Back in February, Ed Valentine and I got into a debate over who was better Ă˘â‚¬â€ť Babe Ruth or The G-POPE Barry Bonds. In a four-part series with the help of WhatIfSports.com, Bugs & Cranks hopes to add new perspective to the debateĂ˘â‚¬Â¦.
The idea is to switch these two all-time greats in time Ă˘â‚¬â€ť what if Bonds quantum leaped into RuthĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s place on the Red Sox and Yankees teams of the 1910Ă˘â‚¬â„˘s-1930Ă˘â‚¬â„˘s? what if Ruth replaced Bonds on the Pirates and Giants of the past 21 years?
In 1931, for the first time Barry Bonds and his Yankees begin a season as defending World Champions. Bonds doesn’t put up the huge numbers he had the year before — hitting only 24 home runs after blasting a career-high 47 in 1930 — but he does finish second in the AL batting race, third in SLG, and leads the bigs in OBP. Ruth’s Yankees had finished third in 1930, and while his version won 94 games in 1931, they still finished 13.5 back of the Philadelphia Athletics. With Bonds, and presumably all of his extra walks and fewer outs, his Yankees break Major League records for wins (118) and winning percentage (.766 — besting the 116 and .763 marks set by the 1906 Cubs). They win their second straight pennant by 23 games.
|1931 Yankees w/ Ruth||94|
|1931 Yankees w/ Bonds||118||+24|
|2003 Giants w/ Bonds||100|
|2003 Giants w/ Ruth||88||-12|
In 2003, Babe Ruth’s numbers are also down by his standards, but they’re enough to give The Bambino his second-straight Triple Crown, and the seventh of his career. Most of Ruth’s numbers are close to what Bonds produced with the ’03 Giants, but Ruth nearly doubles Bonds’ 2003 RBI total. Perhaps with records already long-broken, opposing managers and pitchers were more willing to pitch to Ruth, or Ruth was more willing to swing freely. In any case, Ruth’s Giants win 12 fewer games than their Bonds-led counterparts who won the NL West by 15 games, but Ruth’s Giants still win enough games to win their fifth-straight division crown.
|Bonds, 1931 Yankees||.353||24||108||.560||.619|
|Bonds, 2003 Giants||.341||45||90||.529||.749|
|Ruth, 2003 Giants||.350||60||177||.498||.732|
|Ruth, 1931 Yankees||.373||46||163||.495||.700|
Bonds and the Yankees open the 1931 World Series at Yankee Stadium, and win two close ballgames (6-4, 4-2). In Game 3 on the road, Barry’s Yankees are outslugged 13-8, but they dominate the next two games, winning 8-2 and 8-1 to take their second-straight World Championship. (Ruth’s Yankees didn’t make the Series in either 1930 or 1931, and they only won back-to-back titles once — 1927-28.)
The Bonds-version of the 2003 Giants lost their opening series to Florida Marlins, the Wild Card and eventual World Series winners. With fewer regular season wins, Ruth’s Giants draw the Atlanta Braves instead. For the fourth time in six years, Ruth and the Giants beat the Braves in the NLDS, this time with a convincing 12-4 Game 5 victory in Atlanta. Facing the Marlins in the NLCS, the Giants split the first two at home, then win the first game in Miami before losing the next two to return to San Francisco with a 3-2 deficit. Ruth and the Giants win Game 6 15-9, and then dominate Game 7, winning 8-0 to head back to Seattle for a rematch of the 2002 World Series. Ruth and the Giants haven’t forgotten last year’s defeat in 6 games, and go into Safeco Field and pound the Mariners in Game One, 12-0, and take the second game as well (4-2). With a chance to take a commanding lead back in San Francisco, the Giants lose Game 3, 10-6. The Mariners then edge the Giants in Game 4 and Game 5, winning both games by 4-3 scores. When the Series resumes in Seattle, Ruth’s Giants force a Game 7 with a 7-6 win. For the first time in his career, Babe Ruth is one game away from being a World Series champion. In Game 7, The Babe and the Giants put up 4 runs, but it’s not enough — with a 6-4 win, the Mariners win their second-straight title.
|Bonds, 1931 Yankees||5||.294||1||7||.500||.529|
|Bonds, 2003 Giants||4||.222||0||2||.556||.333|
|Ruth, 2003 Giants||19||.384||5||19||.516||.658|
In 2004, Babe Ruth of the two-time defending National League Champion Giants again hits 60 home runs, his unprecedented seventh-straight season with 60 or more homers. He also leads the NL in RBI, although David Ortiz and Miguel Tejada drive in more runs in the AL, but he is not a factor in the race for the NL batting crown. Ruth hits more home runs and drives in more home runs than Bonds had with the same team, but his batting average, OBP and SLG are all significantly lower than what Bonds posted in 2004. With Barry Bonds, the 2004 Giants won 91 games and missed the playoffs by a single game. The Ruth version of the 2004 Giants not only miss the playoffs, they don’t even manage a winning record.
|Bonds, 1932 Yankees||.372||25||129||.631||.666|
|Bonds, 2004 Giants||.362||45||101||.609||.812|
|Ruth, 2004 Giants||.315||60||136||.467||.682|
|Ruth, 1932 Yankees||.341||41||137||.489||.661|
In 1932 for the two-time defending champion Yankees, Bonds wins his second batting title at the age of 40. Bonds also breaks the MLB OBP record he set two years earlier. (This probably gets overlooked as, according to Baseball Almanac, Branch Rickey and Alan Roth created the OBP statistic in the 1950’s — perhaps, though, Barry’s incredible season of getting on-base in over 63% of his appearances would have accelerated its invention.) Bonds also has the Major’s second-best SLG, behind only Jimmie Foxx. With Babe Ruth, the 1932 Yankees won 107 games and their first pennant since 1928. With Bonds, the 1932 Yankees won 112 games, winning their third-straight pennant by 23 games.
|1932 Yankees w/ Ruth||107|
|1932 Yankees w/ Bonds||112||+5|
|2004 Giants w/ Bonds||91|
|2004 Giants w/ Ruth||79||-12|
While Ruth’s 1932 Yankees swept their way to a World Series title, the Bonds version of the team drops the opening game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. They recover with a 10-9 victory in Game 2, and win big in Game 3 on the road (11-3). A one-run loss in Game 4 evens the Series, but the Yankee bats power a 13-8 win in Game 5 to give the bombers a chance to end the Series at home in Game 6. Game 6 is a back-and-forth slugfest. In the bottom of the 9th inning, the game is tied 8-8, and Bonds comes to the plate. Bonds has had a huge series already, batting over .500, and making an out in less than a quarter of his plate appearances, but he hasn’t homered. Bonds comes to the plate and points to the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. On the first pitch, he homers to right-center and earns his third-straight World Series title. (With Ruth, the Yankees won three consecutive pennants on two occasions, but they never won three consecutive World Series.)
|Bonds, 1932 Yankees||6||.600||1||7||.760||1.067|
|Ruth, 1932 Yankees||4||.333||2||6||.500||.733|
In 1933, a series of knee injuries keep Barry Bonds out of all but 35 games. Bonds is fairly productive in those games, mainly hitting for average. While the Babe Ruth 1933 Yankees had won 91 games and finished second, the Bonds version wins two more games and their fourth-straight pennant.
|1933 Yankees w/ Ruth||91|
|1933 Yankees w/ Bonds||93||+2|
|2005 Giants w/ Bonds||75|
|2005 Giants w/ Ruth||90||–|
In 2005, a re-dedicated 38-year-old Babe Ruth leads the Majors in home runs, RBI, OBP and SLG, and finishes third in the NL batting race. With Bonds not appearing until mid-September, the 2005 Giants remained in a very weak NL West race until the last week, but finished with a losing record. With another dominant season from Ruth, those same Giants return to the postseason after a one-year absence, winning 90 games and their sixth division title in seven years.
|Bonds, 1933 Yankees||.317||0||8||.379||.383|
|Bonds, 2005 Giants||.286||5||10||.404||.667|
|Ruth, 2005 Giants||.324||64||158||.459||.690|
|Ruth, 1933 Yankees||.301||34||103||.442||.582|
Barry Bonds makes only one appearance in the 1933 World Series as his Yankees take on their former parkmates, the New York Giants. After the Yankees win the first two games at the Polo Grounds, Bonds comes on as a pinch-hitter in Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. Entering to a huge ovation, Bonds singles in only at-bat of the Series. The Yankees win the game, and go on to sweep away the Giants and claim their fourth consecutive championship. (This equals the amount of World Series the Yankees won with Ruth.)
Back in 2005, Ruth and the Giants finish off the Cardinals in a four-game Division Series. Facing the Phillies in the NLCS, Ruth and the Giants win the first game in Philadelphia, 11-5. After dropping the second game in Philadelphia, the Giants return home and get outslugged in Game 3, 10-8, and then lose another close game in Game 4. Facing elimination in Game 5, Ruth and his Giants are shut down by Brett Myers, losing 3-0.
|Bonds, 1933 Yankees||1||1.000||0||0||1.000||1.000|
|Ruth, 2005 Giants||9||.278||3||10||.364||.583|
In 2006, Babe Ruth’s numbers finally start to fall back to Earth. For the first time since 1997, he does not lead his league in home runs — Ryan Howard finishes with 11 more home runs than the Bambino. Ruth does lead the Majors in OBP, but his other stats fall short of what’s he’s done in the past. Ruth talks of retirement and wanting to manage, but it seems unlikely any club would hand over the reins to a rookie manager. With Bonds in 2006, the same Giants finished with another losing record. Ruth’s 2006 Giants win 95 games en route to a second-straight division title, their seventh division crown in eight years and their eighth postseason appearance in nine years.
|1934 Yankees w/ Ruth||94|
|1934 Yankees w/ Bonds||100||+6|
|2006 Giants w/ Bonds||76|
|2006 Giants w/ Ruth||95||+19|
Back in 1934, Barry Bonds comes back healthy and is a major part of the Yankees’ quest for their fifth-straight pennant. Bonds again leads the bigs in OBP, and his 1934 RBI total is 22 better than what Ruth did with the same team. Barry’s other numbers are very close to Ruth’s 1934 stats. And while Ruth’s 1934 Yankees finished a distant second, 7.5 games back, the Bonds version was locked in a very tight pennant race with the Detroit Tigers. Entering the season’s final weekend, Bonds and the Yanks are 2 games back, but a win and a Tiger loss pulls them within a single game. On Saturday, the Yankees win, but so does Detroit. On the final Sunday, Bonds and the Yankees win their 100th game of the season, giving them their fourth season with 100 or more wins in a five-year span. The victory though is bittersweet as later in the day, the Tigers win their 101st game and the American League pennant. Throughout the season, news increases of a growing rift between Bonds and Yankees manager Joe McCarthy. After the final game, many speculate it will be Bonds’ final game as a Yankee.
|Bonds, 1934 Yankees||.270||18||106||.480||.470|
|Bonds, 2006 Giants||.270||26||77||.454||.545|
|Ruth, 2006 Giants||.314||47||123||.453||.643|
|Ruth, 1934 Yankees||.288||22||84||.448||.537|
Realizing it may be his last chance at a ring, Babe Ruth and the Giants put on a spectacular offensive show in the NLDS, sweeping the Brewers and winning the three games by a combined score of 30-5. As the NLCS started against the Mets, runs were much harder to come by. The Giants managed to eke out a 2-1 victory in Game 1 in San Francisco, but John Maine shut out Ruth and the rest of the Giants as the Mets took Game 2, 5-0. The Giants prevailed in another low-scoring affair in Game 3 at Shea, 3-1. The Mets came back to win Game 4, 5-3, and then were led by Tom Glavine to a 2-1 win in Game 5. Facing elimination back in San Francisco, the Giant bats finally woke up. Ruth and the Giants enjoyed a lopsided 7-0 Game 6 win, and then followed it up with a convincing 8-3 victory in Game 7. The 2006 World Series could hardly have gotten off to a more inauspicious start for Babe Ruth and the Giants. The Twins came into San Francisco for the opening game and routed the Giants, 16-0. Ruth tried to rally his team in Game 2, but they fell again, this time 8-5. The games in Minnesota were no closer, as the Twins limited Ruth and the Giants to a combined 3 runs on their way to a World Series sweep. Ruth said after Game 4 that he had considered retiring, but that he couldn’t go out on this note and he would return for at least one more season.
|Ruth, 2006 Giants||14||.400||2||5||.520||.700|
While the offseason signing of Barry Zito gives some fans hope that the Giants finally have the last piece to give them a championship, there are many other distractions for Babe Ruth before pitchers and catchers report. Some expect him to be named in the Mitchell Report, but his name does not appear. Other commentators say that regardless of whether Ruth ever took performance-enhancing drugs, The Babe is perhaps most responsible for the scandal because it seemed like drugs were the only way players like Sosa and McGwire could come close to his offensive numbers. Ruth also storms off the set of The Late Show with David Letterman when Jim Kelly makes a surprise appearance. Jaded by the accusations and insinuations, and crushed by his latest World Series defeat, Ruth — never one for much conditioning anyway — drinks heavily and comes to spring training very heavy. In spring training and the first month of the season, it becomes clear Ruth is virtually useless in the field. He quickly squashes any talk of a trade to an AL team that could use him as a DH, and is limited to mostly pinch-hitting duty. In mid-summer, the Giants go to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates. Ruth’s average is near the mendoza line, and he has only 7 home runs for the year. Facing the team he began his career with, Ruth gets a rare start in right and puts on one last show, hitting three tape-measure home runs. After the game, Ruth holds an impromptu press conference and announces his retirement. Many find the sudden retirement of a legend sad, but others, especially blog writers and commenters find plenty of ammunition in Ruth’s lack of titles, his possible PED use, his physique and his drinking. ESPN devotes 48 hours of programming on all five of its networks to covering Ruth’s retirement. ESPN also reportedly offers Ruth an eight-figure contract, hoping to use him on Baseball Tonight and pair him in a reality show with John Kruk, but Ruth turns it down. Another rumor has Ruth trying to buy the Florida Marlins and having a rule change to allow owner-managers. These 2007 Giants finish a distant third in the NL West, but do finish the year with a winning record.
|Bonds, 1935 Braves||.301||20||62||.519||.507|
|Bonds, 2007 Giants||.276||28||66||.480||.565|
|Ruth, 2007 Giants||.228||10||25||.456||.608|
|Ruth, 1935 Braves||.181||6||12||.359||.431|
In February of 1935, the Yankees trade Barry Bonds to the National League’s Boston Braves. The city is thrilled by the return of the great Barry Bonds, even though he’s joining the city’s second team and the Braves are coming off a fourth-place finish, 16 games behind St. Louis. In his first and only season in the NL, Bonds puts up respectable numbers, finishing the year batting over .300 with 20 home runs, and posting the second-best OBP in the bigs. Still, the 1935 Braves with Ruth had the third-worst winning percentage in MLB history. With Bonds, they’re not that awful, but they do finish in last place and lose over 100 games. Near the end of the season, financial problems cause a change in ownership, and with a week left in the season Bonds is told he won’t be back with the team next year. Bonds declares he wants to play again in 1936, but receives no offers from any of the 16 Major League teams. Bonds and many others suspect he’s been blacklisted by Commissioner Landis, but it’s decades before this is proven conclusively.
|1935 Braves w/ Ruth||38|
|1935 Yankees w/ Bonds||50||+12|
|2007 Giants w/ Bonds||71|
|2007 Giants w/ Ruth||83||+12|
|Ruth, Ruth, 1986-2007||12817||.348||1256||3078||3||.481||.805|
- Bonds’s career batting average was 25 points higher in our experiment, and would place him 44th all-time. Ruth’s career average from 1986-2007 would place him 5th all-time (up from 10th for his “original” career).
- Bonds’ 442 career home runs would place him in a tie with Dave Kingman for 34th all-time (down from 1st). Ruth’s 1256 would put him in 1st, with 501 more than Henry Aaron.
- Bonds’ 2339 RBI would be better than Ruth’s totals for the same time period (though with the advantage of Ruth spending four years as primarily a pitcher), and would be the Major League record for six decades until Ruth breaks it as a Giant. Henry Aaron is the only other player to ever drive in 2000+ RBI.
- Bonds’ 460 1914-1935 stolen bases would drop him from 32nd all-time to 47th (and with exactly one less steal than his father, Bobby Bonds, who stole 461).
- Bonds’s 1914-1935 OBP would move him from 6th to 3rd all-time. Ruth would stay at 2nd all-time, but would be even closer to Ted Williams’ career record of .482.
- Bonds’ 1914-1935 SLG would drop him from 6th to 34th. Ruth would still own the career SLG mark, but his lead over Ted Williams would balloon from 56 points to 171.
|Postseason Career Stats||Games||AB||AVG||HR||RBI||OBP||SLG|
- Bonds’ 7 World Series home runs with the Yankees would place him in a tie for 10th on the all-time career World Series list. Babe Ruth’s 33 postseason home runs as a Giant would be a career postseason record (9 more than Manny Ramirez’s 24).
- Bonds’ 24 World Series RBI would be tied for 8th all-time. Ruth’s 80 postseason RBI would tie Bernie Williams’ Major League record.
- Bonds’ OBP in five World Series with the Yankees would set career World Series and postseason records. Ruth’s postseason OBP with the Giants would place him 9th all-time (down from 8th).
- Bonds’ SLG would be the 7th-best career World Series mark.
|Team Win Differential|
- In terms of regular season team wins, Bonds comes out ahead by a slim margin — an average of about 1.5 games per season.
- When it comes to titles, Ruth’s teams won seven World Series and ten pennants over his career — he was 3-0 in World Series with the Red Sox, and 4-3 in World Series as a Yankee. With those same teams, Bonds won four World Series and five pennants, all with the Yankees. (The one World Series loss was in 1927, a year Ruth’s team won the Series. Three of Bonds’ World Series wins came in years that the team did not win the pennant with Ruth.)
- Bonds made the playoffs seven times in his career. The Pirates won the NL East three times in his last three years in Pittsburgh, losing in the NLCS each time. The Giants won three division titles and one wild card with Bonds, losing three times in the NLDS, and winning the NL pennant once. With Ruth, the Pirates never made the playoffs, but Ruth leads the Giants to seven division titles and eight playoff appearances. The Giants also go deeper into the playoffs with Ruth, appearing in 7 NL Championship Series and 4 World Series.
Before we leave you, a final thought from Paul Bessire of WhatIfSports.com:
The most interesting thing about this exercise to me has been the affect on the two playersĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ teams. If the debate over which player is better can be answered by the question, who dominated more over his league (and would thus be most impressive in the other playerĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s era), the answer is clearly Ruth and most should have known that going into this project. But, if the more appropriate question is, who was more valuable to his teamĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s success, the line is blurred.
We hope you’ve enjoyed Bonds vs. Ruth. Feel free to leave praise and suggestions for future projects in the comments. And coming soon…. Aaron vs. Oh
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