Bonds' new numbers merit MVP honors
By Tim Keown
Page 2 columnist

The debate over the National League MVP is likely to get louder and less rational over the next five weeks. But f you need hard evidence, just watch the Giants play three games in Colorado this week without Barry Bonds.

Without Bonds, the Giants are the Padres, only older.

In a broad sense, Bonds vs. Pujols is an argument of New Numbers vs. Old Numbers. By Old Numbers -- the subjective snowballing of batting average, homers and RBIs -- Pujols wins. He's got those numbers, and they're impressive.

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds is more than just a sentimental pick as MVP.
But the New Number revolutionaries are suddenly mainstream, and they've managed to tear down the fašade of the tried-and-true trio of average-HR-RBI. Bonds has helped, of course, by accentuating the importance of on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) with his preposterous power and walk totals.

Billy Beane and "Moneyball" author Michael Lewis helped the cause, too, by putting the whole idea of New Numbers into a digestible package, and onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Bill James can also claim this achievement, but he was the leader of the revolution before it went mainstream. The success of his hugely entertaining books hinged on cultists and curiosity seekers.

Granted, the New Numbers are kind to Pujols -- a .429 OBP, a 1.102 OPS -- and his season shouldn't be demeaned simply because it doesn't measure up to the one Bonds is having. In fact, nobody measures up to Bonds, not in the past 30 years, anyway.

Hypothetical, of course, but if you put Bonds in the middle of a lineup with Jim Edmonds, Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen and Tino Martinez, you might be looking at 40 fewer walks and a 150-RBI season. As it stands, Bonds changes every game with a fading Benito Santiago behind him and Marquis Grissom in front of him.

And over the next five weeks, we'll see Bonds working to the accompaniment of something truly rare: public sentiment. Bonds -- robbed of the 1991 MVP through lack of sentiment -- is now seen as a guy fighting through adversity after his father's long illness and death.

America loves to embrace a story like this one. The circumstances can serve to humanize a guy who has always resisted humanizing. Barry might not change, but the perception of Barry will change.

Sentiment shouldn't have anything to do with the MVP award, but it might sway a voter or two. Bonds shouldn't win because he has been phenomenal under duress. He should win because he deserves it.

This Week's List

  • When the ESPYs get around to giving out an award for lifetime achievement, one guy has my vote: Jon Drummond.

  • It's kind of like saying if you strike out, the guy up starts his at-bat with two strikes: The rule that any sprinter who false-starts after the first false start is disqualified, regardless of whether he false-started the first time -- got that? -- is as insane as the sentence necessary to explain it.

  • As far as career moves go, this would be like quitting a CEO job because your commute takes you past a garbage dump: Pedro Martinez, suggesting he might leave Boston after his contract expires because some sports-talk radio hosts and their callers thought he was faking his illness when he missed last Thursday's start.

  • Gotta be a fluke, is all: How does college football survive -- and even thrive -- without a few meaningless exhibition games?

  • You think Alan Trammell has a tough job?: I didn't see any hideous bawling fits, but the best television moment of the Little League World Series occurred when a manager came out to the mound and told his quietly crying catcher, "Don't worry about it. You know your dad just wants the best for you."

  • Just for the heck of it: Ivan Calderon.

  • Maybe Jeff Nelson was right: The Mariners, working their way down.

  • Welcome to the first installment of Fashion Sense for Little Leaguers: Kids, do whatever you want with your pantlegs, but for the love of God and country find a cap that fits your head and put the damn thing on straight.

  • A nation pleads -- can you tell the one about the Slumpbuster again?: Will there ever again be a televised game involving Mark Grace that doesn't include an in-game discussion with Mark Grace?

  • In a tabloid game in a tabloid time, he managed to stay dull and classy at the same time: Pete Sampras.

  • If it's true the Jets were offered Mark Brunell and declined to show interest, there's only one question to ask: What the hell?

  • Not to get all macabre on you, but given what's happened to quarterbacks this preseason, here's a chilling thought: Vinny Testaverde in an exhibition game, rolling right, can't find anybody open ...

  • If you didn't understand the damn thing, you'd think the guy who wrote it was working his way through a bottle of Popov: A headline this week read, "Spurned by Grbac, Jets get Husak"

  • Rod Beck update: 18 for 18.

  • And finally, this week's assignment: Compare and contrast -- at what point in history did the Heisman become a preseason award, and why?

    Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.





  • THE LIST

    ALSO SEE:


    Tim Keown Archive

    Keown: Preseason profiting

    Keown: From baseball to Clarett

    Keown: David Stern live!

    Keown: Great expectations

    Keown: Bring us your tired former broadcasters





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