Nats pitcher Mike Bacsik threw a ball that hung right over the plate, and Barry Bonds did what he usually does when a pitcher makes a mistake — drive it over the right field wall for the home run record that is now his and his alone. It was a remarkable display, well-crafted, with Bacsik refusing to simply walk the slugger and going right after him.
What strikes in the immediate response after the homer was the class involved — despite what any of us thinks of Bonds and the record he set, to see him with his family, breaking down in tears, and looking thankful to see the whole thing come to an end was moving — never mind the surprise tape from Henry Aaron, which was probably the best turn of the whole thing, even if Aaron may have taped the whole segment with his teeth clenched. This was put into stark relief by the absence of one used car salesman from Milwaukee, whom I’ll focus more on later.
The debates over Bonds will last years after he retires, and is probably inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was a first ballot HOFer before the era under a microscope, and I suspect while first-ballot will be tough now, he will still get in if things stay as they are. It’s dependent upon whether any of the steroid allegations (and the leaked grand jury testimony behind them that fueled Game of Shadows) will ever lead to anything that can hold up for indictment, or if Bonds will ever test positive. Decades later, we may be able to honestly assess how the achievement was reached. Make no mistake, it is still an achievement to marvel at, even if you are disgusted at the same time. Whatever the effects of possible use, Bonds’ skill with a bat and selection of pitches is unparalleled.
Let me be perfectly clear: there is no one clean here, at least at this time. Bonds is being followed, rightly or wrongly, by the hordes of sportswriters and the most vocal fans of disgracing the game of baseball by simply being the new home run king with allegations and damaging grand jury testimony hanging over his head. Many who would rather have a root canal rather than root for Alex Rodriguez are now touting the inevitability of A-Rod’s ownership of the record in time, given his recent achievement of 500 home runs. Aaron’s inscrutability regarding actual opinion on Bonds has been labeled as everything from frustrating to pure haterdom, but that leaves him as a relative innocent, and he handled it well. Much of the press has allowed their prior narratives of Bonds as an aloof jerk and conceited asshole to tilt coverage of his steroid concerns as something much less than objective, in effect, piling on whom it views as the Last Man Standing.
Make no mistake: these narratives may partially be Bonds’ own creation due to his mistrust of the press from his father’s playing days, but that should not permit a lack of objectivity. The best recent example I have is of Mike Lupica and Mitch Albom destroying Bonds on last Sunday’s edition of The Sports Reporters, even as Bill Rhoden tried to provide some explanation and context of the hitting skill necessary for the achivement; they simply talked over him with their accusations. It was especially rich to hear Albom decry a cheater when he is the sports writing equivalent of Jayson Blair; it must be nice to be able to fudge a Michigan State-NCAA hoops column and still be employed.
The record has changed now: when Aaron held it, it took on further significance outside of simply being a number; it made Henry Aaron a historical figure, part of the Civil Rights era, something beyond sports. While Bonds’ ownership of the record does not hold that now, down the road, I suspect, and maybe hope, it will be looked upon as an extension of how we view athletes and society, as Bonds’ personality pushes too many buttons of race, entitlement, and what we expect as fans from those who play the game. I have written before that I believe Bonds views baseball as a job more than a game he is lucky to play for a living, and that lack of humility and tact made him an easy person to dislike, and after the steroid accusations began, hate. (This same quality is found in Kobe Bryant, another second-gen baller.) There are issues with the angry black man, the entitled child who grew up rich, and so many others that are encompassed here.
Regardless of whether you despise Bonds, laud him, or lie somewhere in the vast middle that is probably where the majority of us are right now, there is probably one thing we can all agree on regarding this breaking of the home run record. Bud Selig ought to be completely, absolutely ashamed of himself. His absence would have been passed over if his friend Aaron had not one-upped him by taping a congratulatory statement, and Bonds, as opposed to that narrative, gave a remarkable display of emotion that made him human, for just a bit. Selig, who has presided over the entirety of the steroid era by talking out of both sides of his mouth, should have at least been in San Francisco to acknowledge the record, especially after the disgraceful show in San Diego, with someone having to tell him to stand up* for #755. He is the man whom all ire ought to be focused upon; he has earned every piece of ill will hurled his way. His refusal to acknowledge the issue and then blame it on the MLBPA while pocketing the benefits of increased attendance from the monstrous home run outputs in the mid-to-late 90s is the disgusting act on display (never mind a VERY prominent former Texas Rangers owner’s concern about steroids in a recent Baseball Tonight interview, despite having an acknowledged juicer and another suspected one during his ownership.)
I clapped for Barry in my own home this evening, because when Selig would not do so in person, it represented the final straw in a series of acts that may have had the exact opposite of what he intended: Allan “Bud” Selig, you have made Barry Lamar Bonds a sympathetic figure. That will forever be your legacy.
(*I remember hearing that it was Rangers owner Tom Hicks in the box with Bud in SD, but I can’t find an account of that with a Google search, so I’ve modified this post to reflect that.)
(Photo: AP/Eric Risberg)