As baseball fans, and even many non-fans, know by now Barry Bonds hit career home run number 756 last evening in San Francisco, breaking the 33 year-old record of my childhood hero, Hank Aaron. The controversy surrounding this event has been huge. A great deal of this, as usual, was media-generated. Before we put this to rest I want to share a few reflections on the day after the famous long ball.
1. This new record will likely not stand for another 33 years. In fact, if Alex Rodriguez does not have serous injuries he will break it in less than ten years! If he doesn’t break it a half dozen others will challenge it in the next twenty years; e.g., Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, etc.
2. Barry Bonds actually handled himself fairly well during the last part of this home run chase. He was cordial, not sullen as he was for so many years, and seemed to have some measure of peace about it all.
3. Hank Aaron should not be faulted for not being present last night. His comments, which were gracious and appropriate, were played on the big board at AT&T Park after the event happened.
4. Whether Bonds is ever convicted of using performance enhancing drugs (steroids) is to be seen. The facts seem to be that this entire era is tainted by such drugs. I prefer to think of baseball as happening in four eras: (1) The "dead ball " era. (2) The Babe Ruth era and rise of the home run. (3) The post World War II, post-integration, era marked by the greats like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson. (4) The modern, drug-enhanced, bigger, faster and more athletic era of the modern game. I like all these eras and do not think you can ever go backwards in any game like baseball. (I do miss really good pitching. Before long we will define a "quality start" as five innings and three or less runs given up. This is a real joke! A bigger question is will anyone win 300 games again in the foreseeable future? And will anyone ever pitch complete game shutouts again?)
5. I am sick of the former players who now "rat" on the players they played alongside for years. If they were noble in character they would have blown the whistle when it would have cost them and could have done something for this game. If they saw it and did nothing back then they should be quiet now for heaven’s sake. This hypocrisy doesn’t help anyone.
6. The owners and the player’s union are both responsible for this mess in the end. When the strike of 1994 almost killed the game they both did nothing about drugs. They knew what was going on and they looked the other way because of collective greed and quick glory they both pursued. To make Bonds the sole target of this angst now is hypocritical at the least.
7. Barry Bonds, as I have previously said, is a great player and will define this era. Give him credit. It saddens me that he didn’t grow emotionally and spiritually up along the way but I believe in grace and pray that he will find real redemption and free grace in the years ahead.
So, we have a new home run champion and his name is Barry Bonds! But Hank Aaron has nothing to feel bad about in the least. In fact, this whole chase has made Aaron look more impressive than ever, which I’ve quite enjoyed. (See the cover story of Sports Illustrated, July 23, 2007).
Congratulations Barry. I do hope you will find peace sooner than later.