Three ballplayers

This is a great time to be a baseball fan.

The next home run by Barry Bonds of the Giants will tie him with Hank Aaron at 755 for the all-time lead.

Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees will be the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs. He’s sitting at 499 going into tonight’s game. At age 32, A-Rod has the best shot of eventually passing Bonds for the career lead in home runs.

And Tom Glavine, when he pitches tonight for the Mets, will be going for his 300th victory, the milestone that is a pitcher’s sure ticket to the Hall of Fame.

In a game that is as hard to play as baseball at the major league level, these are three extraordinarily talented and tough men. Fans should remember that Bonds, around whom swirls the question of steroid use, is a fantastic hitter, the student of both his very talented major league father, the late Bobby Bonds, and the incredible Willie Mays, his godfather.

Steroids might make a player stronger, but they can’t bestow talent or a superior understanding of the art of hitting a baseball. And Bonds is quite possibly the most feared hitter of all-time, a fact testified to by the extraordinary number of times he has walked. Other teams are loath to pitch to him, and his achievement suggests that there is a practical upper limit to the numer of home runs any batter can hit in a season on the simple premise that opposing teams will pitch around him.

In 2004, when Bonds hit .362 with 45 home runs, he walked an astonishing 232 times, including 120 intentional walks. His on-base percentage was .609 and his slugging percentage .812. He struck out only 41 times.

Had teams not pitched around him, and Bonds only walked a still-impressive 100 times, he would have had an additional 132 at-bats. At the rate he was hitting home runs that season, one every 8.29 at-bats, that could have meant another 16 home runs for the year, for a total of 61. He would have passed Aaron for the career lead a while back.

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