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NOVEMBER 6, 2003
The Inimitable Barry Bonds
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com

By now, most dyed in the wool baseball fans are familiar with the concept of “OPS”, a.k.a. “Production.”  OPS is the ellipsis used to denote On Base Average plus Slugging Percentage.  There have been studies performed which authenticate the relationship between OPS and run production.  To paraphrase Branch Rickey, runs are residue of OPS.

Batters who fashion a high OPS are both powerful and valuable in baseball – much like the Queen piece is on a chess board or how an EP of Tone Loc’s “Funky Cold Medina” is at a keg party.  They are one of the major ingredients of a winning recipe.

Batters who fashion a very high OPS are even better.  Batters who fashion a really, really, really high OPS are……….well, you probably get the idea.

That is the story of OPS in less than 130 words.  Now, here is the exceedingly colossal related accomplishment:

In 2003, Barry Bonds had an OPS that was more than “500 points” (meaning .500) above the average for his league.  Precisely, it was .506 above league average.

What is the big deal here?  Simple - in the entire history of Major League Baseball, only three batters have ever finished any season with an OPS 500 points (or better) above the average of their league:  Barry Bonds and two other guys named Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

The “OPS+500” club is indeed a select circle.

For a point of comparison, if one were to ratchet the 500 points down to 450 points (or more) above league average, the list is nonetheless again short.  Rogers Hornsby, Tip O'Neill, Mark McGwire, and Lou Gehrig would join Barry, Babe and Ted.  That is a total of seven players – out of all batters to ever play the game.  It is also significant to note that only Bonds, Ruth, Williams and Hornsby had an OPS of 450 points (or better) above league average more than once.  

A fifty point drop and it still is an exclusive group.

[Insert infomercial spokesperson voice] But, wait, there’s more!

Ted Williams had an OPS 500 points (or more) above his league average twice: 1941 and 1957.  Babe Ruth did it three times: 1920, 1921 and 1923.  When Barry Bonds did it in 2003, it was also his third time – as he did it in 2001 and 2002.  

Therefore, only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have achieved this feat three times in a career.  Anytime a player does something that only he and Babe Ruth have done, in the history of baseball, that is momentous.

[Again, insert infomercial spokesperson voice] But, wait, there’s even more!

Note the years for Ruth and Bonds.  When Barry Bonds reached this mark in 2003, it was the third consecutive year for him.

Only one player in the entire history of Major League Baseball has ever finished a season with an OPS 500 points (or better) above the average of their league, for three years in a row.  That player is Barry Bonds.

There is a word that can be used to describe this triumph, and it sounds like “yu-'nEk.”  No, unique is not enough here.  What Bonds has done is simply inimitable.

With apologies to the late Robert Palmer……………

It's simply unavoidable.
The trend is irreversible.
The man is invincible

He's a natural law, and he leaves me in awe.
He deserves the applause, I surrender because,
He used to look good to me, but now I find him,
Simply inimitable.

If Barry Bonds tacks on another “OPS+500” season in 2004, it will be number four for him and he will be the all-time leader – breaking the tie with Babe Ruth at three seasons each.  There is an excellent chance that this chase will not even register on the “MLB” radar next year.  If this shows true, it would be an injustice to Bonds, the game, and the fans.

Help fight the good fight.  Tell everyone you know about the “Bonds Race For OPS+500 x4” in 2004.  Spread the word.  And, if they ask where you saw this, tell them you saw it in the “Scrawling On The Scorecard.”  [wink, wink.]


Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com.  Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season.  Steve can be contacted at sots@netshrine.com

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