Bonds and the elbow pad

The hot cheating story of the day is Bonds and his elbow pad. Over at Editor and Publisher, Michael Witte argues that it’s actually a mechanical aid that helps his swing. Check it out, he’s got six ways he thinks that monstrosity affects the swing. It’s interesting speculation:

1) The apparatus is hinged at the elbow. It is a literal “hitting machine” that allows Bonds to release his front arm on the same plane during every swing. It largely accounts for the seemingly magical consistency of every Bonds stroke.

I think it makes a little too much of his Home Run Derby performance, and too little of the consistent swing he showed before wearing the pad, but the possibility that protective gear might have a secondary benefit is fascinating.

The only thing I’d take issue with is this:

At the moment, Bonds’ apparatus enjoys “grandfathered” status. Similar devices are presently denied to average major leaguers, who must present evidence of injury before receiving an exemption.

This is not true, and pretty easily verified: in 2002, when the “crackdown” on body armor happened, Bonds was allowed to wear a compliant elbow pad because he had a medical exemption (see here, elsewhere), as required by the rules implemented then.

We’ve seen proposals before that players hit on the pad shouldn’t be awarded a free base, but that only addresses the all-plunking side of this (that you get extra HBP and better plate coverage). If Whitte’s article spurs baseball to look into whether this kind of gear can confer an extra mechanical advantage, I’m all for it, if only because I’m as interested in anyone to see if there’s been some quality cheating going on under everyone’s noses for years.

(thanks to the several readers who bugged me to write this up)


#1 Spanky on 08.06.07 at 1:18 pm

I read the article by Witte and immediately thought about The Cheaters Guide. You already beat me to the punch with your comments.

I’m not a fan of Bonds…maily because he’s always been more concerned about himself and his records. At the same time, I don’t feel a need to “get Barry” as some people do. I just would like to pass on the past-time of baseball to my kids as healthy as when I started enjoying it.

Here’s to hoping there is some investigation into his “armor”. It’s one thing to have armor…it’s totally different to modify it to provide benefit.

#2 M's Fan in CO Exile on 08.06.07 at 4:24 pm

Great write-up Derek. The story seems at the same time to be both intriguing and something a person reading it is prone to discount. I don’t know what to make of it, more than to say, imagine if a golfer walked onto course with one of those “perfect swing devices” that they sell at 2am on t.v. infomercials. People would have a legitimate gripe. If the arm pad gives Bonds even a modest improvement in areas that other major leaguers rely completely on muscle memory and repetition to achieve, then, yeah, I think there’s something to this.

It’s something different than complaining about what the racquet improvements in tennis or club improvements in golf have done to those games. Here a non-necessary device may aid a player in performing consistent motions necessary to the game. If I were as rich as Bonds, why not set out to design the perfect swing aid to help as he ages? Imagine a back brace for a pitcher that keeps the torso aligned and slots the arm perfectly for his desired mechanics – with the excuse of back problems, of course.

#3 JeffN_Bham on 08.06.07 at 8:00 pm

Regarding Witte’s “grandfather” point:

I don’t think he was trying to say that only Bonds has an opportunity for the advantage, but that non-injured players are at a disadvantage because they have no grounds to apply for an exemption to use an alleged “hitting machine”. The argument regarding the benefit of keeping Bond’s swing locked in during periods of fatigue is fascinating.

#4 DMZ on 08.06.07 at 8:10 pm

I don’t see that in the sentence as written, but it’s possible that’s what he meant.

#5 Mat on 08.06.07 at 10:27 pm

I completely lost confidence in the author when he claimed his elbow pad helped Bonds hit “no fewer than 75 to 100″ of his HR. From what I can gather from Bonds’ baseball cards online, he started wearing an elbow pad in 1994, though it clearly was not the same as he was wearing then. He’s hit 533 HR in that period. For the elbow pad to be solely responsible for a ~20% increase in HR sounds absurd and really makes it look like the author simply has an axe to grind, rather than a legitimate point to make.

#6 Evan on 08.07.07 at 2:40 pm

I actually hope Bonds is cheating with his elbow pad. That would be incredibly clever of him.

As a professional athlete, it is his job to find every advantage he can. He should have the pad outfitted with springs to aid the extention of his elbow.

#7 joser on 10.03.07 at 12:30 pm

Well, one of those “perfect swing devices” in golf would be the equivalent of a corked bat, which baseball already has lots of experience with (and punishes players for using).

I mostly don’t believe it (though the pad certainly gives Bonds an advantage in plate coverage). But I do think it would be hilarious if MLB forced him to remove it, and his home runs immediately dried up. Yes, he was cheating all along, but not with performance-enhancing drugs. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?