Thursday, August 09, 2007


#756...and Beyond

When Barry Bonds connected for home run number 755, the one that brought him even with Hank Aaron, was I there, cheering him on, acknowledging a great moment in baseball history?

Well, no. I wasn't watching and, in fact, I had no idea that he had actually hit it until the next morning. You know the old adage about clueless people being described as "living in a cave"? Well, that's basically where I was on Saturday (at least probably near some bear caves), as I spent the entire day in Yosemite National Park, hiking up Halfdome with some friends. I was literally awake for 24 hours, 12 of which were spent hiking up and down the mountain (just thinking about it makes my knees scream in pain). I jumped into bed once I got home and didn't even bother checking scores, and it wasn't until I opened the newspaper in the morning that I found out.

Luckily, on Tuesday I was watching when Bonds connected for his record-breaking blast off of Mike Bacsik. To be honest, going into the moment when he hit the home run, I was totally expecting to feel nothing but apathy. The way I see it, the record isn't diluted because of steroids or whathaveyou, but because in this era of heightened offensive numbers, it just seems inevitable that in less than ten years somebody else is going to break this record. Then somebody will come along and break that record...and so on. It's sort of how I felt about Bonds breaking the single season home run record in 2001: an awesome achievement, but the impact is watered down a little because people are hitting home runs all over and we had already gone through that whole thing three years before.

When Bonds hit number 756, though, it was as exciting a moment as I've ever witnessed. I was watching the game in one of my favorite restaurant/bars, and I threw my hands up in the air and yelled. I'm sure I looked like a jackass. For that moment, you could forget about all of the other junk surrounding Bonds and his record chase and just savor watching one of the greatest players ever take down perhaps the most iconic record in all of sports. Hank Aaron's tactful video tribute was icing on the cake. It was a tremendous baseball moment.

What I'm seeing a lot of now, and this isn't unexpected, obviously, is a lot of vitriol from media-types condemning Bonds for cheating his way to the home run record. I hear a lot of writers refering to the home run record as "sacred", as if Bonds is pissing on the Bible or something. All of this self-righteous rage over Bonds is insane

My take is this: it's really not important. It was an amazing moment, one I'm glad I witnessed, even if it was in a booth at Woody's chomping down mozarella sticks. I'll never forget it, and I'm sure I'll be telling my kids one day where I was when Bonds surpassed Aaron. But it's just a dumb counting stat, one geared to appeal to our basest instincts as humans ("wow, he hit that ball realllly far!").

We invest far too much emotion into the game of baseball than we should. We're all guilty of it. Hell, when the Giants lost that one-game playoff to the Cubs in 1998, I went home and cried. Seriously fucking cried. When they blew the World Series I became so devoid of emotion that I was probably frightening to be around. Soon, though, I was ready to turn the page and start anew with the next season. That's why I love the game so much. The lows are incredibly low, but the highs are oh so magnificently high (Brian Johnson, anyone?).

In the end though, it all comes down to perspective. Baseball is just a silly game, one run by greedy, bloodsucking billionaires and played by greedy millionaires with more biceps than personality. It isn't a microcosm of life or some shit like Ken Burns may have you believe; it's a piece of entertainment and should be treated as such. It's not life and death, even though it may sometimes feel that way. So whenever I read someone like Jay Mariotti or Pedro Gomez wax on about how this whole thing is a shame for our country and this great sport, I find it pathetic. I know it's a writer's job to churn up as much moral outrage as possible to get more people reading, but if you really get boiled up in a rage and start raving about the degradation of society because Bonds broke a dumb record, then you seriously need professional help.

As far as the debate over how much Bonds's achievement really is tainted, I just don't know. There is so little information about how much steroids and whatnot really aid an athlete that it's hard to make any true condemnations. And, again, I don't think it's important enough to get my panties in a bunch over the issue either way. There are so many well-thought-out pieces about the subject floating through the internet that I'm not going to bother even putting up links. Just do a few Google searches and see the thousands of hits that come up.

Congrats, Barry. In 40 years you'll be the recipient of a well-deserved, teary tribute to your greatness, a la Ted Williams in 1999.

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