If I read one more diatribe describing Barry Bonds’ drive for a career home run record as a “joyless trek,” I think I’ll barf.
Joyless? Not for the happy crowds at AT&T Park this year, nor for the thousands coming from around the country this week to try to witness historic No. 756. Not even for fans in other parks. Though they boo Bonds on cue when he’s introduced, they also boo their own team if pitchers walk him — and they cheer for his home runs. The fans at Wrigley Field on Thursday certainly realized that they were seeing something special when Bonds turned on the first pitch he saw and drove it through the teeth of the wind, completely out of the park.
Yet, there seems to be a campaign to blast Bonds. A member of the A’s traveling media told me he was amazed that there are anti-Bonds columns in newspapers of every city they visit.
“We go into a place like Kansas City and some guy is writing about how terrible Bonds is,” he said. “I have to wonder where he’s getting his information.”
Well, probably from reading what’s been written elsewhere. Welcome to the copycat world of sports journalism.
I predicted this more than 10 years ago when Bonds committed the cardinal sin: He let writers and broadcasters know that he didn’t care what they wrote or said because it wasn’t important. The ultimate insult. And I wrote that there would be a massive payback when writers, especially, got the opportunity.
The steroids issue gave them that opportunity.
Those close to the game know there is a high percentage of players taking performance-enhancing drugs, and those players are as often pitchers as hitters. Yet, writers have chosen to demonize Bonds, almost as if he were the only one getting medical help.
Writers also know that the talk of sanctity of records, even this one, is silly because conditions change. Babe Ruth didn’t have to play against the top black players of the time. Henry Aaron played a sizable part of his career in an Atlanta park that was called the Launching Pad because it was such a home run haven.
Now, conditions have tilted toward hitters — but not because of steroids.
When both hitters and pitchers are taking them, it is still a level playing field. But the ball was juiced after the ’94 strike to bring fans back, and a series of bandbox parks have been built in cities such as Philadelphia, Houston, Cincinnati and Milwaukee. (Ironically, Bonds plays his home games in a park that is death for other left-handed power hitters.)
All this means is that Alex Rodriguez, who is nearly at 500 homers at age 32, will probably break Bonds’ record during his career. So be it. People who are paying attention in any era know who the best players are. They don’t need the record book to remind them.
I’ve seen the Giants in each of their 50 seasons in The City. They’ve had some great players, including five who are in the Hall of Fame: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda. Mays and Bonds have given me the most thrills. No amount of bile poured out by writers who are looking for payback can convince me that Bonds’ drive for the home run record is anything but a joyous occasion.
How will the country celebrate No. 756?
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