Bonds has homered off 27 different clubs during his National League career, including 11 American League teams. The three AL clubs which have not surrendered a four-bagger to Bonds are the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Early in his career with the Pirates, Bonds hit in the leadoff spot most of the time. During that time, he led off 20 games with a home run, which places him in the top 20 on the career list. His father Bobby hit 35 leadoff homers to place fourth on the career list and held the single-season record for 23 years. Barry has hit three inside-the-park home runs in his career, one in 1987 and two more in 1997. Ruth rounded the bases ten times on inside-the-park homers but never hit a leadoff home run.

Bonds hit his 200th career homer on July 8, 1993, his first season as a member of the San Francisco Giants. While with the Pirates, Bonds hit 176 home runs and the remainder have been as a Giant. Babe Ruth played for three clubs in his career, hitting 49 for the Red Sox, 659 for the Yankees and 6 for the Boston Braves. Bonds joined the 300 Homer Club in 1996 and reached 400 in 1998. On April 17, 2001, Bonds became the 17th member of the 500 Home Run Club with a two-run shot off Terry Adams of the Los Angeles Dodgers in San Francisco. It was the 7,501st at bat in his career, which places Bonds in the middle of the list for homer #500. Ruth had taken 5,801 at bats to become the first batter with 500 homers. Mark McGwire took the fewest at bats to reach the milestone (5,487).

On August 9, 2002, Bonds hit his 600th home run, becoming the fourth player in history to perform this feat. It was hit off Kip Wells of Bonds' old team, the Pirates, in a game played in San Francisco. Two years later, Bonds reached 700 homers on September 17, 2004 in another game played in San Francisco. Only three batters have hit 700 home runs. Ruth hit his in 1934 and Hank Aaron joined Ruth in 1973. Aaron holds the record for most home runs in the National League with 733 while Ruth's 708 leads the Junior Circuit.

Bonds has homered in 35 different ballparks in his career. His top total is the 140 hit at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, with 135 (through May 17) at AT&T Park (formerly Pac Bell Park). Ruth hit four-baggers in 12 different parks, with 259 at Yankee Stadium and 85 at the Polo Grounds, which was the Yankees' home prior to 1923. Bonds has hit 15% of all the four-baggers at Pac Bell. By comparison, in the first five years of Yankee Stadium (1923-27) the Babe hit 105 home runs, which is 19.8% of all homers hit at the stadium. This reflects the completely different game environment that existed in the early 1920s. Ruth outhomered all seven other American League clubs in 1920 when he swatted 54 homers. For a more recent comparison of ballparks, Larry Walker hit 12.8% of the homers hit in the first five years of play at Coors Field in Denver.

In his career, Bonds has homered off the following pairs of brothers:

  • Benes: Andy (4), Alan (2)
  • Leiter: Al (2), Mark (2)
  • Maddux: Greg (8), Mike (1)
  • Martinez: Pedro (1), Ramon (3)
  • Perez: Carlos (3), Pascual (2)
  • Worrell: Tim (1), Todd (1)

    He also homered off both pitchers named Greg Harris, who are not related. Ruth did not homer off any pairs of brothers in his career.

    Babe Ruth hit multiple home runs in one game 72 times, while Barry Bonds has accomplished the feat 68 times. Ruth hit 16 grand slams and Bonds has 11. In four different seasons, Ruth hit at least 50 homers, with totals of 60, 59 and 54 (twice). Bonds set a new single-season record in 2001 when he clouted 73 homers but his next-highest season total is the 49 he hit in 2000.

    On June 20, 1921, Babe Ruth hit his 127th career home run, thus passing Sam Thompson for second on the all-time list. Roger Connor and Thompson had been the top two batters on the homer list since August 28, 1896. The top five on 6/20/1921 were:

  • 138 Roger Connor
  • 127 Babe Ruth
  • 126 Sam Thompson
  • 122 Harry Stovey
  • 119 Gavvy Cravath

    The total homers for those five batters, 632, is less than Ruth's career total. The Babe passed Connor on July 18, 1921 and gradually other batters climbed the career home run list. Hank Aaron passed Ruth for the top spot on April 8, 1974. The top five that day were:

  • 715 Hank Aaron
  • 714 Babe Ruth
  • 660 Willie Mays
  • 552 Frank Robinson (who would hit another 34 homers)
  • 546 Harmon Killebrew (who would hit another 27 homers)

    Mark McGwire displaced Killebrew from the top five in 2001 and Barry Bonds passed McGwire and Robinson in 2002. Bonds passed Willie Mays on April 13, 2004. It seems inevitable that Bonds will pass Ruth in the near future, thus dropping the Babe out of the top two on the career list for the first time since June 20, 1921. Ruth has been in one of the top two positions for nearly 85 years but amassing a larger career total does not necessarily make a player a better home run hitter than Ruth. The Babe hit 33.6 home runs for every 500 plate appearances in his career, a number only topped by Mark McGwire, who hit 38.1 per 500 plate appearances. Bonds has a production rate of 30.4 per 500 plate appearances. Bonds has accomplished many things in his career but still lags behind the Babe as a home run hitter.

    As April turned to May in 2006, it appeared that, for Bonds and the Giants, personal goals have overcome the concept of team. Bonds seems unable to play left field even moderately well due to his injuries and his hitting has been embarrassing. But, evidently as long as Bonds wants to play, the Giants management is going to allow it since he is drawing fans to the park - thus adding cash to the owner's wallet.

    David Vincent, called the "Sultan of Swat Stats" by ESPN, is the recognized authority on the history of the home run. He is the author of Home Run: The Definitive History of Baseball's Ultimate Weapon, to be published in March 2007 by Potomac Books, Inc.

  • Comments

    So Jason Ellison should start in LF? Besides, Bonds still has a league-leading .481 OBP, and his OPS is .900+...

    Love those statistics.

    -for the love of the game

    Great article. Well written.

    "Embarrassing" is not usually used to characterize a hitter leading both leagues in OBP.

    Would be worth finding a Ruth/Aaron/Bonds HR and AB number by inning, to see whether the effect of relief pitchers has affected HR production among the elite.

    I very much appreciate your analysis (recogning that you are the KING of HRs) but your last paragraph, is opinion; not fact.