Barry Bonds is in Chicago this week. His batting numbers are down, his legs are clearly hurting and he shows his age, 43, with every swing. But, unless something very strange happens he will break Hank Aaron’s record for all-time home runs sometime this summer. He only needs four more homers to tie the record of 755 and thus five to break it. For those of us who grew up watching Henry Aaron, Willie Mays and Stan Musial play the great game Barry is a huge disappointment. This is not a case of old people not liking to see a sacred record broken by a new player. As the saying goes, "All records are made to be broken." Generally, such feats are celebrated even by those who previously held the record. But Bonds is different.
Yes, there is the steroid controversy. Did he or didn’t he? I am willing to say that he has not been convicted, not yet at least. Accusations have never been proven, though circumstantial evidence abounds. In one sense, I don’t care if he did drugs or not since so many players, pitchers included, appear to have been using steroids in the last decade of the 1990s and the early part of this present decade. I think if Barry Bonds had no such accusations around him most fans would still boo him and wish that Aaron’s record would not be broken by this man. (By the way, Bonds record will not likely stand as long as Aaron’s did as several players will have a real shot at breaking it in the next fifteen years or so.) There are a few San Francisco Giants fans who would disagree with me and even provide some good reasons for their disagreement.
I will grant that Barry Lamar Bonds is one of the greatest all-round hitters the game has ever seen. At the peak of his game no one was more feared, no one. His intentional walks records prove this point. His on-base percentage and slugging numbers were off-the-map a few years ago. No one compares to those numbers, ever. What made him so great, until his more recent physical decline, was his eye-hand co-ordination and his unbelievable ability to know how to hit every pitch and how to not swing at bad pitches or even at borderline pitches. For several seasons he racked up the most amazing power numbers and virtually never struck out in the process. This, in itself, is an amazing accomplishment almost never seen in the modern game. I saw all the great players from the 1950s to this day and he is the equal or better of them all as a hitter. (He was even a pretty decent outfielder at one time.) Simply put, he has been a marvelous power hitter and would be pursing many great records, and surely be a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, without the drug issue hanging over him.
So why do I not "like" Barry Bonds as a player? Simple answer—his behavior toward the fans, really toward all people in general, has been boorish and consistently rude. The IRS has issues with him, his former girlfriend wrote an expose about him, and no one seems to like him, no one. Players voted him the least-liked player in the game in a recent poll. There is no doubt about this one fact—Barry Bonds, at least off-the-field, is a disaster. The game is about entertainment. It is about the fans, especially the children. It is about being humane and nice, to some extent, and Bonds is just not nice. He is grumpy, arrogant and impatient with people.
More than all of this I think the most telling criticism of all is the way Bonds treats others. He disrespects both people and the great game that we real fans love. Scott Osler, in the San Francisco Chronicle, put it well when he said Bonds "seems to get grumpier and lonelier" by the day. In an article way back in 1993, long before there was a steroid issue, Steve Berkowitz called Barry Bonds one of baseball’s "biggest jerks."
Steroids are not a total deal breaker with many fans since so many players seem to have used them and MLB clearly had a weak policy for years. No, what ruined Bonds with most fans was Bonds. I am not a psychologist and I am not an insider to Bonds behavioral issues. I am a serious, life-time baseball fan. I watched and met great players over the past fifty years. I have met and talked with Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Stan Musial and a host of today’s modern players, mostly through speaking in baseball chapels and through other such friendships. There are some bad people in this game and there are some extraordinarily wonderful people, just as there are in any part of life. Each player I met along the way was unique. Some were outgoing and some were introverts. All, with only a very few exceptions, showed the game and the fans respect. They were not, and are not, role models for me. My dad was my godly (real) role model. But these men were heroes to me as a child and they are to my grandchildren now. Bonds fails the fan-friendly, respect-the-game, be a good teammate rule at every point and this is why I do not like him as a baseball player.
As a person I have prayed for Barry Bonds. I really and truly have. He is troubled and clearly seems to need significant personal help. I pray that God will show mercy to this man and that all the hatred and the records will not really matter to him as he grows older. That is how I respond to him as a Christian man. As an everyday baseball fan I pay my money to watch a game and choose to boo him like the rest. I respect his accomplishments but do not like him as a player or as a person who now approaches the great record of a much better man, Henry Aaron. Now there’s a man who had real class and who endured a lot more than Bonds ever knew. We need more role model players and there will be some as the game goes along. Names like Albert Pujols come to mind for modern young power hitters. Too bad Bonds doesn’t have Albert’s personality but Albert knows the grace of God in Christ and thus has the resources to cope well with adulation and pressure.