North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

The Best Ever

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Well, it’s bound to happen sooner or later; I guess that I really should get to it now, while the topic is still fresh at hand and the sky empties itself all over my lawn…

This will be the year that Barry Bonds surpasses the 714 home run mark set by one Babe Ruth – that is if both nature stops conspiring against him (two games rained out thus far) and if pitchers get smart (Intentional walk or sinkers) or “smart” (hard fastball inside and low – or maybe at the knees). And while the evening that Barry hits #715 won’t be the brightest day in baseball history, it sure won’t be the darkest day either.

Yes, Barry Bonds played unfairly to get to where he is now, perhaps even cheating his way to his 700-odd home runs. And yes, he may very well be the biggest ass – although I have never met the man, I’m willing to bend to his public persona – to happen to baseball in some time, his getting past Babe Ruth – or even Hank Aaron, for that matter – is not the worst thing to happen to baseball. It would even be hard pressed to make it onto a TSN ‘top ten’ list on such a topic.

Barry Bonds quite simply worked the system; he cheated when it was okay to do so. And that’s if you even want to call it cheating (a term that usually implies that someone broke or bent a rule for success). This allowed him to hit 73 home runs in 2001 (A number that he has never come close to before or since) and is now allowing his knees to fall apart like a 78 Chevette on the fast lane in rush hour. It did not do much else for him, really. For example. his OPS (on base + slugging) has been over 1.000 since 1992 – meaning that he’s been virtually a run machine for well over a decade now.

But it is the common perception that Barry Bonds is, well, the closest thing that baseball – and maybe ever sports in general – has to a clear-cut antagonist. When he hits home run 715, 756 or even if he makes it to 800 our perception of him will not change one iota. This is not like the other scandals that baseball has had – like when Pete Rose bet on the Reds or when Shoeless Joe Jackson took a bribe – because we are dealing with a guy who people hate. He’s like a one-man New York Yankees; you have to respect his talent, but you hate him all the same.

So now Major League Baseball has a dilemma facing it pretty much unlike any other before: How does it recognize one of the great athletic feats of the 21st century when the person is a almost-universally hated figure who is only there (most likely, anyway) because you were willing to turn a blind eye towards his methods? Do you recognize it as legitimate? Do you put a disclaimer next to it (“Note: This record may have been set with the aid of Bovine Growth Hormones”?)? Or do you just ignore it? Well… there’s no easy answer, or at least an easy one facing “Bud” Selig. Baseball went ahead and banned the aforementioned Rose and Jackson, but that was a more clear cut situation: both Jackson and Rose knew that what they were doing was illegal.

And that, in short, is the problem: What Bonds did, as wrong and as unfair as it may well have been, was not illegal. Baseball was turning a blind eye to steroids during those years – and when Bonds set the single-season record, there was no asterisk next to it. When Mark McGuire hit 70 in 1998 there was no disclaimer or sponsor pulling out – so why is there now? Barry Bond’s steroid days – which were only just alleged in the first place- are long gone now and so will his playing days in not too long. And love it or hate it, he’ll surpass Babe Ruth and maybe even Hank Aaron legally – unless he takes a fastball a little too low or fails a test or what have you – and it won’t be the best thing for baseball, but to in order to do anything to it you would have to do the same to the entire “drug-ball“ era of the late 1990s/early 2000‘s.

And if nothing else this record will become to represent two things: One, it will be baseball’s lasting legacy to their willingness to overlook a problem when it meant immediate profit (the home run chase of 1998 or 2001, for example) until that problem because so big that the United States Senate had to step in. Two, it will be lasting legacy of a man’s willing to exploit every loophole he could – everything from his arm-pad that allows him to crowd the inside of the plate to his “flax-seed oil” – in order to become the best ever. It’s just a question of which one we’ll remember the most.

(I used baseball-reference.com to check some of the stats for this – for those who care)

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Written by M.

April 12, 2006 at 6:22 pm

Posted in baseball, MLB

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