700 Reasons to Acknowledge Barry Bonds

By David Steele (Off BASN Wire)
Updated: August 8, 2007

Barry BondsNEW YORK, NY.—THE MOST REVILED superstar of our day is about to cross another historic barrier. He apparently won’t get anywhere close to the acclaim this feat deserves. He doesn’t seem to care much whether he does, and if he does care, he probably wouldn’t admit it to us.

Nevertheless, we’ve got to acknowledge Barry Bonds’ 700th home run, along with the complexities, conundrums and controversy that come with it. Acknowledge it, that’s all. Make up your own mind how much you want to celebrate it, or if you even want to – and indications are that the average fan doesn’t want to.

But if you don’t acknowledge the simple fact that Bonds is doing something you might not see again in your lifetime, you’re only hurting yourself, as well as disrespecting the feat.

Bonds himself, of course, no longer holds his breath waiting for universal admiration; another few weeks of this as he chases and surpasses 700 won’t make a difference. The past few years of his baseball life have consisted of a daily ritual of booing, walking and trotting. Booing when he comes to bat in an enemy ballpark, booing when he gets his inevitable free pass from a “careful” (or “cowardly”) manager with the bases empty and none out in an 11-0 game, and booing when he launches one into the stratosphere.

His fans in San Francisco adore him, but even that took awhile to take hold. Every once in a while you can still catch a good run of sports-talk yammering about how it’s time to cut Barry loose, spend his salary on some pitching and find an outfielder who hustles to first on grounders more.

You’d think a guy with 700 home runs would be slightly more appreciated.

You’d be wrong.

Wait a second, let’s go back to that. SEVEN HUNDRED HOME RUNS.

Bonds will be the third player in a century and a half of big league ball to reach that number. No one could wear enough body armor or play in enough small parks or rub enough “cream” into his skin to diminish that.

Or so you’d think.

It’s even questionable whether the baseball gods want to give Bonds a break. A rarer-than-rare milestone, another step toward the sexiest record in sports, in the middle of a pennant race, and with the commissioner on hand to add to a golden promotional opportunity for the game – and some knucklehead Rangers reliever picks this moment to heave a chair into the stands.

Want to ask Bud Selig about Barry Bonds? Wait until he makes a statement about Frank Francisco.

An achievement like this should be accompanied by a little more fun, more warmth, more admiration. But this is part of the package when Bonds is involved. It’s also part of the deal, historically, when a certain Baltimore-born Sultan of Swat is involved, even peripherally, as he is in this case.

It’s been a while since anyone has discussed asterisks, but you know it’s coming eventually.

In both cases, Bonds has said: Judge me by what I do on the field.

In that context, we should be figuratively chiseling him on baseball’s Mount Rushmore, because he’s joining the most select of groups of the greatest players anyone will ever see.

Yet he long ago joined another select group, that of stars hated by fans in their time. They weren’t exactly lining up to embrace Ted Williams and, before that, Ty Cobb (who should have an inscription added to his Cooperstown plaque: Biggest SOB in baseball history).

Joe DiMaggio would be in the group if we’d known then what we know now – but we didn’t, and that makes for an even better lesson.

Never underestimate good PR. Without it, you’re waiting a half-century for your big ovation, the way Williams did. How sad that would be for Bonds to follow that path.

Of course, there are plenty who do want to embrace this, and to their credit, the fans of Milwaukee are included. Partly because their own hero, Hank Aaron, scaled Mount Ruth, and partly because the city is used to being overlooked, Brewers fans have applauded Bonds at each at-bat in this current series.

In most other places, though, the same old arguments, and a few recent ones – hello, BALCO – have surfaced about how legit a claim to the throne Bonds holds. Unfortunately, many of them have to do with the aforementioned Babe. Because he’s Willie Mays’ godson and has close ties to Aaron, Bonds is acutely aware of the Babe Backlash and the attending undertones, including the racist ones that have left Aaron embittered three decades later.

Bonds got a taste of it last summer, when his stated desire to surpass Ruth and relegate him to a lower rung in history was met with widespread scorn. His point – on which surely players from Maris to McGwire would have agreed – was that it’s time for the baseball world to stop deferring to a ghost. The reaction – led by, but not limited to, the director of the Ruth Museum here in town – only reinforced his point.

So a nation remains largely disturbed and perturbed by Barry Bonds’ march toward history. His every accomplishment gets the phrase “Yeah, but … ” attached. Instead of triggering joy among the fans, No. 700 (and 715 and 756) surely will be met with unease, even anger.

Too bad. At least that’s what Bonds would say.