Barry Bonds has never met Aaron Judge. Like everyone else, he’s watching from afar as the New York Yankees star makes a possible run at his all-time single season home run record of 73 set in 2001.
“Go for it,” Bonds said this week in an exclusive telephone interview from his home north of San Francisco. “The way he swings he might as well hit one a day and get past me. I don’t care. Why not?”
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But Bonds would like to be in his seats at Oracle Park next season watching Judge play for the San Francisco Giants. It’s the chatter all over the San Francisco Bay Area right now and entirely possible considering Judge is a free agent after he concludes this historic season.
“I hope he signs here,” Bonds said. “Can it happen? I don’t know. It depends on what the Yankee payroll is. But we would love to have him, I’ll tell you that.”
Bonds is an independent contractor with the Giants in an honorary role and specifically said he doesn’t have any input on signing or trading for players. But as the team’s biggest fan and the all-time leader with 762 homers, he can certainly root, root, root for the home team.
At the same time Judge has been chasing Roger Maris and the 61-homer mark in New York, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals is at 698 homers and can become the first player to reach 700 since Bonds did it on Sept. 16, 2004.
Bonds loves Pujols for what he has done. He was around when Bonds last played in 2007.
“One of my guys,” Bonds said. “He’s a master of that art.”
But Bonds loves the 30-year-old Judge for what he still is projected to accomplish.
The Yankees set this all up this spring when they offered him a seven-year, $213.5 million extension. Judge turned it down. After a season for the ages, during which he could also win the Triple Crown in the American League, he’s approaching the possibility of Mike Trout money: 12 years, $426.5 million with the Los Angeles Angels.
The Yanks now say they will try to re-sign Judge in the offseason. They and the Giants certainly could both afford him.
“We in the Bay Area—he’s a Bay Area boy—we hope they don’t sign him, and we can get him,” Bonds said. “I would. He’s that good.”
Judge and Bonds are from the Bay Area. Bonds, the son of late Giants outfielder Bobby Bonds, grew up down the Peninsula from old Candlestick Park. Judge hails 90 minutes east of San Francisco in the Stockton area, and he was 9 years old when Bonds erased Mark McGwire’s three-year-old single-season home run record of 70.
Judge was a big Bonds and Giants fans, telling the San Francisco Chronicle in a recent interview that Bonds was the greatest hitter of all time, “in my opinion.”
There will forever be controversy surrounding Bonds’ home-run records because he played during Major League Baseball’s so-called steroid era. Bonds never failed a drug test, but his alleged association with performance enhancing drugs was well-documented in baseball’s Mitchell Report.
To this day, there are some who believe Bonds’ numbers are tainted, and that has cost him a shot so far at induction in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Bonds said he didn’t want to extensively comment about playing in that era.
“Because I have all the records, I don’t want to be a headline,” Bonds said. “Every era’s different. I played baseball hard. I’ll be gone one day, and I won’t have to listen to it anymore. I have three grandchildren. I’m 58 years old. Really?”
Judge isn’t one of the doubters. To him, Bonds’ numbers are legitimate.
“That’s the record,” Judge said specifically about the single-season mark. “I watched him do it. I stayed up late watching him do it. That’s the record. No one can take that from him.”
The fact is, Bonds is listed in the record books by MLB as the all-time leader in both categories. There is no asterisk, no ambiguity.
“It doesn’t matter what people say,” Bonds said. “In MLB it says Barry Bonds. That’s all that matters, right? Anyone can have their own opinion, and I respect their opinion, but MLB says 762 is the record, 73 is the record. Unless MLB changed something they’re still there.
“So [Judge] is correct. That guy has a chance to break a lot of those records. For sure.”
Bonds could very easily have landed with the Yankees when he left the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent after the 1992 season. The club made a massive offer to Bonds, giving him a deadline of several hours to decide.
Bonds recalled being upset about that deadline and walked out of his agent’s Beverly Hills office. The deadline passed, and by that time the Giants made their offer.
“I had the craziest feeling in my gut,” he said. “I didn’t care what the offer was. I was going home.”
Bonds hopes that in the end Judge will have the same feeling.
Bonds signed for chump change compared to the money that will be on the table now: six years, $43.75 million ($91.83 million in today’s dollars). According to records kept by Baseball Reference, Bonds earned $188.3 million in his 22-year career, less than what the Yanks already offered Judge, who is 30.
“He’s got a long way to go. He’s still at the beginning part of his career,” Bonds said. “I pray Aaron never gets hurt and has a long career. Right now, he’s still young. But does his potential look great? Woo. Is he going to make a lot of money? Woo.
“Would I bet on him? Hell, yes. It’s going to be a very interesting negotiation. I just hope we win.”
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