What If...Barry Bonds Had Become a Member of the Atlanta Braves?
The perception of the Atlanta Braves, especially in the 1990s, was is one of class and front office genius.
The same club that managed to develop Tom Glavine and John Smoltz into future Hall of Famers and turn David Justice and Ron Gant into household names is also the same club that ensures team members are not prima donnas, don't wear jewelry, and aren't complete jackasses to the media or fans.
Imagine the dynamic of the team if Barry Bonds came to town.
The Bonds circus in Atlanta was closer to reality than you may realize. In the spring of 1992, the Braves had a trade worked out that would send pitcher Alejandro Pena and OF Keith Mitchell and a player-to-be-named to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Barry Bonds.
The deal was so far along that then Braves' GM John Schuerholz was prepping the press release announcing the deal.
Apparently, one Jim Leyland did not agree with the trade. Leyland was at that point in his career the Pirates' manager. When he heard about the trade, he blew up, frustrated with the salary dumping that Pirates' management had going on. The Pirates then backed out of the deal, essentially killing what would have been one of the biggest acquisitions in Braves' history.
But how would the Atlanta Braves look in the early 90s with Barry Bonds playing left field?
It's honestly difficult to say. For one, had the trade gone through and Bonds become a Brave, Atlanta likely would not have been able to afford signing Greg Maddux the following season. That alone is almost as difficult to picture: A Maddux-less Braves team from the 90s.
Bonds was the perennial player of the 1990s. He won three MVPs and eight Gold Gloves. With an incredible mix of power, speed, and defensive ability, Bonds possessed the tools to be the best player ever to play the game. As an Atlanta Brave in 1992, he could've come in to play left field while Ron Gant moved to center and Dave Justice played in right field. That's a trio that would've combined for 72 home runs.
One could argue having Bonds in the lineup for the Braves 1992 World Series against the Blue Jays could've given the team the extra bat they needed to win the series.
It was one dominated by tight low-scoring affairs, one in which four of the six games were determined by one run. You think having a dominating presence at the plate like Bonds wouldn't have helped. You could all but mark that series down as a win for the Braves if Bonds is batting third or cleanup in the order.
The positives of a 1992 World Series with Bonds must be weighed with the negatives of potentially having a 1995 World Series without Greg Maddux. In that six-game series win over the Indians, Maddux posted a complete game win in Game 1 and ended the series with a 2.25 ERA.
Not to mention the starting LF for the Braves in the '95 season was Ryan Klesko, who belted three homers in the series. It's possible the Braves would've still won the series with Bonds instead of either Maddux or Klesko, but obviously the chances are pretty good with what the real Braves lineup did against Cleveland.
Beyond just stats and championships, how would the life of Barry Bonds have been different? No question the Braves' organization is run with a button-down, business like mentality. Bonds wouldn't have been allowed to wear jewelry and arrogance would not be tolerated long. Even Gary Sheffield was forced into the Braves' regime and asked to not wear jewelry.
This isn't to suggest Bonds wouldn't have gotten involved in steroids still. No team or organization is immune to PEDs regardless of how high expectations may be. More than likely had Bonds become a clubhouse cancer in Atlanta, his bags may have been packed even before the 1995 World Series.
At the end of the day (and the end of the 20th century), it's safe to say the vast majority of Braves' fans are happier looking back on the glory years of the 90's as being pitching-dominated with three stellar professionals. They're much more content with hard-working role players (Sid Bream, Mark Lemke) than big names.
The "could have been" crowd will wonder if the Braves of the 90s would have won more titles with Bonds, shaking the annoying monkey of being the "Buffalo Bills of baseball" off their proverbial backs. The rest of us will look back on the decade that was as one with a truly great team, not just one truly great player.
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