Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hammer Time

I was reading an article this morning (don't ask where) about the impact that Jackie Robinson had on the game. In the article Hank Aaron talks about what Jackie Robinson meant to him. He also talks about Barry Bonds. Mr. Aaron brings up the fact that his chase of the all time home run record was less than enjoyable because of all the hate mail and negative comments that were directed toward him. He says that Bonds is probably going through the same thing because of the steroid allegations. He also says that that unless there is actual proof that Bonds took steroids that he shouldn't be persecuted. Mr. Aaron seems to say that he's perfectly alright with Bonds breaking his record. If I remember correctly, he used the oft quoted line, records are made to be broken.

I really do appreciate Hank Aaron for all that he has done and the class and dignity that he has carried himself with. The only thing I remember him ever being "controversial" about was when he sounded the call over the lack of minorities in higher positions in baseball. He brought that issue up long before Major League baseball decided to make minority hiring a priority. Hank Aaron probably had to endure more hatred pointed his way than Jackie Robinson did. I'm not saying that he had a harder road to endure than Jackie did, because being the first is always the hardest. But by the time he was pursuing the all-time home run record, baseball on TV had become available to a national audience. During Jackie's day the majority of people in the country didn't own a TV set (only 8.8% of American households owned a TV set in 1950). Jackie got a lot of insults but they were mostly at the ballpark. Hank got so much hate mail that he had to stop reading his mail after a while. It poured in from all corners of the country. The FBI started screening his mail for fear of a letter bomb. Hank Aaron who had to endure blatant discrimination when he first came into the league, also had to endure countless death treats while he was on the trail of Babe Ruth. There were FBI men in the stands on the night he broke the record because of the fear that someone would try and shoot him.

Hank Aaron, who had to go through so much for his place is baseball history, is now willing to gracefully give that position up to Barry Bonds. It just illustrates what kind of a class individual he is. But if he's not going to be outraged, that his record that he fought so hard for is about to be broken by someone as unworthy as Barry Bonds, then let me be outraged for him. Barry Bonds it the worst kind of person that this country produces. He is a son of privilege who somehow feels that the odds are stacked against him. There is a baseball analogy that was applied to George Bush that is very applicable to Bonds. The quote was that Bush acted like he hit a triple when he was actually born standing on third base. Barry Bonds grew up the son of a All-Star baseball player. He had money (from his father), he had athletic gifts (from his father), and he had a chip on his shoulder approximately the shape and weight of his currently oversized (and still growing) head. Barry has always acted as if the world owes him something. He has tried to play the race card in the past, as if he ever had to face real racism in his life. Perhaps he didn't like the looks he was getting at the country club. Perhaps life in the suburbs was just too hard for him. Perhaps his friends didn't kiss his ass enough considering the fact that his father was an All-Star for the NY Yankees.

By the late nineties, Barry Bonds had managed to put together a hall of fame career, despite everything that he had to overcome growing up. Only Ken Griffey Jr. could challenge his claim as the best player of the decade. That wasn't enough for him though. He saw the attention that McGwire and Sosa were getting during their chase of Roger Maris' single season home run record and decided that he had been ignored for too long. So this 3 time MVP, 9 time All-Star who had never been appreciated by the press or the fans, took matters into his own hands. He started taking some illegal combination of drugs (allegedly) and turned into baseball's version of the Incredible Hulk. The madder he got, the bigger he got and the further he hit the ball. He turned into a walking, talking sideshow. The whispers of steroid abuse turned into shouts, but still Barry persisted. He claimed he was being unfairly singled out (which was partly true) and that people just didn't understand him. He said that he just wanted to be loved, but nothing could be further from the truth. Barry didn't want our love. He wanted our hero worship. Just being admired as a great player wasn't enough for him, that didn't satisfy his Mount Everest sized ego. No, he needed to be bigger than the game, literally and figuratively.


Barry, you got your wish. You are bigger than the game. You are the poster boy for all the things that are wrong with the game. You are the gold standard for athletes who will do anything to gain a competitive edge. Not for the glory of the their team or the sport, but for the glory of themselves. I find it a great act of compassion that Mr. Aaron has chosen to be as gracious as he has about this. Frank Robinson, who used to be fourth on the all time home run list, talks openly about the fact that he hates getting passed on that list by players that he knows are not his equal and who would not be in that position without the use of performance enhancing drugs. So Barry, when this is all said and done and you leave this game as the all-time home run king, I hope the record and your 7 MVP awards will keep you warm at night. And as you stand at the microphone after breaking the all time home run record and pay your phony lip service to the legacy of Hank Aaron, I wish you would pause for just a moment and think about what Mr. Aaron and Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson and your godfather, Wille Mays had to go through in order for you to get to where you are. The sacrifice, the hard work, the racism, the insults, the segregation, the flea bag hotels, all of it. Do you think you've done all you could to honor the memory of those men? Do you think you've done anything to honor the memory of those men? But I know that you really don't care. You never have and you never will. There's only one star in town and it's you, Barry.

I would never claim to speak for Mr. Aaron, but I know I speak for a lot of baseball fans on this point. It'll be a sad day indeed when Hank Aaron's name is replaced at the top of the all time home run chart by Barry Lamar Bonds.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen.

10:40 AM  

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