With one swing of the bat, the sanctity and cleanliness of sports’ most cherished record vanished. Like a cannonball, Barry Bonds 756th home run rocketed off his bat and fell into the sixth row of the right-center field bleachers at SBC Park in San Francisco. A whole-hearted applause from Giants fans followed, ignoring the outlined and well-documented steps Bonds took to reach this fateful day, and instead showered their hero with full appreciation and warmth. A dismal tribute from the previous and true home run king, Henry Aaron, followed on the big screen and more applause continued to shower Bonds from the stands. With his family and the only 40,000 baseball fans in the universe that geniunely love Barry Bonds beside him, he must have felt like the king of the world.
Vanished. Gone forever is Hank Aaron’s name from the top of the home run plateau. Gone is the mark of a man who endured daily death threats, racist remarks and overcame such obstacles only the great Jackie Robinson can relate to. Until one of baseball’s upper eschelon leaders has the testicular fortitude to put an asterisk on the table for discussion, it will be Barry Bonds name posing as an umbrella over Aaron at the top of the mountain. For people that watched Aaron play the game of baseball, he was the model of consistency and reliability. He played the game with proper fundamentals day in and day out with the utmost honesty and without the help of any doctored drug aid. Aaron wasn’t flashy or star material. Instead, he climbed the home run charts with class and focus. Baseball fans appreciated his accomplishments more and more as the years wore on.
The home run, anyone will say, is the most enjoyable play in baseball. The ball is smacked off the sweet spot of the wooden bat, a solid crack follows, and the high and long trajectory of the ball carries the stitched white circular object into the outfield stands, as an instant run or runs for the team is put on the scoreboard. In the early days of baseball, home runs were rare and not particulary taught. Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and other pre-1930s hitters focused more on smallball- bunting, hit and runs, smacking singles the opposite way, etc. On came Babe Ruth and the home run became the premiere play in the great game of baseball. The single season home run record was broken by a steroid user back in 1998. Now, since Tuesday night when the shot off Bonds’ bat fell into the hands of a lucky fan, the all-time home run record has been broken by a cheater.
Unknowingly or knowingly, Bonds used the cream and the clear. His head trainer, Greg Anderson, is in prison. He admitted in front of a grand jury he used steroids. Serious Bonds defenders can dodge the evidence all they please, but it’s common knowledge around this world that when your head size doubles in length and width, and when your home run totals begin escalating at an obscene number when you enter your late-30’s, something is fishy. When most of the star players of Bonds era were beginning their declines into retirement in 2001-2004, Bonds was breaking records by the game. Forget the home run records, Bonds was shattering all-time OPS records for an individual season. Fishy, indeed.
Bonds isn’t the lone person to blame in this steroid mess. The commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, and his little cohorts at the top of the food chain are also to blame. When Selig dodges another steroid question, or forwards any judgement to individual fans, or when Selig ducks out of being in attendance when Bonds broke Aaron’s mark, the seed of guilt at the bottom of his stomach grows. Performance-enhancing solutions were entrenched in baseball since the 1970’s, but never had it reached such a high level as in the mid-90’s, when players like Jose Canseco were half-man, half-steroids. With the devestating strike of 1994 and the ensuing drops in attendance and overall hatred of baseball’s greed, the game was in shambles. Then McGwire came along. Sosa came along. The home run chase came along. All of a sudden, the entire country was enamored in the chase to break Roger Maris’s coveted home run record, and who can blame us? They were exciting times in baseball for us fans outside the front offices. Steroids were rampant, but steroids meant more home runs, and home runs meant higher attendance….which means the state of baseball becomes recognized and profits. Then Bonds came along. Attendance is up and up and up. While all of this was occuring, and while baseball fans enjoyed the chases, Selig and his friends turned the other way at the madness. They kept the widespread steroid use secret.
Innocent until proven guilty is a motto thrown around a lot in this country. In most instances, it’s true to its word and very useful. In the case of Barry Bonds, throw it out the window. He was either fortunate enough to dodge testing positive under a steroid test, or lucky enough to be under baseball’s provision and his tests were kept secret. Along with 50, 60 or 70% of baseball during what will now be known as the Steroid Era, Barry Bonds used steroids. He became the blue chip of the group. Before even indulging in performance-enhancing drugs, Barry Bonds was one of the most recognizable and best players in baseball. While the middling steroid users became known and earned some needed money, Bonds vaulted himself to annual all-star to legend. He, along with McGwire, Sosa and Canseco, are the poster boys of the Steroid Era because they are the best.
Should Barry Bonds be in the Hall of Fame? Probably. His numbers pre-steroids indicate he is worthy, and even though we cannot poinpoint exactly when he began using steroids, you have to think he’d carry on his Pirates and early Giants numbers onto a Hall of Fame ballot. But chicks dig the long ball, and the home run is the most noteworthy and cherished record in sports today. If Bonds is granted full honor of this record without any form of asterisk or identification of cheating, Hank Aaron is being royally screwed. He broke the record with his body and with his perserverance over years of pain and hostility. Bonds name and number may be at the top, but in the minds of baseball fans paying attention, Hank Aaron is still the home run king.