Friday, May 04, 2012

The tarnished hero.

Having finished watching all episodes of Ken Burns' Baseball (including the extra episodes he did in 2007), I am struck again how angry I am at Barry Bonds.

It is not that he is a private person and snarls at the press.  I have never asked of my sports heroes that they be particularly media-savvy, and he is right -- the media are generally out to get you.

No, I am angry at how selfish he was.

First, let me just say that Hank Aaron is one of my sports heroes. Another private man, he was nonetheless gracious. He went through an incredible amount of nastiness in the run-up to breaking Ruth's record, and handled it calmly and professionally.  He was also dedicated to baseball: after he stopped playing, he ended up working for the Braves as vice president and director of player development and in many ways is responsible for the greatness Atlanta enjoyed in the 1990s. It would have been hard for me to see anyone break his record.

I also question whether Aaron got the iconic status he deserved.  When Bonds passed Ruth in the home run standings, the San Jose Mercury News had a columnist who wrote about being at the ballpark watching Bonds "break Ruth's record." (I wrote a snarky letter to the editor, suggesting that the columnist walk across the office and talk to the sportswriters.)

Bonds used steroids. I think there is little to no doubt of that. Writer Daniel Okrent suggests that there should not be an asterisk after his name because everyone was doing it; it was just one of the conditions of the game.  He is right, sort of, but it was not a condition of the game the entire time Bonds was playing.

Before the time Bonds is believed to have started using steroids, he had already hit 400 homers and stolen 400 bases, the only player ever to have done that.  He was already being called perhaps the greatest position player of all time. He did not need the home run record to cement his status as a Hall of Fame member-to-be. He was as good as settled in at Cooperstown.  He was a greater player even than his godfather, Willie Mays.

He could have not used steroids, and he still would have ended up high on the all-time homer list.  But no.

He is the kid at the party who is bigger and stronger and who gets the most candy from the pinĂ£ta, but is not happy until he gets it all. Well, he did get it all; and in the process, along with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clements and all the other players who used 'roids, trashed the good name of the game he claimed to love.  He tarnished the greatness which he already had shown.

It's a damn shame.

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