Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Brave New World

After a turbulent night of sleep I awoke in a world where Barry Bonds is major league baseball’s all time home run king. I felt…pretty much the same. I did see the record setting blast before going to bed so I wasn’t surprised, in fact it was inevitable that he was going to break the record some time this year. Yet I wondered if anything would be different and it wasn’t.

I turned on the TV and saw the usual talking heads telling us that the sky was falling. Yet they’ve been doing that for 3 or 4 seasons. Not one of the of radio hosts, TV hosts or baseball analysts added anything new to the conversation. In their view Bonds cheated, the record is tarnished and it’s baseball’s fault. The most interesting comment came from everyone’s favorite diminutive sports commentator Bob Costas when he mused on about viewing Bonds as an almost “tragic figure”.

It was an interesting and possible accurate description of the slugger. If someone was writing a novel they may create a character so consumed by his quest for immortality that he is willing to use any means necessary to etch his name in the history books. So focused is he on achieving greatness that he doesn’t realize that he has alienated everyone in the game and in his life. In the story he would die an old, lonely broken man (think of Michael Corleone in Godfather III).

I expect the wailing and gnashing of teeth to last for about another week and then the attention deprived media will look for something else to focus on. I’m sure there will be a scandal or two to emerge shortly that will provide enough fodder to fill the airwaves.

As I was lying in bed last night trying to sleep I thought about how life would change now that Henry Aaron no longer held most prestigious record in American sports. I thought about who came out best in the situation. Three actors played major roles in the drama – Aaron the classy record holder, Bonds the petulant would-be record breaker and Bud Selig keeper of the game.

Without a doubt Aaron emerges on top. Throughout the last year he presented himself with class and dignity. A new generation of fans was enlightened to his struggles in eclipsing Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. He stated early in the year that he would not follow Bonds around the country as the Giant leftfielder stood on the doorstep of the record and the former Brave stood by his word. His congratulatory message to Bonds was short, concise and honest. He did everything right and it’s incredulous that the talking heads would imply that Aaron’s legacy was tarnished by Bonds chase.

For the chronically disgruntled Bonds nothing has changed. He won over no new fans nor did he lose any. For once I didn’t begrudge him as he stood at home plate admiring his blast. When you’ve done something no one else in the major leagues has done you’re allowed a little showmanship.

It was genuine happiness that he displayed as he thanked everyone during the brief ceremony that followed his home run. Perhaps if he had showed that type of emotion during his career he wouldn’t be facing the harshness from the critics. Of course then it wouldn’t be Bonds. Like the book says, love him or hate him.

It appears that he will share the legacy of predecessors like Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Rose is the all time hits leader, but he bet on baseball. Cobb was the greatest player of his time, but he was a racist troubled man. Bonds is the all time home run king, but probably used steroids to get there.

The biggest loser in all of this drama is without a doubt Bud Selig. The chase exposed his fatal flaw, indecisiveness. If there was ever a statue built in his honor it would depict him as he was at the 2002 All Star game – frustrated with his arms raised in a helpless shrug.

As commissioner of the league it was his duty to represent the game. If the event was “noteworthy and remarkable” as his own statement attests he should have attended the games. In this day and age of instant communication there is no reason he could not have continued conducting the day to day business of a commissioner while in San Francisco.

Even his decision to attend the games leading up to Bonds tying the record showed the reason why he isn’t regarded highly by the fans and the media. His constant waffling on if he would attend and his bizarre “Herculean effort” statement provided more ammunition for his critics. The demeanor he displayed when Bonds tied the record, hands shoved in his pockets scowling like a school boy assigned to detention, was reprehensible. More damning it was unprofessional.

He is the titular head of the league and needs to act like it. Despite what his personal feelings should be he has to represent the game no matter what happens. Sitting in his personal luxury box and clapping politely as the record tying blast soared in the night would not have tarnished his image any more than his sullen teenage act. His desire to please everyone (the anti-Bonds media and the apathetic regular fan) has led to ineffectiveness.

So we move on now and wait for the next savior to come. Will it be Alex Rodriguez? The embattled Yankee has his share of detractors, but in a few years might some of those critics cheer him on because they hate Bonds more? Or it will be a younger slugger like Ryan Howard?

These days it’s easy to focus on the negative. How about if we give that a rest? Instead of thinking about Bonds and Giambi or Elijah Dukes think about Ichiro slicing a ball into left field or Delmon Young unleashing a laser to cut down a base runner. Picture Greg Maddux striking out yet another hitter looking with a well placed fast ball. Just remember that baseball will survive. It always does. A gambling crisis in the World Series couldn’t stop it, two world wars couldn’t stop it, Barry Bonds won’t stop it.

1 comment:

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