A season of unprecedented accomplishment and unrelenting scrutiny culminated for Barry Bonds yesterday with the news that he had won his seventh National League most valuable player award, and his fourth in a row -- proof that, no matter how closely his name is attached to an ongoing steroid scandal, his on-field performance continues to resonate across the country.
Both the seven MVP awards and the four consecutive are records; no other player has won more than three overall or two consecutive. At age 40, astoundingly, Bonds remains on a career trajectory that is at worst level, and at best still ascending.
"Some people are just gifted with a talent. I can't explain it. I don't have an answer for it. I don't understand why God has blessed me to do what I'm doing," Bonds said. "I'm grateful for it. . . . I'm so overwhelmed with this award. I can't explain it to anyone."
For Bonds, whose contract with the San Francisco Giants contains a $500,000 bonus incentive for winning the award, this season was not as outwardly spectacular as 2001, when he set an all-time record with 73 home runs, or 2002, when he batted .370 to win his first batting title.
However, by some measures it was the most productive season of his storied career. His on-base average of .609 was a record -- a figure no one (besides himself) in the last 47 years has come within 120 points of equaling. His 232 walks set another record, and his 45 homers (in only 373 at-bats), .362 batting average and .812 slugging percentage also led the league.
Not surprisingly, Bonds was a runaway winner, getting 24 of a possible 32 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre received six first-place votes and finished second, while St. Louis Cardinals teammates Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen each received one first-place vote and finished third and fourth, respectively.
However, Bonds's peers no longer provide suitable comparisons for his accomplishments. For that, one must turn to the pantheon of North American team sports (only the NHL's Wayne Gretzky, with nine, has won more MVP awards than Bonds) and to baseball's own giants.
This season, Bonds became the third member of baseball's 700-home run club, finishing the season with 703 and setting up an expected pursuit of Babe Ruth's 714 homers early next season, with Hank Aaron's record of 755 also within view.
The steroid question hung uncomfortably over Bonds's conference call with reporters yesterday afternoon, and he never addressed tough questions head-on.
Bonds, who has denied using illegal steroids in the past, has been linked to the ongoing federal probe into an alleged steroid distribution ring in the Bay Area, and Bonds's personal trainer, Greg Anderson, has been indicted in the investigation. On Oct. 16, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Anderson, on a recording obtained by the newspaper through an anonymous source, claims Bonds used steroids in 2003.
Bonds did not address a question about the Chronicle story, saying: "I don't really have an answer. I don't really care about this stuff. I don't owe anyone a response to anything."
Bonds, who had minor surgery on his knee after the season, said he plans to fulfill his Giants contract, which runs through 2006, then retire -- hopefully, he said, with a World Series ring to complete his career.
"I need to win a World Series. I've won enough individual awards," he said. "That thing not being in my life is what drives me more than anything else."