Our long national nightmare is almost over.
San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds hit a home run in the second inning of the Giants-San Diego Padres game Saturday night, tying him with Hank Aaron for the all-time lead. (The game was still going after this edition went to press.) One more, and Bonds would own the record by himself. And then he can disappear to the other side of the mountain, waving his bat like a baton as he leads the most joyless parade in baseball history.
Before he does, we should thank the man for teaching us something. He has taught us that making history will not change your own. This record does not absolve Bonds. It does not wash him clean. Whatever he has done, he has done, and if you are convinced, as I am, that a good number of his homers were hit while he was artificially powered and bulked up from steroids, then nothing changes except the math. He can have 755. He can have 900. Who cares?
He is not a hero. He is not worth a one-handed clap. Let him do his own cheering, his own waving, his own falsely humble speeches. Bonds seems to matter most in his own mind anyhow. Let him live there as a record holder. The outside world is entitled to its doubts.
And they will never go away. Has there ever been a moment this confused in baseball? What should have been a coronation became a torch passed with noses held. What should have been a glorious countdown has been a March of Dread.
Even as that ball flew over the wall on a 2-1 pitch Saturday night, there were more knots in stomachs than lumps in throats.
Just look at the evidence
Now perhaps you are one who says, “Leave Barry alone.” Perhaps you say, “He’s the record holder; show him respect.” Perhaps, because Bonds has never failed a drug test (although we don’t know how many he has taken), you wish to give him the benefit of the doubt.
That’s fine. That is your right.
But know what you choose to ignore.
You choose to ignore numerous published reports – including a book that took two years of research and hundreds of interviews – that claim Bonds used steroids for years, including stanozolol, the same drug that got Ben Johnson tossed from the Olympics, testosterone decanoate, insulin, human growth hormone, and even trenbolone, which is more often used with cattle.
You choose to ignore claims that Bonds took up to 20 pills a day and injected himself with his drugs.
You choose to ignore the undeniable change in Bonds’ appearance, the thickened arm, shoulder and neck muscles. You choose to ignore his enlarged head, even though normal human adults almost never see their head size grow (unless they are taking steroids).
You choose to ignore the mind-boggling fact that, for his first 13 seasons, Bonds averaged 32 home runs and a .290 batting average, but, beginning when he was 34 – an age that foreshadows retirement for many ballplayers – Bonds somehow averaged 49 home runs and a .329 average for the next six seasons.
You choose to ignore that Bonds, who, in his 20s, never hit more than 46 home runs a year, suddenly, when he was 37, hit 73 in one season.
You choose to ignore that the man who allegedly supplied Bonds with all this stuff pleaded guilty to steroid distribution and went to jail, that Bonds’ former mistress has made claims about his steroid use, that the Tigers’ Gary Sheffield, who trained with Bonds, admitted using the “cream” and “clear” substances – two alleged designer steroids distributed by BALCO labs – before bolting the program.
You choose to ignore the common-sense argument that players don’t suddenly become more powerful and more productive as they approach 40.
I don’t choose to ignore that much. And because I can’t ignore that much, I have to ignore his record.
Records can be ignored
Now despite all the hand-wringing, this is nothing new. Sports records have existed that people question or doubt, even some at which they flat-out laugh.
Baseball has its share of this. In the 1930s and 1940s, all kinds of records were set, but many believe that had black players been allowed to play the game, those records would belong to other men – men named Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige.
For years, fans – and even a baseball commissioner – didn’t fully recognize Roger Maris’ 61 home runs as the best single-season mark, because Maris’ schedule was eight games longer than Babe Ruth’s.
And today, many feel Maris’ mark is more credible than that of Mark McGwire, who broke it with 70 – but might have been juiced – or Bonds, who broke that mark with 73.
Look no further than that to see how easily what Bonds did last night can be ignored. We have hardly celebrated Bonds’ achievement of 2001. So darkened is that mark by the shadows of steroids that you almost forget he holds it.
The same might happen with this all-time home run mark. Bonds puts it in his pocket, but that no more means he owns it than the thief owns a stolen watch.
One more dinger to go, and this farce will be over. If there were justice, if people told the truth, if steroids had not haunted baseball, then Bonds would have been shy of Aaron, and Saturday night would not have happened. But there is not always justice. There is not always truth. Bonds will trot around the bases and will, one day soon, march off into his own tainted horizon. Shed no tears when his parade passes you by.
The homer: Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s career home run record with his 755th homer Saturday night in the second inning.
The reaction: Commissioner Bud Selig stood up and put his hands in his pockets while Bonds’ family hugged and high-fived. When Bonds crossed the plate, he lifted his batboy son, Nikolai, and carried him several steps in an embrace.
The crowd: The Petco Park crowd stood and cheered, with some boos mixed in. Several fans held up asterisk signs.
The pitcher: Clay Hensley.Today: At San Diego; Bonds not expected to start.
500 HR club
Player No. 1. Hank Aaron 755 2. x-Barry Bonds 754 3. Babe Ruth 714 4. Willie Mays 660 5. x-Sammy Sosa 604 6. x-Ken Griffey Jr. 589 7. Frank Robinson 586 8. Mark McGwire 583 9. Harmon Killebrew 573 10. Rafael Palmeiro 569 11. Reggie Jackson 563 12. Mike Schmidt 548 13. Mickey Mantle 536 14. Jimmie Foxx 534 15. Willie McCovey 521 15. Ted Williams 521 17. Ernie Banks 512 17. Eddie Mathews 512 19. Mel Ott 511 20. x-Frank Thomas 505 21. Eddie Murray 504 22. x-Alex Rodriguez 500
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org