Barry Bonds is a divisive figure in baseball. There are those who recognize him as the greatest hitter of all time, and the true home run king; while others have chosen to ignore his career, and refuse to recognize the fact that he hit 762 big flies. While there don't seem to be many people that are in between on the matter, there's at least one thing that we can all agree on: Barry Bonds was the most feared hitter that baseball has ever seen.
In his career, Bonds was walked 2,558 times, which is better than second place (Rickey Henderson) by 368 walks. He was intentionally walked 688 times, which bests second place (Albert Pujols) by 392 free passes. Bonds was treated like no other hitter that has ever walked to the plate, and on May 28th, 1998, Buck Showalter intentionally walked the slugger with the bases loaded.
Those who watched him play will always remember his presence at the plate, and understand that the chances of ever seeing someone like Bonds again are incredibly unlikely. His most famous accomplishments are undoubtedly the all-time home run record, as well as the single-season home run record; however, he has another that's criminally underreported and just as astonishing.
In 2004, three years after Bonds hit 73 home runs, he was walked 232 times, with 120 coming intentionally (both of which are single-season records). However, that's not what the focus of this article is; it's the fact that in 2004, he reached base 376 times, but only had 373 official at-bats. In the history of Major League Baseball, he's the only player to ever do so, and no one else has even come close.
This top 10 comprises five seasons from Bonds, three from Ted Williams, and one each from Babe Ruth and John McGraw (special thanks to BtBs contributing editor Spencer Bingol for putting this together). Other than Bonds himself, and ignoring McGraw for a moment whose included season came before the modern era of baseball, Williams has come the closest to safely reaching base more times than he had official at bats, and he didn't really come close at all. No one has even eclipsed the .900 mark other than Bonds, and he only was able to do it once.
Bonds' home run records may ultimately fall, as there are more than a few players in the game today that might have a legitimate shot, but it's nearly impossible to imagine someone reaching base more times than they had at-bats. Despite an age with sluggers such as Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and many others, they simply don't strike the same sense of fear into their opponents that Bonds did.
In 2014, Stanton's most recent full-season, he was walked 94 times, with 24 of them coming intentionally. As for Harper and Trout, their best years in terms of total walks came in 2015 (124/15), and 2013 (110/10), respectively; but neither one was within 100 walks of Bonds' 2004 season. Of course, equaling or besting Bonds' record is more than just about walks, but it's safe to say that it's an important factor.
Each member of the list above walked at least 119 times. Even in Williams' historic 1941 season, in which he hit .406, he only mustered a ratio of .735 (335 times safely reaching base vs. 456 at-bats). Of course, that's nothing to scoff at, as Williams produced the fourth best value of anyone in the modern era, but even that didn't come close to Bonds (1.008).
With all the records in baseball, this is truly one of the most ignored. When the discussion of "most unbreakable records" pops up, the most frequently referenced are Bonds' home run totals, Nolan Ryan's 5,714 strikeouts, Cy Young's win-loss record, Cal Ripken's consecutive game's played streak, and Joe DiMaggio's 56-hit game streak. While each of those could undoubtedly remain standing until our sun has depleted its core and eventually turns into a white dwarf, it's time we start recognizing Bonds' 2004 record-setting season. It's not as easy to remember as the various accomplishments mentioned above, but it's worthy of being in the conversation as one of baseball's most illustrious and unbreakable records.
Matt Goldman | beyondtheboxscore.com | March 18, 2016