It’s always been one of my favorite times of year. The rain of the Pacific Northwest begins to give way to warmer temperatures, and pitchers and catchers report for spring training. As fans (I assume if you are reading this you must at least have a passing interest in our nation’s pastime), we must brace ourselves for the onslaught of media attention that will follow Barry Bonds and his pursuit of the career home run record.
Once teams pack up and head to the regular season in late March, Bonds will start his quest to surpass Hank Aaron as the Home Run King. Bonds needs twenty-two dingers to tie Aaron, and barring any substantial injuries, he will do so this summer. We can only assume Bonds wants this record; if he didn’t, he would have retired some time ago. Age, past injuries, and alleged steroid use have taken a toll on a man who was once a wiry and graceful force on the baseball field.
The rub is, Bonds may the only person who wants Bonds to break the record. Never have I seen fans and the governing body of a sport aligned together against someone who has brought so much excitement and cash flow to the game. Bonds has been embroiled in the ongoing BALCO incident, and is currently being investigated for perjury. It is quite possible Bonds could be indicted on one or both scandals at some point this season, further delaying or ending his pursuit of the record.
Major League Baseball has been soiled by the steroids scandal that has grabbed more headlines than anything that has happened on the field over the last few years. For the better part of a decade, players have been putting God-knows-what into their bodies in exchange for tape-measured home runs and Adonis-like physiques. Major League Baseball profited from this practice greatly, while turning a blind eye to the problem that had developed. Now, when the commissioner has to answer to the fans and the federal government, a scapegoat is needed.
Enter Mr. Bonds. Over his career, Bonds has alienated everyone—fans, teammates, the media, and most importantly, the commissioner. Bonds has lied, been involved in a high-profile affair, and he threw his teammate, Mark Sweeney, under the proverbial bus when accused of amphetamine use this winter. Bonds was also the first major league player to remove his name and likeness from all major league baseball licensing, in order to profit directly. As he is one of baseball’s most recognized icons, this move cost major league baseball tens of millions of dollars.
In turn, Major League Baseball has acted in a very unsavory manner. On many occasions, suppressed testimony has been leaked to the media. One can only assume that this was accomplished courtesy of Major League Baseball. When Bonds was a free agent this off-season, there was not one team that displayed any interest in forcing Bonds to re-sign with the Giants, for JD Drew money. Collusion anyone? And finally, as Bonds was attempting to finalize that deal, his positive test for amphetamines somehow reached the media.
Major League Baseball does not want Bonds to break the record, but they are powerless to stop it. Hammering Hank Aaron was a scholar and a gentleman, and a stoic force in the game for years. Major League Baseball loves to dust off Aaron, from time to time, as a fine ambassador of the game. Once Bonds retires, he will disappear completely from the game of baseball. This is just as much his decision as that of the Powers that Be within Major League Baseball. Aaron is a legend, but he was nowhere near the ballplayer that Barry Bonds is.
The purpose of this rant is not to rush to the defense of Barry Bonds. Let’s face it, the guy is an ass. Lying, cheating, being surly—these are not gifts that will endear you to fans, media, or baseball. But these are also things that can be said of many of my family members, friends, and coworkers—and none of them are forced to comply with federal investigators. Although I wish some of them were, and you know who you are.
Anyway, I have no doubt in my mind that Bonds ingested copious amounts of testosterone—the clear, the cream—amphetamines, racehorse DNA, and whatever else his trainer served up. This would have been well within the confines of the rules laid out by Major League Baseball, which managed to ignore the steroid issue until 2005. Sure, his stats are inflated, but he has paid the price, and served the time. Bonds is left with an arthritic body and a head the size of a Prius that he will have to carry around for the rest of his days.
Given all the other things we have to worry about—say, Britney’s struggle with her addiction to pills—can’t we just cut this guy some slack? Enjoy his chase for what it is, and revel in the moment, as I am quite certain Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, or some other slugger will surpass this mark shortly. Now, let’s play ball!