Thursday, April 06, 2006

Can't Take Your Eyes Off Bonds

by Scott Silversten

This is a column about Barry Bonds. I didn’t want to write it, and you probably do not want to read it. But I did, and you will, because Barry Lamar Bonds is the most compelling athlete in sports history.

Bonds is the car wreck on the side of the road that backs up traffic for miles, or the gorgeous girl walking down the street who knows everyone is looking at her. It’s impossible not to stare and wonder what is going on inside his head, impossible not to gawk in awe during the remaining days of his career.

In the argument of most compelling athlete ever, there are others who are in the discussion. A case can be made for such legendary figures as Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Michael Jordan. However, Ruth was a larger than life figure because the era in which he played yielded limited access. Ali was as loved as he was despised, Brown shunned the spotlight and Jordan was mostly beloved by everyone except his opponents.

I will admit that the Tuesday night debut of "Bonds On Bonds" had slipped my mind, but I’m also not ashamed to admit that when I stopped on the ESPN2 show about halfway through, I could not turn away. And each time the man stepped to the plate in Monday’s season opener against the San Diego Padres, all activity halted.

It used to be said of great power hitters, "You don’t go to the concessions stands when he’s at bat." With Bonds, you can almost feel a hushed silence encompass every stadium the moment he walks into the on-deck circle.

While many just wish Bonds would go away, there is a reason Game of Shadowsis flying off the shelves, why he is pictured alongside Ruth on the cover of this week’s USA Today Sports Weekly, why “Bonds on Bonds” will become a watercooler event as the summer progresses. Love him or hate him, and there is no doubt that very few people fall into the first category, everybody talks about him.

If you didn’t see it, in the last few minutes of the debut of "Bonds on Bonds," the show’s star broke down crying about the weight he carries on his shoulders. That the tears seemed somewhat fake did not sway my willingness to watch the next episode’s airing. I need to know what he is going to say next – sort of sports’ version of American Idol’s Simon Cowell.

The tears will appear more like an Oscar-level performance after reading the opening pages of Game of Shadows,in which authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams detail how Bonds’ attitude throughout high school, college and professional stops in Pittsburgh and San Francisco turned everyone against him. Steroids aside, Bonds was despised by just about everyone long before he met Greg Anderson and Victor Conte, and there is little doubt he brought all of that upon himself.

And that is why Bonds has never been given the benefit of the doubt over the last few years, and why so many have clamored for the investigation into the past that Commissioner Bud Selig recently announced. Personally, I think the investigation is a waste of time. However, Bonds does not deserve to be targeted just because he is not a nice guy and was the most successful player of the steroid era.

If Selig wants to tell the world that Bonds has used every drug that Fainaru-Wada and Williams claim, that’s fine. But I also want to know of all those homers in recent years, how many came against pitchers that were also using steroids? I want to know what caused the bodies of "nicer" guys -- like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas -- to break down during the height of their careers.

That is in no way inferring that Griffey and Thomas are guilty of anything, just that their personality has never raised suspicion.

The baseball fans, media and executive hierarchy need to move past this fascination with the record books. In its cover story, Sports Weekly debates how Bonds will be judged against Ruth. It’s strange how people forget that Ruth does not own the all-time home run record that belongs to Hank Aaron. It’s akin to asking how Pete Rose should be judged against the man who stands No. 3 on the all-time hits list. (For those that don’t know, Aaron also holds that distinctive place in baseball annals).

The fact that the baseball records are held in high esteem is great for the game, but without waxing poetic about a sport passed down from generation to generation, father to son, let’s not forget that records really can not be compared over different eras. Times change, and athletes of recent vintage have a lot of advantages over their past counterparts.

Ford Frick was wrong in assigning an asterisk to Roger Maris’ 61 homers in 1961 due to the lengthened season. Of course, he didn’t see it necessary to place an asterisk next to any other record set that year.

Whether he surpasses Aaron or not, Bonds does not deserve an asterisk next to his name either, and he definitely deserves a spot in Cooperstown alongside Aaron and Ruth. And let’s be honest, that will be one Hall-of-Fame induction that I would not dare to miss.

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday


Blogger j-bird said...

Scott, you are right. i did not want to read your column. and i am tired of hearing about bonds. like you,k though i do stop to watch the car wreck.

however, i disagree with you about bonds and the history books and cooperstown. the man did steroids. probably massive amounts of them. if the investigation proves that he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, he deserves multiple asteriks next to any record he sets and a wall in front of him and cooperstown.

there is nothing hall-of-fame worthy about cheating. in my mind what he has done to the game is far worse than anything pete rose ever did. and rose was a much better ballplayer by the way.

frank thomas and ken griffey are not being investigated because not because they are "nice," but because they do not have multiple witnesses coming out to say they did illegal drugs to help them hit homers.

Sunday, April 09, 2006  

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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