Bonds surpassed Babe Ruth’s 74-year-old single-season walks record Wednesday, notching his 170th, 171st and 172nd walks of the season. The left fielder hit a record-tying 70th home run the next day in his final at-bat against the Houston Astros, and followed it up Friday by breaking Mark McGwire’s record with numbers 71 and 72 in his first two at-bats against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Lost behind the hype surrounding the home run race, many have failed to realize the significance of breaking the walks record in the same year. Every extra free pass issued to Bonds meant one less opportunity to hit the ball out of the park. Even with pitchers pitching around Bonds at a greater rate than they did with McGwire during his 70 home run campaign, the Giant slugger surpassed the home run record with two games to spare. He finished with astronomical totals of 73 home runs and 177 walks, capping one of the greatest seasons in history.
Rickey Henderson is next on the list of amazing accomplishments we’ve witnessed this week. Last night, he picked up the 3,000th hit of his career, becoming only the 25th player to accomplish that feat. Over the years, the speedster has broken a host of records, including the career stolen base and walks marks.
But the one that he set this week was the greatest accomplishment of them all. Thursday night, he surpassed Ty Cobb’s 73-year-old record for career runs, hitting a home run off the left field fence to break the record. With Bonds’ home run chase, Henderson has received little media attention, and many have overlooked the importance of the runs record. But at the end of the day, isn’t the point of the game to score more runs than the other team?
And one team has done a historic job of outscoring its opponents. The Seattle Mariners won 116 games, tying the major league record for wins in a season. The Mariners — who lost superstars Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez in consecutive seasons — built their squad around an outstanding pitching staff and balanced hitting. Amazingly, even after their record-breaking performance, some have penned them as only joint favorites with the New York Yankees to capture their first World Series title.
The baseball world also bade farewell to two of the game’s all-time legends. Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn — sure-fire members of the Hall of Fame class of 2006 — played their final contests this weekend.
Ripken ended his career in Camden Yards Saturday in a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox, flying out in his final at-bat. He will be remembered most fondly for the Streak — playing in an incredible 2,632 consecutive contests.
But Ripken also revolutionized the shortstop position. Before his arrival, managers placed a premium on shortstops with strong defensive skills, generally quick and agile players. But the Oriole great, while still possessing Gold Glove defensive skills, leaves the game as only the sixth person to get both 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. Now, one can see a plethora of shortstops with a blend of defense prowess and power at the plate, such as Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra.
Gwynn closed his career yesterday at Qualcomm Stadium. The Padre has been hampered by injuries all season, limiting him to spot starts and pinch-hitting duties. But fans around the country will never forget Gwynn’s remarkable batting eye and his ability to make contact in the toughest of situations. He has batted over .300 every season since his rookie year in 1982 — an NL record 19 consecutive seasons — and flirted with .400 during the 1994 strike-shortened season, ending with a .394 average. Gwynn also holds an NL record-tying eight batting titles.
Baseball has offered us memorable moments throughout the course of the week. As it unfolds before our eyes during this difficult time, it is hard to grasp the historical significance of these recent events. But in light of these incredible achievements, one would be hard pressed to find a week greater than this one in the archives of the national pastime.