Sitting in Red Robin in Vancouver, Washington last week I looked up at one of the televisions and it was clear Barry Bonds had broken the home run record. I wrote a little thing about vacation last week, but Brant is asking for thoughts on Barry. What I’ll say is something I know has already been said, except for one thing.
For one, I don’t think God approves. Hat tip to Jim Thomsen for providing the link to the church sign generator.
What struck me the most about Barry’s moment was that I did stay up extra late that night to catch the full report on ESPN, but once I saw it I felt nothing. I get off on these things, too. I still cry when I see Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 series. I was ecstatic when Cal Ripken managed to break the consecutive game record. When Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record, I was all over that. I love sports and I have a pretty big emotional attachment to players and teams. Yet the same night that Bonds broke the record, what really got me charged was Roger Clemens plunking a Blue Jay after one of their pitchers hit A-Rod for the second time in the series. Clemens’ pitch was perfect. It was exciting.
Also odd was that Barry acted every bit the class act on his night. Had we seen any evidence of that class over the past two decades I’m sure I would have cared at least a little. But Bonds has always been a malcontent. He’s a jerk. If he ran against George W. Bush for president I’d vote for Nader.
None of that would have mattered, though, had it not been for the steroids. He can claim all he wants that he didn’t knowingly use steroids, because he didn’t want to know. I’m prosecuting him without benefit of a trial, I know, but I think Barry had every reason to suspect that what he was using wasn’t kosher.
On Thomsen’s blog a lot of people don’t care, but here’s why it matters to me. I’m all for any performance enhancing substance or activity that also improves life in general, or at least poses no threat. That way, no one is forced to make the decision as to whether the price is worth paying. Of course it is. So if all the athletes were using performance enhancers that didn’t threaten to shrink their testicles while enlarging their heads (a pretty sad tradeoff I think we’d all agree), then I’d be for it. Hell, I’d take them myself to make me work better in the yard. The problem is steroids do exact a cost, which forces some people to stay away from them, giving those who will take the risk an unfair advantage.
I like what George Will wrote in December 2004:
Athletes chemically propelled to victory do not merely overvalue winning, they misunderstand why winning is properly valued. Professional athletes stand at an apex of achievement because they have paid a price in disciplined exertion — a manifestation of good character. They should try to perform unusually well. But not unnaturally well. Drugs that make sport exotic drain it of its exemplary power by making it a display of chemistry rather than character — actually, a display of chemistry and bad character.
It’s why guys like Dale Murphy, who in the early part of the 1980s was the most feared hitter in baseball, don’t really get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. Murphy’s presence was diminishing when Jose Canseco arrived and changed the game. Still, they overlapped, and Murphy is overlooked. I can’t argue that Murphy would have been a shoe-in, but his 398 career home runs doesn’t seem Hall worthy at all, especially when he’s behind Rafael Palmeiro, Andres Galaragga and Canseco.
What bothers me most is what Bonds did to the record itself. The career home run mark was called by many the most sacred individual record in the sport, perhaps in all of sports. We should have cared. I should have cared. Now, I could not care less.