Wednesday, August 08, 2007

#756? My response is: "Meh."

I'm a huge baseball fan. When Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's record for most home runs in a season, I followed it religiously. When Barry Bonds broke that same record a few years later, I have to admit to a certain lack of unenthusiasm; the steroid allegations hadn't really come out yet, but Bonds had always come off as so completely unlikeable (and, at the time, McGwire was such a great story) that I never really warmed to him.

This summer, as Bonds came closer and closer to the remaining "unbreakable" baseball record--Hank Aaron's 755 homers in a career--I found myself unable to get very excited about it. I didn't tune into Giants games to see if another one would leave the park. At times, I found myself hoping that maybe his knees would give out, forcing his retirement when he was maybe one or two shy of Aaron's mark; that seemed like poetic justice to me. (I certainly wasn't alone in my lack of enthusiasm; read any article about the home run chase from the past few weeks, and you'll see people holding signs with asterisks on them, read about the boos mixed in with the cheers, and so on.

But it's all moot now, of course, because Bonds did break the record last night. And again, I find myself saying....meh. It's just hard to generate a lot of enthusiasm when the record was broken by someone who has a cloud of allegations hanging over his head and who has seemingly never made an effort to connect with the fans who help pay his salary.

I'm not alone in this feeling; Mark Kriegel of is feeling the same way::
If you didn't know better, it might have been a perfect moment. The pitcher, Mike Bacsik, issued his gallant challenge with a fastball on a full count. Bacsik's father, a former big league pitcher himself, had told him to go after Barry Bonds. Don't worry about giving up the big one, he told his son.

Bacsik gave up the big one, of course. Bonds would recall his own father's advice: "Load your back leg." By now, the swing is familiar: a violent swivel of the hips and torso, bat meets ball, redirecting its path in a grand parabola. Ferocious physics. Then, the ecstatic moment, as Bonds raised his arms in triumph. He knew. Everybody knew.

[...]Now Bonds took the microphone. He thanked his teammates. He thanked his family.

"My dad," he said.

There was a clearly audible voice from the San Francisco crowd: "We love you Barry."

Bonds was already done, though. He had begun to choke up at the mention of his father. He was holding back tears.

It took him only 22 major league seasons to demonstrate his humanity.

"My dad taught me everything I know," Bonds would say later.

Fathers and sons and baseball. I wanted to cry.

But I couldn't.

I want to believe in Barry Bonds. But I can't. I don't think I'm alone, either.

It seems more prudent to save your tears for the looming indictment.
Is that too cynical? Only time will tell. I know there are a lot of people with me in the "meh" crowd--assuming they're still paying attention to baseball at all.

I've posted before about how I believe that baseball exemplifies a lot of things that are good about America, and I haven't stopped believing that. I'm just waiting for the steroid era to pass, for its protagonists to retire, and I hope that when it's over, people will still believe. I wish it had been caught sooner; Kriegel does too:
Of course, Major League Baseball didn't catch on to the steroid scam until it was too late. By then Mark McGwire was out of the game, and the home run totals were hopelessly tainted. Shame on Bud Selig. He should have seen it coming.

The evidence that Barry Bonds did steroids, among other illicit substances, is overwhelming. Steroids are illegal. Steroids are cheating. And unlike so many others, Bonds — the best player of this tainted era — didn't need drugs to be great. Still, great as he is, he's human. If you could trade places with him, you might have done steroids. Baseball players weren't the only ones, of course. All the sports got big. It got to the point where even those skinny little bike riders couldn't be trusted.

What, you believe in the Tour de France?

The problem is, getting big has a price. It compromises your faith.

Now Barry Bonds has broken the most famous record in sports. It should be the perfect story: a tale of fathers and sons and baseball. It should bring a tear to your eye.

You want to believe, but you can't. Welcome to the new world.
Is it asking too much for our would-be heroes to hold themselves to a higher standard in how they conduct themselves, both on and off the field? I still say yes.

Hank Aaron wasn't there last night, as had been expected, but he did send a video message of congratulations. It ended with this sentence: "My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams." And may the next guy be someone whom all of America can rally around once again.

Heh. Indeed: Happy six-year "blogiversary" to Instapundit. Here's his first weeks' worth of posts.


Mark Daniels said...

While someone of Barry Bonds' baseball lineage might be expected to have a deeper respect for the game than to artificially pump up his body and steal the home run record from Hank Aaron, I blame the powers in Major League Baseball more than I do Bonds.

For too many years, MLB had an ambiguous policy regarding steroid use and then enforced it in a shamefully weak manner. It gave players signed primarily for their capacity to hit baseballs out of ballparks an unspoken incentive to use steroids. It cheapened the game's record books and, in its way, defamed players like Aaron.

Hopefully, the new steroid policy will be as bold and emphatic a line in the sand as MLB's laudable and appropriate policies on gambling.

Hopefully too, no one will take Bonds' "record" too seriously. No matter what Barry Bonds said last night, it is tainted and would be even if his inflated skull--something that can't be achieved through workout and diet regimens--didn't serve as Exhibit A that he used steroids.

For people who love the game, there was little to celebrate last night. But again, I blame MLB more than I do Bonds for the sorrow and shame that came to the National Pastime in San Francisco last evening.

Mark Daniels

Kev said...

Mark--some very good points there. Thanks for the feedback.

Anonymous said...

Barry Bonds is the greatest hitter since Ted Williams. No one else even enters the discussion, and you can certainly make a compelling argument that Bonds is the best ever. As a baseball fan, I have thoroughly enjoyed his career.

I guess I take what could be called a "Pro-Bonds" side here and elsewhere on the web not because I think he needs my defense, but rather to try to understand the motivations of his many foaming-mouth detractors. You don't come off that way, Kev, but I think a majority do.

The issue can't be that he's currently using because you either have to accept MLB's testing as legit or everyone is again a suspect.

It can't be because he's breaking MLB's rules because, until recently, steroid/amphetamine use was not explicitly banned by MLB.

It can't be because he's accused of using illegal drugs since these same anti-Bonds folks rely on the assumed cleanliness of Aaron. However a few years back, Selig gave an interview saying he became aware of amphetamines in baseball when he entered the Milwaukee Braves clubhouse in 1958. At that point, Aaron was already a 3 time NL All Star and defending NL MVP.
Draw your own conclusions.... Willie Mays kept a liquid amphetamine concoction in his locker he euphemistically called "Red Juice" yet former players are on record saying both Mays and Willie Stargell pushed amphetamines onto new players joining those teams. And I'm sure they weren't alone. Stargell was also heavily involved in the 1980's Pirates clubhouse that became a hangout for cocaine dealers and other assorted lowlifes. Yet these "heroes" from the 60's and 70's are idolized today as paragons of virtue and fairness who "played the game the right way."

So then they narrow it down to steroids, which just seems to me like an artificial indefensible position since it's so narrowly constructed and other players linked to BALCO (Giambi, Sheffield, etc) or who have tested positive (Rafael Palmeiro plus over 100 major and minor league players whose names are known only by the hardest of hardcore rotisserie players) don't get 1/100th the vitriol reserved for Barry.

Basically what it boils down to is that people want to hate Bonds because sports media reports that he's a jerk to them (and considering the kinds of things sports media reported as "fact" about his dad Bobby while Barry was growing up seems to justify his feelings toward them). That just seems to me like a petty childish reason to deny his historic talent and accomplishments.

Don't get me wrong. I'd like to see steroids and other unhealthy PED's banished from the game too. I just don't get why Barry Bonds seems to be such a lightning rod when Roger Clemens gets a pass despite having a similar historic spike in performance in his late 30's and early 40's AND a history of erratic roid-rage type behavior. Yet nobody says "As far as I'm concerned, Randy Johnson was the rightful 2004 Cy Young winner" or "In my book, Clemens has 352* wins."

-- GP