EXAMINER PUBLICATIONS – SEPTEMBER 12, 2007
By Rich Trzupek
There has never been, and probably never will be, an occasion quite like it. Barry Bonds broke the most revered record in baseball and the nation (not including San Francisco, which may or may not be a part of the country) responded with two words: “what ever.”
Thank God it’s over. Fans can move on, baseball can move on and Barry can move on to whatever a guy does after making a mockery of the game.
The contrast between Bonds and Hank Aaron are striking. Hammerin’ Hank endured. He was a stoic warrior who battled through to 715 against all odds and he will always be a hero for doing so. Bonds? He thumbed his nose at Aaron’s legacy from within a mysteriously bloated body.
It’s hard to imagine, so many decades later, all that Aaron went through. When he joined the big leagues, integration of the national pastime was not yet a decade old.
Aaron endured racist abuse at the beginning of his career, then played through the turbulence of the ‘60s when the civil rights movement finally began to address all of the wrongs that America had forced blacks to endure. Through it all, Aaron was the epitome of dignity and class. He let his remarkable wrists do the talking, snapping drive after drive over the fences with quiet consistency.
He played through the worst of the abuse, only having to relive the nightmare again as he approached Babe Ruth’s hallowed mark. The bigots may have been forced to retreat by the ‘70s, but they never really disappeared.
They crawled out of their stinking holes as Aaron closed in on Ruth, spewing hate and even death threats. Few people have been the target of such abuse for the crime of doing their job better than anyone else. Yet, Hammerin’ Hank endured and, eventually, persevered.
Aaron acknowledged Bonds, with typical class. Who could ask for anything more? There could be no greater contrast, between what we should aspire to be and what we should loathe.
How will Bonds be remembered in the decades to come? He should be remembered as a cheater, albeit a talented cheater. His legacy should be that of a Joe Jackson or a Pete Rose. And, like Jackson and Rose, it should not include the Hall of Fame.
Bonds’ apologists say that he should not be denied entrance to the Hall of Fame. “He has never been convicted of anything,” they say. “There are worse people in the Hall of Fame.” “Baseball didn’t ban steroids until 2002 anyway!” And so on.
First of all, election to the Hall of Fame is a privilege, not a right. Proof that meets a legal standard is not required in order to deny entrance. Joe Jackson was never convicted of cheating. Nobody proved that Pete Rose bet on baseball.
But, in both cases, there was enough suspicion to deny them the privilege of the Hall of Fame. A court may not be able too prove what they did, but people knew–and that was enough.
Bonds’ trainer and close friend, Greg Andersen, dealt in steroids. Numerous, credible sources have identified Bonds as a steroid user. The changes in Bonds’ body defy natural explanations. That’s more than enough to keep him out of Cooperstown.
There are other rogues in the Hall? Some there are. Gaylord Perry made his living on an illegal pitch. Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby were reprehensible characters.
But having lowered the bar in these instances does not justify maintaining it that low forever more. We can, and inevitably will, make mistakes in judgment. Our goal should not be to justify those mistakes by making even more errors. We should rather strive to keep our poor choices to an absolute minimum.
And finally, when baseball chose to ban steroids is immaterial. Steroids were, and are illegal. Moreover they are an illegal substance that altered the game. Would we not look at the records of players like Mark Grace and Frank Thomas differently today, if their feats did not have to stand next to the bloated statistics accumulated by bloated cheaters?
Bonds can have his record. He can have his money. He can enjoy a quiet, peaceful retirement in the lap of luxury. But there is one thing he should never have: our respect.