Sunday, July 29, 2007

Barry Bonds and his quest to top Hank Aaron

There is a great story in Sports Illustrated this month about Hank Aaron, on Page 41, titled "The People's King." Henry Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth on April 8, 1974, with home run #715, in a shining moment while still a member of the Atlanta Braves. Aaron retired two years later, having knotted a career total of 755, closing his career with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Now onto Barry Bonds: Barry Bonds is a father, a taxpayer somewhere, and someone's son, husband and friend. He does not have a criminal problem. He is not profane. Vilifying anyone who is not a criminal is wrong, and should not be done. But as a baseball player, Mr. Bonds invites criticism because of his role in the sport.

On Arsenio Hall many years ago, he characterized himself not as a "ballplayer" to Arsenio, but as an "entertainer."

Well, there it is. I stopped watching professional baseball in 1994, after a previously life-long obsession with Major League Baseball. I watched guys who made a living but were generally not millionaires. I watched guys who signed autographs and enjoyed the game, just as if they were still kids. It is a great blessing to be able to play professional ball, on any level. But to be a big league player, that is an honor (which is now treated with great disregard and scorn by those who do it).

Barry Bonds may or may not have used steroids. There are certainly those who think he did. Maybe I would form an opinion about it, if I still watched baseball. I think what Mr. Bonds said about being an "entertainer" and "not a role model" all those years ago is true not only of him, but most of the major leaguers these days. Ball players these days might as well collectively have sent a note to the American public after the last strike that it's not a game anymore, first and foremost, but a business with no boundaries.

Fine. Good to know.

But before baseball was a business to every player, before it was a 'labor' for those who struggled with celebrity the sport brought, it was just a game...America's national pastime. People from everywhere in this country loved the game, because they would go to a field and watch baseball players do their best on the field. Well, that was then: Now, sports entertainers take to their stage and perform for their audiences.

Whether Barry Bonds hits 756 homers, stops now, or hits 1,000...he may reach Hank Aaron's numbers at the plate, but Hank "The Hammer" Aaron will always be the home run king in my book. This is not to vilify Mr. Bonds. He is from all observations an OK guy, if not a bit eccentric. Nonetheless, as baseball players go, he's the best sports entertainer.

Around the time I stopped watching baseball, I was doing public relations work on the side with a sports collectibles company, in New Jersey. I worked with one Hall of Famer in particular. The ex-diamond star made it clear about what he thought of the "fans" for me. This was a celebrated person who made it clear his public respect for fans, and even the sport, was a sham. Disappointed? Yes. Playing professional baseball is a gift. It is a reward for hard work, and it carries responsibilities. I think that was forgotten long ago, so the records pretty much stopped around 1994 in my book. But this Hall of Fame guy I am speaking of made me acknowledge that even some from the "Golden Age" of baseball thought the American baseball fan was a sucker; suckers who made this guy rich. I am not using his name because I do not want to disillusion anyone out there...he's a big name.

Yet, if the myth of the "Great Game" was (and is) only a was a good myth. That myth was great. And many ball players for many years lived up to the myth. For some players, their ability was greater than their judgment, their character or their kindness. But that is how the ball bounces. For me, the show is over, the credits have rolled and the lights are turned up: The ball players are being played by actors and it's not such a "Great Game"'s just "Another Game."

Best of luck to Barry Bonds. Congrats on hitting more home runs than Aaron (when it happens). By the way, Henry Aaron is still going to be the home run king in my book, and Babe Ruth will always be No. 2. I am not disrespectful of Barry Bonds as a person, but of the way he and his generation (and those after) played and play the game and where they took the sport and where it is going. As ball players, they should be remorseful about what they did to this sport.

Barry Bonds' there was a player, when he was in his prime. Bobby Bonds may have had a shorter career, and a more obscure career, than his son. But Bobby Bonds didn't entertain. He played ball. He had people sometimes do. Yet he never turned the sport into a circus act.

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