UPDATE: If you check the comment thread below, you’ll see that El Lefty Malo, has posed the first question of the roundtable: Should there be an asterisk next to the record when Bonds breaks it? My answer: Absolutely not. I now leave it up to my fellow bloggers and all ye commenters to discuss.
Just in case you’ve been asleep for the past 18 months or so, Barry Bonds is closing in on the all-time MLB home run record. Hank Aaron’s 33–year run as the home run king is about to come to an end, and Blogs By Fans is going to take a look at the man who will dethrone the Hammer.
Let me start this roundtable by saying, emphatically, that I do not hate Barry Bonds. If anything, I admire Barry the player. Barry the person, I could take or leave. I hardly think about him.
Bonds has played his entire career in the National League, and seeing as how I root for the Yankees (and the Yanks have never met a Bonds-led team in the playoffs) his on-the-field achievements have never influenced my team directly. This is important to note because so many people seem to hate this guy, and a great deal of them don’t have a personal reason to do so.
Here’s what I mean. I’m one of those fans who hates certain players. I mean I really hate them. I want to spit whenever I hear their names. My blood boils when I see them make All Star teams. I refuse to draft them for my fantasy teams. The criteria for my hatred is pretty clear:
- Over-rated-ness: Made up word, but who cares. These are players who are not as good everyone makes them out to be, in my mind. (Classic example: Patrick Ewing). By no stretch of the imagination can you put Bonds in this category.
- Jackassery: These are players who may be good, but are just such giant assholes that I can’t see past it. (Classic example: Ron Artest). Bonds probably falls in this category, but one category alone isn’t enough.
- Direct impact: These are players who have killed my team. They may be great players, they may be the nicest guys in the world, but on the field, they’ve caused me great pain by beating my team. (Classic example: David Ortiz). Bonds has done zero damage to the Yanks.
- Sabotage: These are players who played for my favorite teams and through either the above-mentioned jackassery or just plain horrible play, ruined the team. (Classic example: Terrell Owens). Again, Bonds scores a zero on this scale.
So no, I don’t hate Barry Bonds. He’s a jackass, but nowhere near the level of jackass so many athletes are. As far as Barry the player goes. He’s the best non-pitcher I’ve ever seen. Period. (I still say Mo Rivera is the best baseball player of my lifetime). He’s the best hitter to play the game in the past thirty years, if not more. He was the best before roids, and he’s been the best since roids (I’m just going to drop the alleged from any steroid conversation. The guy juiced, if you disagree, I can’t do anything for you.)
Would Barry have broken Aaron’s record had he not taken steroids? Probably not. He wouldn’t have been as productive in his late thirties. Then again, he may have been able to play longer into his forties if not for the added strain of carrying around all the extra muscle on his frame. We’ll never know. Here’s a better question: Do we even care?
Personally, what I consider “longevity” records don’t excite me. I find them admirable, but they don’t make me say “wow.” Cal Ripken played in 10,000 consecutive games. That’s an oddity to me. I didn’t get chills as they unfurled that banner when he broke the record. I got chills when David Wells threw a perfect game. I got chills when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run. Joe Dimaggio’s hitting streak amazes me, Pete Rose’s 4,000+ hits bores me.
I’d much rather have been at either of Roger Clemens’ 20 strike out games than his 300th win. Fleeting moments of greatness have a much greater effect on me than trudging toward history, and usually limping to the finish line. So will I watch when Bonds breaks the record? Absolutely, but it won’t excite me the way his HR off Troy Percival in the ‘02 World Series did. It won’t be nearly as meaningful as Kirk Gibson’s walk-off bomb off of Eckersley in the ‘88 series.
I’m not taking anything away from Aaron, Rose, Ripken or any of the other guys who have set these longevity records. They were great, and to do what they did over such an extended period of time should be celebrated. For my money, though, these types of records aren’t what keep me watching baseball. I watch baseball to see Barry Bonds turn on an inside fastball that he has absolutely no business catching up to, and depositing it in the water over the right-field fence. Greatness, true athletic greatness, is achieved in a fleeting moment, or a magical season. Bonds has probably provided us with more of those moments than anyone else playing the game today. That’s what I’ll remember when he retires. Not how long he played.
The only feelings I have on Bonds breaking the record have nothing to with asterisks or fairness, they have to do with fans. I hope Bonds breaks the record at home, where people will cheer him, because I think it’d be a shame for his moment to be marred by boos, and I think the San Fran fans have earned the right to witness it. They’ve stuck by Barry through thick and thin (mostly thin in recent years).
My comrades at Blogs By Fans will share their own thoughts on Barry over the next couple of days while we wait for the inevitable to happen.