Barry Bonds owns a multitude of MLB records and his all-time intentional walks mark is one of the most unbreakable ones in all of sports.
They say that records are meant to be broken, but a select few would require a monumental feat to break them.
Over his 22-year career, Barry Bonds was the most revered hitter in all of baseball. He struck so much fear into pitchers that some opted to not even face him. Instead of taking the risk of allowing a moonshot home run or RBI extra-base hit, opposing teams often elected for the safer option, which called for Bonds to be granted a free pass to first base via the intentional walk.
This became a regular occurrence for Bonds regardless of the situation at hand.
With runners in scoring position pitchers often did not take their chances as Bonds racked up a career 626 intentional bases on balls with 350 of them coming in two-out situations. Even in plate appearances where the bases were empty, some pitchers still refused to face Bonds; he recorded 41 intentional bases on balls in such situations.
In one memorable plate appearance, Bonds was intentionally walked with the bases loaded in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. At the time, he became just the fifth batter ever to receive a free pass with the bases loaded.
He was even intentionally walked in the home run derby. Well, kind of.
In total, Bonds amassed an MLB record 688 intentional walks over his illustrious career. It is a record that still stands today, and it is safe to say that it will never, ever be broken.
To put it into perspective of just how unbreakable this record is, one could simply take a glance at the all-time leaderboard. The rest of the top 10 is filled with Hall of Famers or players who will one day etch their name in Cooperstown, like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. Pujols ranks second all-time with 311 followed by fellow St. Louis Cardinals icon Stan Musical with 298. Even if you combine both of their all-time tallies, it still falls 79 intentional walks short of Bonds’ mark.
Now if one were to take the current top three active leaders for intentional walks and combine their tallies, it still would not reach Bonds’ all-time total. Pujols, Cabrera and Joey Votto have combined for 685 over 6,940 total games, which still falls short of Bonds’ 688 in 2,986 games.
One could even remove Bonds’ 113 intentional walks from his seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and he still would rank first.
The reason why Bonds holds the insurmountable all-time intentional walks record is because of his video game-like run during the early 2000s.
By the end of the 1998 season, Bonds had recorded 298 intentional walks, which tied him with Stan Musial for the all-time lead. He then became the all-time leader in April of the following season after a two-out, 9th-inning walk against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a one-run game.
But the seven-time NL MVP was just getting started.
From the 2001-2004 seasons, Bonds recorded 284 intentional walks. This figure alone would place him at fourth in the all-time leaderboard behind Pujols, Musial and Aaron but also 24 above fourth-place Willie McCovey. Over these four seasons, Bonds recorded 45 intentional walks than strikeouts, which attributed to his MLB-high .559 OBP and combined 43.4 bWAR.
What is most incredible about the 284 mark was that it accounted for more than any team in baseball over this period. Just one of the many remarkable Bonds stats.
Now, for anyone to surpass the 688 mark, it would take a heroic effort and one that might not ever transpire. Hitters like Bonds do not come around in every era. What he accomplished over his career will just not be matched down the road. He holds numerous records but this one in particular is simply astounding.
The thought of a player eventually breaking this record is difficult to fathom because of what exactly it would require to do so.
If a player racks up 22 seasons in the majors like Bonds did, he would need to average at least 31.4 intentional walks per season to pass him. Since it became an official stat in 1955, only four players have recorded multiple seasons with at least 31 intentional walks; Bonds has nine such seasons followed by Pujols at three and both Ryan Howard and Willie Covey with two each. Babe Ruth likely may have hit this target multiple times in his career but unfortunately, statisticians did not keep track of this stat during his era.
In today’s game, a world class talent like an Aaron Judge or Cody Bellinger could possibly reach hit the 31 intentional walks in a season mark. Judge was only intentionally walked 11 times, a career high, in his Rookie of the Year season and Bellinger took a career-high 21 free passes last year as he won NL MVP. But for a player to do so for multiple seasons over their entire career is not something anyone would bet on.
When scouring over the current players that could possibly reach the 688 target, no one remotely stands out. The top three active leaders, Pujols, Cabrera and Votto, are all years removed from their prime days so none of them are candidates.
One name that may pose somewhat of a challenge is Mike Trout. His 100 intentional walks ranks most among active players in their 20s. But for him to surpass the 688 mark, he would need to average 45.4 intentional walks over his next 13 seasons. This is extremely unlikely when taking into account his career-high for a season stands at a mere 25. But who knows, maybe his prime could reach the level of early 2000s Barry Bonds, which may be a possibility.
Bonds is the king of intentional walks. He holds the record for the most in a season (120 in 2004), postseason (21), World Series (7) and in a single nine-inning game (4, twice). He also racked up the most intentional walks against Hall of Fame pitchers with 31, including 18 coming against the Braves’ famed pitching trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
Do not expect any player to break these records any time soon either.
Maybe one day there will be a new all-time home run leader, but Barry Bonds’ intentional walks record will forever be known as one of the most unattainable records in baseball history.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.