By Jason Menard
As Barry Bonds approaches the magical 755 number, he’s endured personal attacks that number at least a hundred-fold the number of dingers he’s sent over the wall of baseball diamonds throughout North America.
I won’t be adding my voice to the chorus of Barry-haters out there. In fact, I’m here to argue that – in a way — we need more Barry Bonds’ in sports.
Barry’s big head’s been in the news on an ever-increasing basis, thanks to commissioner Bud Selig bungling yet another aspect of his job. His on-again, off-again flirtation with being present for the game when – and it’s now truly a when, not an if – Barry breaks the all-time home run mark has been a source of embarrassment and amusement.
You may not like Barry, you may think he cheated to get where he needed to go. That’s your right. But to ignore such a monumental event would be exceptionally wrong – especially when Barry’s one of the best things about the game of baseball.
OK, before you call for the good people in the white jackets to wrest me away from the mike, let me explain. Barry, although being the bane of media people everywhere, is exactly what those same media people have been begging for all these years. And his antics ensure that baseball maintains a place of priority on sportscasts.
And when Bonds finally pops 756, barring unforeseen circumstances, baseball will once again be the lead story in daily newspapers around North America – and when was the last time that happened?
Bonds also represents what the caveat “be careful what you wish for” truly means. After all, what’s the one complaint that most media people – and many fans – have about their athletes? That’s they’re as dull as watching paint dry once you get them off the field of play and in front of a microphone.
Athletes have their own language of boring platitudes, designed-to-be-non-offensive statements, and banal generalizations that offer absolutely no insight into the game or the person. After all, how many athletes have you heard giving 110 per cent, while taking it one game at a time and making sure to bring their A game each and every night because there’s no I in team and winning takes a total team effort, so guys need to step it up, keep their focus, circle the wagons, get off their heels and fight their way back off the ropes so they can answer the call, go for the jugular, and pull it out in the end.
The call has rung out loud and clear for someone to break through the platitudes and tell it like it is. We cry for honesty, then howl with disapproval when Barry gives it to us. Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose how honesty is served. Sometimes you’ll get an engaging, genuinely funny, and insightful person spinning witty yarns that speed the beat grunts towards carpal tunnel syndrome in their efforts to catch every precious word.
And then sometimes you get the rude, boorish SOBs.
The thing is, Barry’s not just a mashing machine carnival side-show – he can still play. He currently leads the National League in on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. And his relatively healthy performance this season has led to Bonds’ agent making noise about the slugger returning for yet another season next year.
In 78 games so far, he’s within a hair’s-breadth of his career batting average, as his .295 mark stands just four thousands of a percentage point shy of his lifetime mark. On a woeful Giants roster that offers little support or protection for Bonds, he’s still managed to crank out 17 home runs and chip in 42 RBIs. And let’s not forget that when he’s allowed the chance to hit. He’s drawn 91 walks – a pace that would find him amongst his top-three career walk totals if it continues until the end of the season.
In the end, whether Barry was juiced or not really doesn’t matter. Pitchers were juiced, hitters were juiced – heck, I’ve seen some suspect peanut vendors who have a little too much oomph in their tosses… That isn’t real-life – it’s sport, so there’s no need to work yourself up into a fit of indignant apoplexy.
Athletes from all walks of life cheat to get ahead. They always look for that extra edge. Taking steroids, in truth, is morally no better or worse than popping Sudafed between periods – it’s an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. Singling Barry out for something many others were alleged to be doing seems at best a little malicious, and at worst too much like a witch hunt. The legal aspect of obtaining an illegal prescription for a drug – that’s a different story. But it’s also one that has no impact on the field of play.
We prefer to remember our sporting past as a halcyon time, but the reality was probably much different. And I’m pretty sure the same was happening in Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth’s time – instead of steroids, it could have been amphetamines, cocaine, or other illicit substances. It’s just that a co-operative media would look the other way. No more.
In the end, Barry’s Barry. Great hitter? Best player ever? The game’s biggest cheater? Obnoxious buffoon? Or an example of being careful what you wish for? I choose the latter.
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