ATLANTA - Barry Bonds turned 38 last month. This is his 18th year in professional baseball.
And 10 years ago, he was almost an Atlanta Brave.
In the spring of 1992, then-Pirates general manager Ted Simmons had a trade set: Bonds to Atlanta for closer Alejandro Pena and young outfielder Keith Mitchell.
Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland was less than thrilled at the prospect of playing without his All-Star left fielder, and he vetoed the deal.
The next year, Bonds ended up in San Francisco and the rest is history. When he eventually goes into the Hall of Fame, he'll likely wear a Giants cap - not the Braves one that Atlantans had hoped for a decade ago.
In the wake of Bonds' 73-home run, 177-walk season last year, Braves pitcher Greg Maddux suggested Bonds, who leads the Giants into Turner Field tonight for a three-game series, deserves his status as the game's living legend.
"He's always been the best player in the game," said Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner. "Is he the best ever? What do I know? I only know what happened in the '90s. He's always been a complete player. He didn't have to hit 30 extra home runs to convince me of that."
So how good is Bonds? Where does he rank among the game's all-time greats? "In everything - not just in baseball - I don't think it's fair to try to compare past to present," Braves reliever Mike Remlinger said. "If we could go back and play on that same field with those players from the past, we could say, 'Yeah, I think this guy's the greatest,' or, 'No, this guy is better.' But we can't do that."
In Bonds' case, comparisons are inevitable, snap judgments irresistible. Does last year's .328 average and 137 RBI, not to mention his home run and walk totals, qualify as the greatest single season in baseball history?
"I don't think there can be an argument for what he is - hands down, the best player in the game today," Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling said. "Barry is a superstar in any era. But I don't know if he hits 70 riding trains, playing in those old huge parks, with a ball that's twice as soft as the new balls, with the older larger strike zone. And let's face it, 15 years ago, you could drop a hitter and never think twice about it. The game is just so different today. But for my money, there's no one even close to him right now."
Said Braves coach Pat Corrales: "At the time I saw Willie Mays, I'd never seen a guy play baseball like that - to cover the ground he covered in center field, to do all the things he could do offensively. I was catching in Philadelphia one year when we kept him from breaking the record for home runs in September. He had 17. The record was 18. We stopped him, all right. He hit one about six inches from the top of the wall. He was just better than anybody else.
"That's kind of the way Barry is now. A couple of our players were talking about him the other day. They said, 'We're good players, right? But then there's this guy. He belongs on the next shelf up."'
Reach Bill Zack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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