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On Bonds..

Well, it was inevitable that I’d have to weigh in on this one eventually. At forty-three years old and with every steroid-detecting dog in the country assigned to his beat, Barry Bonds continues to hit baseballs like a man who never got the news that this is one of the most difficult things to do in all of sports. And with equally impressive conviction, every grammatically-challenged yahoo west of China continues to offer their opinion on his undeserving, overrated, un-Henry Aaron like ass.

Getting someone to attest to Bond’s status as a colossal jerk is about as difficult as finding a parent with reservations about letting their kid attend a Michael Jackson sleep-over. His alleged personality flaws are as legendary as his splash-landing home runs in the San Francisco Bay. What’s much more curious are the legions of “baseball fans” willing to put their keen insight on the line for an opportunity to make the case that he isn’t only undeserving of the home run crown, he’s not even near the hitter that his statistics would suggest. Prominent among this field of detractors are the baseball “purists” who relish the chance to point out that, because of his steroid use over several seasons, all of Bond’s accomplishments are going in the record book “with an asterisk.” The last time I checked, baseball (and its history) was far from pure. From the 1919 Black Sox Scandal to Mike Scott’s emery board to Sammy Sosa’s corked bat, our national pastime has reflected this great country of ours in its participants’ never-ending quest to gain an unfair advantage over the other guy. The only thing that separates the steroids scandal is its overwhelming prevalence among large numbers playing the game. And the only thing separating Bonds from this pack is his ability. You don’t see too many people calling for the head of Marvin Benard, do you?

The only fair gauge for any athlete’s ability is how he stacks up against the players of his own era. It would be undeniably naive to assume that any advantage available to one is not there for all. There was a time before the Michael Jordan era when they hadn’t even invented the jump-shot. Hank Aaron hit the majority of his home runs in a shoe box. Babe Ruth never played against black ballplayers. To call oneself a baseball fan and at the same time deny Barry Bond’s talent is completely incongruous. I don’t claim to know much about anything, but I’ve been following the game for roughly thirty-five years and I’ve never seen a hitter like Bonds. His pitch discipline and on-base percentage are every bit as impressive as the number of homers he hits. His swing is so good that he makes it look easy; what he does with his hands alone is phenomenal. His mere presence at the plate not only influences every game he plays, it makes any game, regardless of the standings, worth watching. Ultimately, he’s made this home run record thing infinitely more fascinating, if only for the hoards claiming that they won’t be paying attention. If they really don’t care, why do the boos follow him from the on deck circle to his post in left field? Why is every baseball discussion board filled with arguments proclaiming his approaching record a non-event? It’s because a villain is always infinitely more fascinating than a hero, and particularly a supremely talented, unapologetic one.

I for one am going to be following Barry, not because I’m a Giants fan or even a baseball fan, but because it’s fun. And I’m going to enjoy every dinger he hits from here on, as much as I will every fat, middle-aged white guy standing in the bleachers in St. Louis, holding a “cheater” sign just above his prodigious boiler. It’s the American way .. (4/29/07)

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