On the John
Completed on May 8, 2006
Originally published in NUVO Newsweekly on May 10, 2006
I am generally opposed to taking pleasure in the pain and discomfort of others. Sadism is not an admirable trait. On the other hand, sometimes people get what’s coming to them, and when that happens, a part of me smiles. Usually it’s the mouth part, but occasionally I am so delighted by the seemingly preordained misery of others that I find myself applauding with both hands.
This baseball season has me doing just that.
Ah, sweet vengeance. Karma’s revenge. Anyone with a lick of interest in this 2006 Major League Baseball season has been a witness to Barry Bonds’ “chase” of 714, which has really been more of a stumble than a chase. Who else but Barry Bonds could make this look so bad? In the past five years, Bonds has found two ways to make a mockery of The Most Hallowed Record in Sports, neither of which seemed possible until now. First he ripped off an astounding 209 home runs in four years starting at the age of 36, a total that catapulted him into and beyond the impressive yet comparatively-pedestrian 500 homer group before landing him at 703. And now, having made it that far, he is limping his way to 714 on the “strength” of ten home runs in two seasons.
Wasn’t this supposed to be exciting? Wasn’t this supposed to be uplifting, remarkable, awe-inspiring?
Wasn’t this supposed to be fun?
Oh, to be back in the glorious summer of 1998. After hitting 58 homers in 1997, Mark McGwire was back at it in ’98, joined this time by a lovable Dominican who played for those lovable losers. Mac and Sammy lit fire to the record books that season, and as astounding as the raw numbers were, what we were really responding to was the act. As it turns out, the idea of 61 was far more important than the number itself. 61 meant power and persistence. It meant athleticism and technique. Like 714 and later 755, 61 sat atop the record books with a mythical air, and so when McGwire and Sosa finally came hunting for it and brought us along for the ride with their smiles, camaraderie, and really big arms, we all felt like we were reaching some sort of promised land, or holy grail…or, well, something important.
60 in 1927, 61 in 1961, 70 in 1998. For every generation, there comes a slugger. And he will be ours, and we will be his.
And then Barry Bonds came along, like the devil himself, and we gladly sold him our baseball souls for a 73 home run season. Ah! What a great man he is! Never mind the three MVPs he won from ’90-’92, or the eight Gold Gloves from ’90-’98, or the fact that he was not just the only man with 300 homers and 300 stolen bases, but also the only man with 400 homers and 400 stolen bases. Nope, none of that mattered to us. Here was a legend, a man who by 2000 should have been hailed as the greatest position player of his generation. And yet we ignored him, favoring a raw number over an enduring idea. Bonds knew this, and so he gave us even bigger numbers, and for this we loved him.
And now we’re stuck with him.
Of course, he’s stuck with us, as well. Unlike Lucifer, Bonds did not buy our souls with something evil in mind. He was merely a conduit, just as caught up in the home run craze as we were. Out of jealousy, and in an effort to better his product—and it’s important that we all realize that Bonds sees himself as a business man, not an athlete—he juiced up and changed the game. Now, along with natural ability the likes of which is rarely seen, the greatest hitter of our generation was aided by steroids. He could now train harder and recover faster. He could now turn a double into a homer…or maybe an out into a single…or maybe…
Truthfully, we’ll never know exactly how Bonds benefited from steroids. All we know is that he did, and that we were there all the way, cheering him wildly, cheering him as if he’d never accomplished anything before 2001.
So now, here we are, with Bonds creeping steadily towards 714, and everyone involved is left with a curious feeling that, perhaps, this is not what we wanted after all. Bonds was never loved, which is his own doing, but his play on the field meant that he would always be respected. Now he’s lost that. Baseball wanted home runs by any means necessary, because home runs were putting fans back in ballparks after the strike. Now their most prized record is on its way down, and they can’t stop it.
And we the fans? We wanted heroes so badly that we declared heroism synonymous with raw power. Now we don’t have either.
Yes, we’ve learned a lot since 1998, and no matter how you feel about Bonds, I hope you applaud when number 715 scoots over the fence. I know I will. After all, we’ve earned it.
Copyright 2006, jm silverstein
FOR readjack.com’s five-part series on Barry Bonds and steroids, click here