Put Down The Pitchforks And Enjoy The Show

I'll apologize in advance for dipping into this topic again, but long-time readers of this site know how I feel about Barry Bonds. You don’t necessarily choose your childhood hero; often, he chooses you. So it went with my love affair with Bonds. I was eight years old, falling in love with baseball, watching Pirates games a lot with my best friend (whose family hailed from Pittsburgh), and Bonds entered the league, displaying an unparalleled combination of speed, power, and defense that captured my imagination.

I've always conceded Bonds' unlikability as a person, and I'm not so naive as to deny that Bonds hasn't enhanced his body with God knows what.

But I've also long maintained that the Holier Than Thou hissy-fitting about Bonds and his records is pitiful, tainted by racial bias, and a ridiculous waste of energy. That's why I was so thrilled to see this entry from Joe Posnanski today:

"I will admit, though, feeling a certain unexpected feeling about Barry as we come closer to the record. Yes, I firmly believe he cheated with steroids. I firmly believe he knowingly and deliberately cheated. I firmly believe he knew exactly what he was doing -- he was actually pretty late to the steroids party -- and I don't buy it as an excuse that baseball didn't test back then. That's lame. To me that's like saying that cheating on a test is OK because the teacher was too clueless to catch you. It's wrong. Period. And everybody knew it.

BUT ... Barry's the greatest player I ever saw. Bar none. Not even close. As a young man, he was the greatest combination of power, speed and defense I ever saw. As an old man, he was probably the most feared slugger the game has ever known -- I think more feared than Ruth. I love baseball, of course, and it has been one of the great joys of my baseball life watching Barry Bonds play. I don't like that he cheated -- frankly, I preferred watching the svelte, power/speed Barry over the big-headed Barry who mashed balls over and over into the Bay. The steroid and human growth hormone stuff will sully his legacy and reputation, no doubt about it, and that's right. Like I say, he knew what he was doing. But I feel like, as Barry closes in on the record, that it should be celebrated. He should be celebrated. The game has never seen anyone like him. ... Maybe the feeling will pass.

And, by the way, I don't think there's any doubt that the Commissioner should be there when he breaks the record. It's his game. It's the most hallowed record in his game. And it happened on his watch. I've read those who say it would be hypocritical for Bud to be there. I think it would be hypocritical for him NOT to be there."

I wanted to point out a take on Bonds that I can nod along with. Unsurprisingly, it comes from Posnanski, who may be my favorite writer on the sport.

It's shocking that more people don't share this view of Bonds. Okay, Bonds used PEDs. But it's going to (eventually) come out that a whole heck of a lot of his peers did, too. Including a lot of pitchers. With time, Bonds' era will simply be known as the Steroid Era, and we'll all have enough information to evaluate Bonds' numbers with proper context.

According to surveys, there are actually a lot more people in America who feel the way Joe Posnanski and I do - that this is a show to enjoy watching. It only seems like the entire country hates Bonds because 95% of the media hate Bonds.

The most pitiful recent Bonds bash was published yesterday by ESPN's Page 2, where Mary Buckheit - whoever the hell she is - tries to make the case for. . . throwing #756 back from the stands if she caught it.

Please, lady. The joke's on you.

There’s also the question of whether Bonds’ being an African American athlete is a contributing factor toward the disproportionate amount of hatred he endures. An ABC News Poll, suggests that race is a bigger factor than most people would like to admit. For a better perspective on racial bias, though, check out yesterday’s column from Mark Buchanon in the New York Times, in which he comments on the recent Wharton study about NBA officials and racial bias. According to their research, black and white referees have subtle (presumably unconscious) racial biases that affect their whistle blowing. Psychologists and anthropologists have concluded human beings frequently aren't conscious of their racial biases, which, they argue, stem from our survival-based instinct to group "alike" and "others."

I don't mean to get too nuanced with all this, or to suggest that racism's the only (or even primary) thing fueling the public ire towards Bonds. I only mean to note that - even with Bonds' sour personality and PED use - the pitchfork crew has gone way, way overboard. That we do need to think about the role of race in this. That PED use and a surly temper shouldn't be enough to draw this much hatred.

The bottom line is that this is the Steroid Era in baseball (and, we're sure to learn some day, in all of sports). Is that good? Probably not, and it's something to address with testing and harsh penalties for offenders.

But please, lay down the pitchforks, relax, put this thing in perspective, and try to enjoy - at least a little bit before he retires - the most exciting baseball player of our generation. And maybe of all time.

I don't know how many of you have been to a Giants game in which Bonds has played, but when he walks into the batters box there's a buzz that sweeps through the stadium unlike anything in sports. It's pure magic; where even the fans who stand up to boo him can't help but doing so with grins on their faces because they can literally feel Bonds' presence and the possibilities of what he might do with the bat seem limitless.

I'm going to miss that feeling desperately when Bonds finally retires. Sadly, too many people have never even experienced it. And never will.

Trust me: it's their loss.

--PB--

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