Bonds & 700: An Embarrassment to Baseball?
I write this piece as I stare out at the beach and, from the corner of my eye, witness the culmination of ESPN's lovefest with Barry Bonds, as he has just hit his 700th homer into the stands in left in San Francisco, and sparked a riot usually reserved for political conventions and Detroit Pistons NBA Championship celebrations.
To hear ESPN (well, and every other media outlet) tell it, I should feel proud of this man, feel goose bumps, feel as though I have seen an achievement the likes of which will never again be seen. In truth, I feel more sick than I do any of the above-referenced emotions.
Depending on the account you believe, Bonds is a self-centered, kind, egotistical family man. All I know of Bonds is what I see of him in front of the camera lens, and that is all I need to know to judge his place in baseball history.
To watch Bonds play defense is much akin to watching another power-hitter of a generation past, Dave Kingman. Bonds is, at best, a hatchet man in left, and it is almost painful to watch his usual ritual of jogging after a ball in the corner, fumbling it a couple of times, and lobbing a soft-toss throw back to the infield. Sure, there are glimpses of capability, but far too often, we are left with a slow-pitch softball type of play in the outfield from Bonds.
To watch Bonds swing the bat is a clinic demonstrating everything wrong with today's game, as almost the entire defense rotates to the right side of the field. He was even gunned down from medium right field on ground balls twice this week by Milwaukee's Keith Ginter. He hovers over the plate with his Bagwell-like body armor, and it seems as though no pitcher (save for Roger Clemens) has the guts to challenge him and take back his part of the dish.
The even more embarrassing aspect of Bonds' chase for 700 has been the reaction of the fans in opposing ballparks whenever Bonds is walked or hit. Bonds is no sooner able to toss off the aforementioned body armor than the shower of boos cascades down from the stands. One would expect this when Bonds plays in San Francisco, but to see it on the road is ridiculous.
As one would expect, Bonds' 700th had not even cleared the wall before he was declared by some the greatest to ever play the game. Bonds is not even the best player in his league this season, much less the best to ever don a uniform. ESPN, however, has already held the coronation for Bonds and placed the crown on his suspiciously-growing head. The only way to make it any easier for ESPN to dote on Bonds is to put him in pinstripes.
Finally, while it is admirable to watch Hank Aaron handle the impending collapse of his record with grace and dignity, it is also a shame, as Aaron hit his 755 amidst death threats, racial slurs, and other distractions. The only distraction with which Bonds has had to deal is the allegation of steroid abuse. Aaron also excelled on defense, stole bases, hit behind runners, and played a full-faceted game.
Congratulations, Barry. You hit 700 homers in a video game era and made a mockery of the game made famous by the man whose record you are about to break. My only remaining hope is that Bonds hurries up and hits #756, so we can at least get back a couple of minutes of SportsCenter.