I, for one, am enjoying the Barry Bonds situation. Hell, I’m lovin’ it. I can’t stand the player, but I love the situation he’s put himself in. Remember the saying, “You reap what you sow”? Well, Barry’s reaping a whole lot of emotions these days, and none of them good: anger, resentment, indifference and hostility are just a few that top the list.
Bonds passed Babe Ruth this week with his 715th career home run…and nobody cared. C’mon, that’s friggin’ beautiful. Bonds cheated the game and cheated its fans, and now that he’s been exposed, the baseball world has discarded him like an old battery that’s run out of juice.
And yes, that pun was most certainly intended. Think it’s a coincidence that Bonds’ numbers have turned south since baseball started testing for steroids? Look at Big Bad Barry’s stat line this year: .254, 7 HR, 20 RBI through 43 games. Premier sluggers like Ty Wigginton, Bill Hall, Brandon Inge, Lyle Overbay and Marcus Thames have more homers. Nick Swisher (16) is lapping Bonds. Albert Pujols (25) has nearly four times as many bombs. It’s always painful to watch all-time greats like Rickey Henderson or Jerry Rice hang around for too long, trying to prove that they’ve still got it when they obviously lost it several years earlier. Not so with Bonds. I enjoy watching his legacy swirl the drain as he hangs on to inflate numbers that most people have since dismissed. Nobody needs to place an asterisk next to his numbers; most fans have already done that anyway.
Some people like to defend Bonds by saying, “The man made a mistake. Haven’t you ever made a mistake before?” Barry himself said something similar to reporters last year: “When your closet’s clean, then come clean somebody else’s, but clean yours first.” Then there are people like ESPN’s Gary Gillette, who recently defended Bonds by writing:
The outcry against Bonds and his records should seem just plain silly when viewed in the context of baseball history. Bonds’ “record” is no more “tainted” than many — if not most — of the great records in baseball history. And while Bonds enjoyed several significant advantages on the way to 715, so did every other great home run hitter.
Babe Ruth had the incalculable advantage of playing his whole career during a segregated era, when he and every other white hitter didn’t have to face great black pitchers such as Smokey Joe Williams, Bullet Joe Rogan and Satchel Paige. Nor have their batting statistics compared to legendary blackball sluggers such as Josh Gibson, who many feel might have broken Ruth’s single-season home run record. Ruth also enjoyed playing all of his games during the daytime while having to travel no further west than St. Louis and no further south than Washington, D.C. Furthermore, Ruth didn’t have to face the fresh arms and blazing fastballs of the great relief pitchers who would intimidate so many hitters decades later.
Hank Aaron benefited from hitting in the many cozy neighborhood ballparks still in use in the 1950s and 1960s, just like contemporary sluggers have benefited from playing in the retro ballparks. Though Aaron’s home parks in Milwaukee and Atlanta were not neighborhood parks, he did play in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium when it was known as the “Launching Pad,” giving him an overall home-park advantage for his career. Aaron took advantage of the newly implemented designated hitter rule at the end of his career, adding 22 home runs to the lead he had over Ruth.
What Gillette and other Bonds apologists who throw out this weak comparison don’t seem to understand is, while Ruth, Aaron and many other players scattered throughout baseball’s record books had certain advantages (the “dead ball era,” lower pitchers mounds, higher mounds, etc.), those players didn’t cause those changes for their own personal benefit and selfish intentions. Sure, they took advantage of their circumstances, but Babe Ruth didn’t keep Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson in the Negro Leagues, and I’m pretty sure Hank Aaron didn’t design and build Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, nor did he institute the DH rule in 1973.
Bonds, on the other hand, built himself into the most lethal hitter in baseball, and he did so illegally. Maybe what he did wasn’t illegal by MLB’s feeble standards, but it certainly was illegal by federal standards. Ruth and Aaron didn’t cheat to gain their advantages; instead, their numbers were a product of the eras in which they played, and while Barry’s numbers are also a product of the era in which he played (the Steroid Era, of course), he made a choice to alter the playing field and, ultimately, the history books through artificial means.
This is a matter of intention, not circumstance, and that’s why Barry Bonds deserves everything that’s coming to him. He chose this path. And while I’m all for forgiving someone who made a mistake, Bonds made his mistake repeatedly, did so knowing he was cheating, did so to help him break records that, turns out, weren’t really his to break. (In fact, Roger Maris’ 61* seems more authentic each day.) It’s not like he slathered on his flaxseed oil for a year or two. No, he hurdled Babe Ruth, Maris, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire…and then he kept right on cheating. Meanwhile, many writers, coaches, players and fans started calling him the greatest hitter of all time, watching his Hall of Fame career mutate, much like Bonds himself did, into one of legend.
If he had juiced for one year, in this era of rampant steroid use, then I could see a case for forgiveness. Or if he got caught corking his bat once, fine. What Bonds did was premeditated and relentless, with a goal of rising above everyone who’d ever played the game before. And I just can’t forgive that.
(By the way, how does Sosa look now? “Assuming” he used steroids, that makes his corked bat look even more pathetic. Apparently, crapping on baseball once wasn’t enough for Slammin’ Sammy.)
The absolute best part about all of this is, most fans won’t remember Bonds as one of the greatest players of all time, as one of the game’s most feared sluggers, or even as a seven-time MVP. Bonds will go down as a cheater, as someone who thought he was more important than the game. Fifty years from now, when someone mentions the name “Barry Bonds,” most people will think, “steroids.” And he’s got nobody to blame but himself.
Talk about poetic justice.