In big picture, Bonds' record will outlive today's skeptics

August 09, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Barry Bonds has more home runs than anybody else in major league baseball history. If the polls, not to mention our eyes and ears, are correct, not many people (myself included) are finding any joy in that fact today.

That can't be helped, not after all that has led up to this moment, as Bonds and his baggage crossed the threshold of the record once held by Henry Aaron.

But this also can't be helped: Time is going to prove that we, at this time and in this place, are wrong.

Bonds' record will not carry an asterisk, and he will not wear a scarlet letter for eternity. Baseball's record books will not be thrown into flux or discarded as fiction. The fight to save the sanctity of the numbers will not have died out - it will just be shifted to whatever the controversy of the day is.

It always happens, and always will. This may be the first draft of history, but thank God it's only the first draft and will someday get marked up with red ink.

After all, after breaking Babe Ruth's single-season homer record in 1961, Roger Maris eventually had his day in the sun. He just didn't live long enough to see it. With decades of hindsight, we view those people who tried to discredit him and his record as hopeless, pathetic rubes who robbed a fine player of his glory, and openly laugh at the idea of sticking an asterisk on his mark.

Aaron has lived long enough to get his accolades - and thus outlived the death threats that accompanied his passing Ruth on the career homer list. Looking back, we have convinced ourselves that we all were on the side of the angels, even though somebody had to write those vile letters.

Yet even seemingly sane, non-bigoted people also took serious exception back then, using Ruth's pitching record and homer-per-at-bat ratio as a club to beat Aaron's accomplishment down. Many still do.

Hero now, suspect then.

Will it be that way for Bonds one day? It's impossible to imagine that now. Then again, way back in 1998, we were certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa homer chase was a spectacle for the ages. We're all smarter now, not like those dopes back then.

But this is a dirty era, we keep saying, and Bonds is the bloated face of it. OK. Which was the "clean" era?

Go back as far as you like. To Ty Cobb's day? The Black Sox? To that nearly half a century of mutually agreed upon segregation? To expansion, franchise-uprooting and stadium blackmail? To the time amphetamines got popular? How about acid and cocaine? How about artificial turf and domes, shrinking ballparks and tightening strike zones, lacquered bats and juiced baseballs? What about those years of strikes, lockouts, collusion and a canceled World Series? How about the heyday of sign-stealing, bat-corking and ball-doctoring?

And now body-doctoring.

It all fits in with the nature of baseball and the people who play it, as well as those who sit in judgment of it. If anything is different now, it's that the judgments come faster, more harshly and from more places.

Baseball never was, is not and never will be played in heaven; it's played right here on Earth, in the same muck and mire in which you and I live. Wise people take the sport for what it is, pause a second before deciding who and what are right and wrong and use it as their guide to the record books.

The big record now belongs to Bonds, the record that was put on a pedestal about three-quarters of a century ago by a man who, among other things, was once accused of turning baseball into a circus, a game of brutes instead of brains. That's how some "purists" viewed Babe Ruth in the 1920s.

It's likely that nobody said back then, "Someday, his name will be an adjective for greatness. They'll build a museum out of the house where he was born. Adults will threaten to kill whoever chases his records."

This is the Needleball Era, and there's no way around that. It looks ugly now. Give it a few decades, and it will be just another segment in time. The record will not change - change hands, maybe, but Bonds' total is not going to be adjusted for inflation.

And Bonds' insufferable, wholly unlikable personality won't be a factor in his legacy any more than was that of Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio or Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose or the standard by which all baseball jerks are judged, Cobb.

Hitting 756 career home runs is a phenomenal achievement. It is a testament to Aaron that it took this long to surpass him.

Bonds deserves to be acknowledged for scaling that mountain.

Don't feel bad if you can't manage that yet. You're not alone, and you're hardly among the first generation to go through this.

But if you exercise, eat your vegetables and reduce your carbon footprint, you might live long enough to give Bonds and his home runs their due.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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