A Whole-Hearted Semi-Defense of the Annoyingly Talented Barry Bonds
As he usually does, King Kaufman at Salon has the best take on the biggest current sports story--in this case, Barry Bonds's long-awaited claiming of the lifetime home run record with his 756th blast last night.
Like me, Kaufman has long defended Bonds against the exaggerated vitriol he has received from moralistic fans and hostile sportswriters. Kaufman keeps asking some obvious but not-so-easy-to-answer questions, such as: Why exactly are steroids (if Bonds did in fact use them) so much worse than any other illegal drug that athletes have used? How do we know that steroids are the cause of Bonds's home run explosion, as opposed to any of half a dozen other factors one could point to? And why is Bonds being made to bear the obloquy for the (apparent) sins of a whole generation of athletes? I've never heard any convincing answers to these questions.
Which is not to say that I am a big Barry Bonds fan. My reaction to his record-setting achievements is much like Kaufman's:
As Bonds circled the bases Tuesday, his relief at reaching the milestone was palpable. I felt relief too. This complex, complicated, confusing chase is finally over. Hardly a marvelous moment, more like the end of something I'd been anxious to see end.The fact is that Bonds isn't much fun to root for (even for a Giants fan, as Kaufman's ambivalence testifies). He is surly, self-centered, and egostistical. But then, I feel the same about several others among the greatest ballplayers of recent decades. Roger Clemens comes to mind, as do some players that legions of sportwriters have treated like gods, including Pete Rose (click here to read about some of his latest amazing antics) and Cal Ripken (whose pursuit of the consecutive-games-played record at the expense of his team struck me as more selfish than heroic).
After years now of wondering how I'd feel when Barry Bonds, who plays for my team, who's the best hitter I've ever seen, who's one of the most disagreeable public figures of my lifetime, broke Hank Aaron's career home run record, at last, I had the answer.
The answer is I don't know.
Yet the records compiled by Clemens, Rose, and Ripken will--appropriately--appear in the record books without any asterisk or other disclaimer. And the only reason Rose will never join Clemens and Ripken in the Hall of Fame is the fact that he idiotically violated the rule against gambling that is prominently posted in every major league clubhouse. You couldn't put Rose in the Hall without in effect repealing that rule and opening the sport to unabashed manipulation by gangsters. Yet despite his stupidity and his repulsive personality, Rose is still universally acknowledged as a great ballplayer--which he was.
And so is Barry Bonds, like him or not.