Other than friends, family, Bernie Madoff and Pinocchio, no one should be rooting for Alex Rodriguez. His case is the most egregious of all the steroid bums — he lied about using performance-enhancing drugs, promised he'd never use them again, then used them again and tried to lie that he hadn't — which means his chase for statistical milestones is best ignored like a Milli Vanilli video. At least Lance Armstrong, in defrauding the U.S. government, raised cancer awareness to some discernible degree with wristbands and hospital visits.
A-Rod has no redeeming value, and every Giants fan who passes the Willie Mays statue in Willie Mays Plaza should hope to hell that Rodriguez suddenly develops a conscience attack and retires before hitting the six home runs necessary to leapfrog Mays on the all-time list.
Yet a screechy voice from baseball's soiled past wants us to celebrate A-Rod anyway. His name is Barry Bonds, and he should be ashamed. Not only does Willie Mays happen to be his godfather, Willie Mays is one of the three greatest power hitters who did not use performance-enhancing drugs. On my all-time home run list, Henry Aaron is first, Babe Ruth is second, Mays is third; Bonds and Rodriguez don't qualify. There is a reason the Giants, to this day, prop up Mays with shrines, tributes and glorious references; notice how Jon Miller mentioned him Monday in the latest World Series banner ceremony. He crossed the spiritual bridge from New York to San Francisco and remains the enduring, endearing symbol of this franchise's might in American sports. Conversely, there's a reason you need a flashlight, a Sherpa guide and Google Maps to find paeans to Bonds at AT&T Park. He, like Rodriguez, was a disgraced product of a dirty era we're trying to forget.
Which probably explains why Bonds, as if living vicariously through the public's aversion to Rodriguez, defended A-Rod passionately in an interview with USA Today. Just as he thinks the sport and its fans should revere him as the so-called Home Run King, he thinks the sport and its fans should applaud Rodriguez when he hits Nos. 660 and 661. As a tainted figure, Bonds should recognize that the Giants and CEO-President Larry Baer are attempting, step by delicate step, to usher him toward a more prominent place in the organization. They'd like him to be an ambassador of sorts, a special assistant, a handshaker at corporate events, a traveling minor-league instructor, maybe a hitting teacher as he was in spring training last year.
Praising A-Rod, at the expense of Mays, is not a very ambassadorlike move. Consider it the latest installment in a long-running drama: Barry Buries Barry.
“My godfather means the world to me. I love him to a T, but when Alex hits No. 660, I'll be happy for him,” Bonds said in the interview with writer Bob Nightengale. “Willie will be happy for him. Everybody should be happy for him. Any time anybody in the game does something that's a great accomplishment, the game of baseball should celebrate that.
“No matter what. Baseball is benefiting from that person's hard work, so baseball should at least celebrate.”
Celebrate what? The honor of cheating? The softest description for all of this is “awkward.” The New York Yankees, in a humiliating plunge into hypocrisy for a once-regal franchise, are embracing Rodriguez's early offensive success after his return from a 2014 suspension, all while refusing to acknowledge in their media notes that he's approaching Mays. They'll list that he's nearing 16th place on the club's stolen base list, but they're trying to withhold a $6 million bonus owed A-Rod for tying Mays and, thus, are protecting their legal backsides by not making official references to power numbers. They really should just pay off the $61 million remaining on his contract, consider it a favor to the American mental condition and be done with him. But they'd rather wear blinders at game time and listen to the crack of his surprisingly hot bat, knowing he's one of the few capable performers right now in a sad, soggy lineup.
Hate is too strong a word for what people feel about Rodriguez. Meh is better. Yet Bonds, inflaming the issue, suggests something more deep and sinister than the simple human act of snubbing a phony.
“Why the hate?” Bonds said. “Why hate on something you're paying to see? I don't understand it. He's entertaining us. I wish life wasn't like that.
“This guy is not running for president of the United States. He's not running for commissioner. We're not running for political office. We're just ballplayers. We're not God. We're imperfect people. We're human beings.”
Oh, maybe because people were “paying to see” something that wasn't real in an era when Bonds was hitting the bulk of his 762 homers. Maybe because media people, such as myself, still feel duped and embarrassed to have voiced even a yelp of excitement while watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa fool us. It's not a matter of being perfect or being God; none of us is. Fact is, Aaron hit 755 home runs without PEDs, Ruth hit 714 home runs without PEDs and Mays hit 660 home runs without PEDs. They are the ones who deserve the bouquets and should be separated — for posterity — from the juicers.
Bonds lives solo in a San Francisco apartment, having sold his Beverly Hills estate. He needs to move on from BALCO the way McGwire moved on from his plight — a tearful apology, an honest effort to spread his hard lessons to kids, humble servanthood for the sport that made him wealthy through the sport's scandals. True to form, Bonds has fought the system as aggressively as he once attacked major-league pitchers, and, technically, his legal record will be clean if his obstruction-of-justice conviction is reversed. But what ultimately will be said about Bonds and Rodriguez is this: Egomaniacal men were not content to compete merely with extraordinary natural gifts.
They needed artificial help when their forerunners did not.
“What part of 600 home runs don't people understand?” Bonds rambled on. “You don't need to understand that. Just look at the numbers.
“I told Alex, you don't need to prove anything to anybody. What do you need to prove? That you can hit another home run? That you can play baseball? Why the hell does anyone need to ask him that? He already proved it.
“If you want to prove something, prove how much you love playing baseball. Show them how much you enjoy playing the game. Enjoy the things that you love. If you do that, who gives a damn what they say about you?”
Obviously, Barry does. Or he wouldn't have spent an hour with a reporter, giving a damn about what we say about him and an era best forgotten. Silly me, I thought the Giants might trot out Bonds for the banner ceremony as a way of re-attaching the broken chain between 762 and the three-titles-in-five-years era — in effect, remarkably replacing The Wrong Way with The Right Way in short order.
He was nowhere in sight. Good thing, too, because we don't know how Madison Bumgarner's horse would have reacted.