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Swing and a Miss

(AP Photo)
America's writers are taking home run swings at the home run king – even when it's a bit outside the journalistic strike zone.

With Barry Bonds having tied the all-time longball record Saturday night – he'll be looking to break it tonight through Thursday against my Nats – it's gotten to the point where almost anything that can be said about him is being said about him.

Take for example today's exclusive -- Oh, wait. I mean: take for example today's EXCLUSIVE story about Bonds. (You know something's big when it's all caps.)

In today's piece, Barry Bonds is not just a steroid user, but also something of a cyborg. A mechanical protective guard he places on his right elbow is now being viewed with suspicion. According to the EXCLUSIVE from Michael Witte, an illustrator who studies pitcher's mechanics for baseball teams:

Beyond his alleged steroid use, Barry Bonds is unquestionably guilty of the use of something that confers extraordinarily unfair mechanical advantage: the "armor" that he wears on his right elbow. Amid the press frenzy over Bonds' unnatural bulk, the true role of the object on his right arm has simply gone unnoticed.

This is unfortunate, because by my estimate, Bonds' front arm "armor" has contributed no fewer than 75 to 100 home runs to his already steroid-questionable total.

I'd heard a lot of things about Barry Bonds – being a frequent and pathetic listener of sports radio – but had never heard somebody try to pin down an exact number of homers that his arm guard helped with. And I wasn't quite sure how one would generate such a number.

(It reminded me more than a little of David Brooks saying on "Meet the Press" that if U.S. forces left, 10,000 Iraqis a month would die – then admitting he plucked the numbers out of the air immediately thereafter.)

So I decided to pick up the phone and talk to some, you know, people who cover the sports world.

First I called Charlie McCarthy of CBS Sportsline, who's covered baseball for 20 years. I asked him about the armor – which everyone can see, mind you, and other players wear – and what he thought of Witte's calculation. "The arm guard that he wears makes him feel more comfortable, naturally. Knowing that if he gets hit on the arm, it's not going hurt as much. That's gonna give him a small advantage in the batter's box." He continued: "But how you can translate that into specific numbers, that's pulling numbers out of the air."

Then I chatted with Andy Pollin, from DC's SportsTalk 980 radio station – a guy who has truly heard the grassy knoll-iest theories about Bonds. "I think with Bonds things are escalating to the point where he's going to get accused of kidnapping the Lindburgh baby." He continued on about the 'anything goes' environment surrounding Bonds. "When somebody is accused of cheating it opens the door to other suspicions, and it's fair game for all sorts of accusations."

And my favorite response – which of course is but a euphemism for 'the response I most agree with' – came from another CBS Sportsline writer, Mike Freeman, who wrote this in an email:

I had to make sure I read the piece twice to make sure I wasn't reading 'The Onion.'

If this isn't a joke, it's just flat out wrong for so many reasons. First, as someone who has interviewed Bonds a handful of times -- and actually asked about his armor -- while the armor seems to offer mental comfort to Bonds, it can actually be somewhat uncomfortable to him. Remember, Bonds might arguably be the best fastball hitter in history, and such a cumbersome device will only hamper his swing, not significantly aid it. I don't care how many videos you examine or angles you study, that kind of construct does not significantly help the swing. If it did, every Major Leaguer would use it, and as of now, only a minority do.

Second, even if it did greatly aid the swing, there is no way -- no way in hell -- it would add dozens or even a hundred homeruns to Bonds' total. That's just insane.

Lastly, there is plenty to hit Bonds over. He has the temperament of a recently Tasered bull and his alleged steroid use is one of those things that greatly helped him reach Hank Aaron. (There have been studies done by the East Germans that demonstrate increased testosterone help improve judgment of objects in three dimensional space, an obvious help for a baseball slugger.) Criticize Bonds over those things; there is no need to start making stuff up about him now.

Baseball types love numbers. Man, do they love numbers. Seamheads love stats like on-base percentage, late game fielding percentage and strikeouts-against-lefties-during-day-games-with-men-on-second-with-the-temperature-below-72-degrees. (I made that last one up. I think.) But there are limits to things we can quantify or predict. And even though he's an easy target, we shouldn't just lob accusatory grenades at Barry Bonds without any basis.
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