Barry Bonds and Walter White: Why Good Hitters Break Bad

Warning: The following post contains spoilers from the first five seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad.

With Breaking Bad‘s final season about to begin, fans of the intense drama wait in anticipation to see just how it will end, and just how badly it goes for the chemistry-teacher-turned-crystal-meth-kingpin Walter White. When we first met Walter, he was down on his luck, and a little too proud for his own good, but all around a good guy. We were rooting for him to do what was best to support his family, while he battled lung cancer and cooked meth so his kids could go to college after he was dead, and we wanted to like him. Over the course of five seasons, we saw Walt devolve into an amoral calculating killer and his aspirations grew from the Money Business to the Meth Business to the Empire Business. The story arc of Walter White has been compared to a tragic Greek hero, or a Shakespearean one, but I’m here today to compare him to baseball’s greatest antihero of the last 30 years: Mr. Barry Lamar Bonds.

We all know the story about how Barry Bonds’ head grew at the same rate as his ability to hit the long ball at the end of his career, but I have felt that Barry has gotten a bad rap from bitter baseball writers, and his intentions have been lost in their crusade of baseball morality. Barry Bonds was one of the most gifted athletes ever to swing a bat. People knew he was going to be great when he was a teenager. Barry, like Walt, was a guy that you wanted to like, for his raw ability if nothing else. While Walt was once an up-and-coming superstar in the field of chemistry, he largely underachieved after a falling out with his business partners at Gray Matter Technologies. Barry was never one to play nice with the media, going back to his early major league days with the Pittsburgh Pirates, feeling hurt by reporters for their attacks on his father, Bobby Bonds, during his playing days.

Then came the Steroid Era. Barry continued his superstar ways winning the National League MVP in 1990, ’92, and ’93. In the mid-90s, He continued to play at a high level, but his play was overshadowed by juiced up cartoon characters who could hit dingers like the Gas-House Gorillas. When Bonds saw inferior hitters like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chasing the single season home run record while being praised for saving baseball, it enraged him like Walt when he observed from a distance as his Gray Matter co-founders became billionaire Nobel Prize nominees while he was teaching high school chemistry and working at a car wash to put food on the table. That’s when pride went ahead of honor for both BB and WW. Barry started juicing, bulked up, won four more MVP awards, broke McGwire’s record with 73 home runs in 2001, and retired with a record 762 dingers to his name. Walt has built a chemical empire of his own, with a purer, more chemically superior brand of methamphetamine, and has killed off everyone who has stood in his way thus far.

This kind of success comes at a price, though. Barry Bonds may be the Home Run King, but he compromised his integrity as a ballplayer to get there. Walt’s family has been destroyed, and his lawman brother in law may have put it all together. Barry Bonds was one of the greatest five-tool players in the history of the game, but has yet to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his involvement in the Steroid Era, and we will have to wait and see how things go for Walt. As a baseball fan, I’ve really come around on Barry Bonds to the point where I am mad he didn’t get into the Hall on the first ballot, but Walt has done some really reprehensible things and I am looking forward to seeing if and how it all comes back to bite him. It doesn’t look good for either of them, but we can see why they both broke bad.

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