Oh, God. Now this is getting interesting. Well it passed interesting about 50 home runs, 50 steroid allegations and 12 perjury possibilities ago. But “interesting” is about the best word for all the madness surrounding Barry Bonds.
He’s now just 10 home runs from becoming baseball’s all-time Dinger King. They’re lining up the fireworks, champagne and testimonials in parks that lie in his path. Bub Selig is wringing his hands in the daily meetings he hosts with his executive team to discuss the single topic that might most shape his legacy: What Should I do with Barry?
I’ve long said he should simply be the baseball commissioner and high-tail himself to be wherever Bonds will be when he breaks the record. I know Hank Aaron is your best bud, but the office is higher than any man. Dignify it by being there when the game’s most storied record is re-written.
Yes, there’s an ugly cirrus-like cloud hanging over the whole thing. But if you’ve found no reason to ban Bonds from playing the game then respect the game, its rules and history by acknowledging the feat for its historic significance – and then move on.
But Selig’s dilemma is just one aspect of the madness swirling about Bonds. George Mitchell is out there poking around in players’ medical records. Punk former clubhouse boys are buckling under the feds. And today, one of my most esteemed and rested young colleagues, ESPN columnist Jemele Hill (and one of the true rising stars in this business) asked God – yeah, God – to “smite” Bonds before he breaks the record. Knowing God does not play when it comes to smiting, she admitted that such a fate might be a bit much. So she allowed that some smaller AoGs (Acts of God), like locusts swirling about his at bats, might work.
As a Christian, I believe we’re all just living God’s plan anyway – the good, bad and ugly of it all. So perhaps He healed Bonds bad knee and elbow so we could once again be reminded just how polarized we remain in this nation on matters of race. Just as the Imus/rap imbroglio died down, a poll was released showing blacks (well, 203 of us, which is all that was surveyed for this insipid poll) and whites felt differently about Bonds and his chase for the record. Uh, DUH. The poll showed blacks are more likely to be rooting for Bonds to break the record than whites, and are also more likely to believe the harsh criticism he receives is due to race. Well, stop the presses.
W.E. B. DuBois wrote more than 100 years ago that race would be the defining – and dividing – theme of the 20th century. He was right an it remains so today.
Hill lamented that Bonds would become today’s O.J. and that his achievement would unleash the ugly tones of racism that still linger beneath the surface throughout our existence. That’s great, I say. The more we discuss and debate the closer we get to the day when our children don’t have to be slapped in the face with it. The more we allow it to remain in the closet, the more dangerous it becomes.
God knows what he’s doing.
Another argument was that Bonds was not worthy to replace Aaron in the record books. Hill wrote: “Hank Aaron deserves better than to see his record broken by an unlikable, arrogant cheater who has done nothing but heighten stereotypes of black athletes. He is unquestionably a Hall of Famer and the best player of this generation — but he is not nearly the man Aaron is, and should not surpass him in any way.”
Since when did worthiness – as difficult as that is to define anyway – become a criteria for athletic achievement? If it were the record books would be, quite frankly, nearly empty. No doubt. Bonds is a first-ballot inductee to the Arrogant Hall of Fame, and his putrid persona is much his own doing. If he’d made maybe even a couple of friends, been nice to maybe three members of the media, during his career, we’d all – black white and everything in between – be rooting with rapt anticipation of the new record.
Well, at least most of us would be rooting.
The most troubling aspect of the he’s-hot-worthy argument, though, is that it comes sounds dangerously like the claims made by racists that Aaron was not a worthy heir to Ruth’s record. To them, Aaron’s blackness was his Scarlett Letter. To them, he was not “the man” Ruth was. That was just a single generation ago. If we’re to make that same claim against Bonds, have we really come that far in all that time?
Maybe we needed to know that, too.
God, as I said, knows what He’s doing.