I went out to pick up a pizza, and while I was gone, Barry Bonds hit home run #756. I had been preoccupied with my thoughts and hadn't put the Giants game on the radio, so when I came into the house, the kids juked me pretty good. They had the game paused, ostensibly because the 25-year-old known as 'Boy' (recuperating from surgery) had gotten up to use the facilities. So I thought the whole thing was nearly 'live', and when Bonds drilled Mike Bacsik's 3-2 pitch, I knew it was gone, and I was suitably excited.

They all laughed, because they had seen it 20 minutes ago. I laughed, too: best juke, evah!

I was moved when Bonds, fighting back emotion, thanked his father. In so many ways, Bobby Bonds (and his struggles) made his son the man he is today, warts and all. I was even more moved when Bonds went to the bench on a double-switch, then sat, alone, on the dugout with his thoughts. You could, if you watched carefully, see all manner of shadows dance on his face while his unblinking eyes focused on some private horizon. The corners of his mouth twitched, and he seemed to make an effort to master his emotions, chomping rather determinedly on some seeds.

And, it struck me, that he is alone. Alone, astride the baseball world; alone, in history; alone, with his thoughts, with his memories and--perhaps--even regrets. The game was stopped for ten minutes to pay tribute to the greatest hitter of my generation, bar none. The home town faithful cheered lustily, but it paled before the seven minutes of sustained applause that Pete Rose received when he singled off Eric Show, much less Cal Ripken's 22-minute 'victory lap' after the fifth inning of game #2,131.

And it raises a question in my mind: will we remember Barry as being more like Ripken, or more like Rose? That is, will he eventually become an admired icon or a symbol of corruption? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know this: the Hall of Fame is not a collection of saints, and there are far more venal characters in it than Mr. Bonds. There is no rule that says the greatest hitter of many generation should be personable, gracious, easy-going. Ted Williams was an ornery goat loved by his teammates, but despised by many of the 'knights of the keyboard.' Williams missed winning an additional MVP in 1947 because one writer left him completely off the ballot, when he hit .342 with 38 HR, 123 RBI and 156 walks---and all of those totals LED THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. That's right, the sumbitch won the Triple Crown and finished....second in the MVP voting, because one writer couldn't even list him somewhere on his ballot.

What about the allegations that Bonds may have cheated? I have a hard time taking that seriously, frankly. If he's caught cheating, he'll be fined and suspended for an appropriate length of time, but this wouldn't be the Apocalypse, say it ain't so, Joe. Nor would it be unprecedented that a Hall of Famer cheated.

For example, Whitey Ford wore a special ring that had a rasp and a file on it during much of his time with the Yankees. Gaylord Perry was, um, moist and made a career out of it. Don Sutton apparently preferred sandpaper. All Hall-of-Fame pitchers. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker placed a bet on a game when both were player-managers and were nearly kicked out of baseball for it. Rogers Hornsby had serious gambling problems, to the point where the Commissioner dressed him down privately. Yet during the same era, John McGraw, a Hall-of-Fame manager and one of the dirtiest players to ever play the game, owned a casino in Havana !

Want more? Mickey Mantle, Ed Delahanty, Grover Cleveland Alexander are all Hall-of-Famers: they were also addicted to alcohol during their playing days, addictions which eventually wrecked their lives. Jimmy Foxx was such a raging alcoholic, that he would have a flask on him while batting.

Compared to some of these guys, Bonds is a choir boy. Jealous of the blatant steroid use of others, he might have well used some kind of secret performance-enhancer to aid in recovery, but even if he did, that would neither be illegal nor strictly speaking outlawed by baseball. It would just be cheating, which has a long tradition in baseball.

Besides, it's not just hitters that may have been juiced. The pitcher who gave up #755 to Bonds (Clay Hensley) was suspended for 15 days for testing positive for steroids in the minors a few years back. If any asterisk should be hung, it should be hung on this era, not on an individual player, and certainly not on a player whose guilt has not been demonstrated.


Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

Scott OM, I don't really care for Barry all that much; only owing to the reports of his personality and the feeling that I get (rightly or wrongly) that he is bigger than the team he plays on. Is that accurate? I have no way of telling. The unproven allegations of steroid use shouldn't tar the record itself, in my opinion, because I don't know how many long fly balls he had before he started taking steroids. It's kind of difficult for me to see how stronger players can hit more home runs than if they didn't juice. They still have to hit the ball, which still takes hand eye coordination and a host of other skills that I wouldn't have even if were to take 'roids.

He earned it, but I don't like him like I like Aaron (I saw him hit one of his post-record home runs after he signed with the Brewers. Thrill!)

Scott Hatfield . . . said...

I gotcha, Mike. That's cool. I find Bonds fascinating: impossible not to be impressed by, difficult to like. He's a complex character. Gary Radnich, long-time talkshow host on the Giants flagship radio station KNBR, sums up that ambivalence like this: "On the field, he's a genius. Off the field, I wouldn't cross the street to shake his hand."