We all know the story of the toad that when kissed was turned into a prince. But a prince that by becoming king turns into a toad is another, unfortunately true story.
Sometimes you have to say the obvious. You have to say it because it is true, and say it sincerely; whether it’s been said a million times before by every media outlet or not, is what you have to do. The truth is still worth saying because it is always hard and always needs people to champion it, so here’s what I think is obvious and true, and hard about Barry Bonds the new home run king.
He’s not only the new king, he’s the new Macbeth.
Being liked means something. When people speak of JFK, Princess Diana, or Jimmy Stewart with fondness it has power and meaning. Sometimes we like to think that such “likeability” is nothing. This is a lie: why else would politicians care so much about public opinion? Being liked is power.
As you watch the complete chaos surrounding Bonds you can see people entering into his dilemma, watching and wanting and knowing you can have what you most want if you just make that compromise, that deal with the devil. So why is Barry Bonds so hated, so divisive? Regardless of what you think of him, you cannot argue that he has turned what was one of the crowning achivements in sports into a stale and tasteless moment for all of us. What we will remember about this is how we thought we should care, and how people didn’t know what to do or what to think.
Why do people love the Babe? Was it because he was white? Was it because he was so other, so untouchable? No, he was human, and we loved him more for all his friendly affability and obvious flaws. And yet he was also magnificent.
But when Barry broke the record we began to realize that the real hero here is the deposed king, Hank Aaron. When you watch Bonds hit 756 you can’t help but be rubbed a bit the wrong way. And when you are you remember Hammerin’ Hank – the good natured, classy guy whose accomplishment was cherished, loved, and lauded in heart of the racist south. The memory of that home run, which I only know through lore, is a proud moment for any baseball fan and for any human being. It reminded us of all that was pure about sports, about the wonderful joy of men playing a game and the wisdom, worth, and profundity that victory and accomplishment can reveal. Each of us became more alive and happy to be alive when Hank sent that ball into the Atlanta seats. It was a massive moment for Hank, for baseball, and for America.
Bonds has accomplished something more amazing than setting the home run record, he took the joy and fun right out of it.
For this reason I am so glad it’s over. I can’t wait for us to look again to the parts of baseball that are pure and fun and victorious. Baseball has a purity that must be protected. I can put up with slightly cooky sports stars (Gary Sheffield, Brian Giles), the ornery old cuss’ (Lou Pinella), the Yankees, and even the occasional racist (Sheffield again) if they care about the purity of the game. Bonds was smiling after the game, a game they lost. When Eric Gagne’s streak of consecutive saves was broken the first thing he mentioned in the interview was how happy he was that the Dodgers won the game.
Is it just steroids that make Barry Bonds so awful for the spirit of the game, such a threat to its purity? No, Bonds stands out singularly among the throng of other juicers, though certainly steroid usage factors in a major and obvious part of his figure. But more than that it is his selfishness, his disdain for the sport, for the team, for the game itself that makes him so awful and unattractive. McGwire’s accomplishments have been tarnished by steroid scandal, but he was like the kid who wanted to win so bad he cut some corners. Bonds is the kid who thought he should win and cheats, but doesn’t even like the prize… and that is unforgivable.
Barry, you wear the crown, but all you have done is remind us how much we love, cherish, and respect Hank Aaron more than you.
You’re kind of like the guy who beats up the girls’ other suitor thinking it will when him a date. Guess what, you’re winning has revealed to us who you are and we don’t love you. Thanks Barry, now we know we will always love Hank. You win the numbers game, and what do you have now?
Fear. You will feel it as you try to find a team that wants you next year, knowing A Rod’s coronation is drawing nearer. Your reign will be brief and lifeless. And soon enough, even the little that you have will be taken from you.