Barry Bonds is a baseball hero, even if he did cheat.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
The crowd erupted in cheers when Barry Bonds walked onto the field for batting practice at AT&T Park prior to the All-Star Game on Tuesday night.
In every other ballpark in America, Bonds is greeted with a loud chorus of boos every time he takes the field, but at home in San Francisco he got the respect he deserves.
A minute after stepping up to the plate, he hit the second pitch he saw over the right field wall into McCovey Cove.
It was a meaningless practice hit, but it served as a reminder that Bonds is something special. None of the sluggers who participated in the annual Home Run Derby the previous night had been able to put one in the water.
Barry Bonds could have gone to play for a championship team, but he wanted to play in San Francisco.
Bonds had declined to participate in the Derby, explaining that he was hurting – the 42-year-old outfielder has been battling injuries for a decade. In the days leading up to the game he’d been blasted in the media for this perceived snub. The critics said he was letting the fans down by depriving them of a show; they called him a selfish slacker, a jerk.
Nothing new there. The greatest baseball player of his generation, the man who will soon break the all-time record for home runs, Bonds may be the most hated man in the game. His swing is a thing of beauty and the numbers show that he’s a champion – maybe even the best player of all time – and everywhere he goes he’s booed. In a recent poll conducted by Time.com, 77 percent of respondents said they didn’t want Bonds to break the home run record that Hank Aaron has held since 1976.
In recent years, the Barry-haters have called him a cheater, a juicer. It is generally accepted as fact that Bonds used steroids throughout the late 1990s, although he has never admitted it in public. Following the 2001 season, when he hit a record-breaking 73 home runs, the haters seethed over the allegations that Bonds was juicing.
He probably was. And it’s very likely that Mark McGwire was using steroids when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1998. Sammy Sosa used the stuff too. All of the big guys in baseball were using performance-enhancing drugs at that time.
Nobody hates Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire. When McGwire testified in Congress and said “I’m not here to talk about the past,” refusing to admit anything but not denying anything, he won America’s sympathy. When Bonds does the same thing he’s a liar, a cheater.
Even before the steroid scandal, Barry Bonds was not well-loved by the baseball establishment. He has never gotten along with sportswriters. He has always been surly, even combative, in interviews. Although he has many friends in the game, he does not pal around with the guys in the clubhouse or after games. He seems to be a good dad – his sons are ball boys and attend most home games – but he shuns autograph hounds, even kids. Maybe he is an arrogant jerk, or maybe he’s just an introvert.
Whatever – Bonds has always been a Hall of Fame-quality player, even before he became the most fearsome power hitter in baseball history. When he was young and fast, he stole more than 30 bases in nine consecutive seasons – he is the only player ever to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases in a career. He has won the Gold Glove eight times for his defensive skills in the outfield – a rare thing for a big hitter. He has made 14 All-Star teams and won a record 7 Most Valuable Player awards.
As he approaches Aaron’s record, Bonds is not resting on his laurels. Though he is not dominating the league this year, his on-base percentage is the best in baseball, and his .295 batting average and 17 home runs indicate that this season will be one that would make anyone else proud.
For all of his accomplishments, Barry Bonds has never played for a team that won the World Series. The haters point to that fact as evidence that he is only interested in the records – only out for himself.
Fact is, Barry Bonds probably could have gone to play for a championship team. He probably could have been a Yankee. But he wanted to play in San Francisco, the city where he grew up. He wanted to play for the Giants – the team that his father, Bobby Bonds, played for.
Just before the All Star Game Tuesday, after batting practice, Bonds walked out onto the field to be introduced, and was given a long standing ovation. Then he helped his godfather, Willie Mays, walk out to the pitcher’s mound, and watched as Willy threw the ceremonial first pitch.
Back when he was the best player in the game, ballplayers weren’t forced to be celebrities. Willie Mays didn’t have to be nice. His godson shouldn’t have to either.