Thursday, August 9, 2007

Very Clever, Mr. Bonds: Breaking Records and Breaking Spirits

Many in the blogosphere have already sounded off on the tragic heroics of Barry Bonds, but I feel compelled to add my own two cents.

Tuesday was a sad and historic day for baseball and its fans. Bonds didn't break just any record--he broke our national pastime's most popular and monumental record. Even casual baseball fans probably could have told you that the home run record was 755 and that Hank Aaron was the sport's reigning home run king.

Throughout my life, I've always found it somewhat awe-inspiring to be aware that history is being written in my midst. I appreciate watching events unfold that will be recorded and talked about for time immemorial. I didn't feel any of that on Tuesday. The record was broken and the majority of baseball fandom responded with a disinterested (albeit somewhat disgusted) shrug. This isn't how the sport's mightiest record should fall. As usual, America's Finest News Source summed it up quite perfectly.

I suppose it's easy to romanticize the past, especially when it comes to baseball. Hollywood helps with this--whether it's Rookie of the Year, in which a 12-year-old Chicago Cubs pitcher strikes out a pre-steroids Barry Bonds (watch the video to see a skinny Barry Bonds in action!) or Field of Dreams, a movie that makes grown men tear up (myself included) at the thought of having a catch with their fathers.

As James Earl Jones' character so eloquently puts it in that film,
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again."

With this as our creed, Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and the rest of baseball's beatified become untouchable American heroes in our athletic consciousness. As this article points out, these players were far from perfect, with imperfections ranging from depression to nasty tempers to severe alcoholism. But there's a big difference between being a jerk and being a cheat. All evidence currently supports the hypothesis that Barry Bonds is both.

There are many flawed individuals who have risen to prominence because they are good at what they do and hold records because they have earned them. There are also a great number of successful cheaters who have had their fame snatched from them when they were found out. The Bonds phenomenon is an anomaly--an acknowledged (if not convicted) cheater is being recognized for his greatness even though everyone knows it's a sham and a shame. The biggest shame of all, as Tribune columnist Mike Downey points out, is that Barry Bonds was a Hall of Fame ball player before anyone injected anything into his rear end. He might not have the home run record right now, but he would have something that he has now lost forever--the respect of the fans he plays for.

Congratulations, Barry Bonds. I hope it was worth it.*

*It may not be printed in the record books, but we can all see the asterisk.

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