Barry Bonds stands alone. Quite alone.
No one has hit more home runs in baseball history. No one has inspired more bitterness and anger along the way. No one in the history of sports in this country has commanded a more magnificent stage yet been so vilified.
Which reflects the man himself.
There are no easy answers about Barry Bonds, owner of the game’s most glamorous record. He twists everyone — teammates, front-office executives, fans and media — into emotional pretzels, where one opinion races head-on into another. On the road, he’s greeted with boos and cheers during the same at-bat. At home, Giants fans view Bonds as both a hero and a guilty pleasure.
All this is why he’s reached the mountain top and a large measure of the population refuses to salute.
I mean, are those 756 home runs real? Are they a fraud? Have they helped or hurt the game? You can respond with a “yes” and a “no” to all three and make solid arguments each time.
Here’s my first impression about the feat itself, the fact that Bonds has overtaken Hank Aaron as the home run king: Grudging respect. Most experts believe that had he not been chemically enhanced since 1998, Bonds would have continued his roughly 30-homers-per-season pace, which would have brought him to between 650 and 700 home runs today.
More than his godfather Willie Mays. No. 2 on the alltime chart. Status as the best player of his era. First-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Bonds is that good. Steroids were enablers, not magic potions, as Bonds surpassed Aaron. They didn’t swing the bat for him. All that hand-eye coordination came from Bonds. He could have subbed the stuff for hot dogs and beer, the Babe Ruth diet, and still would have reserved himself a place in Cooperstown.
And that’s why I’m not celebrating with the fans who’ve drunk the Bonds Kool-Aid. Fact is, mere immortality wasn’t enough for him. Sometime during or after the 1998 season, he made a decision something like this: I’m 10 miles better than either Mark McGwire (70 homers in ’98) or Sammy Sosa (66 in ’98), who I believe are using. Time to catch up.”
Bonds is the poster child for today’s pampered, moneyed, vanity-packed, greed-merchant athletes, the guys who believe the end justifies all means. For all his undeniable skill and talent, Bonds made a choice, the one you’d never recommend to your children.
To be fair, the truth also escorts us to another important place: Baseball has erred by letting Bonds take the steroids hit almost by himself for a generation of users. But by isolating Bonds, Commissioner Bud Selig motivated him. The slugger lives for perceived slights and transforms them into emotional steroids.
He’s prickly and ill-tempered on his best days and often goes out of his way to be his worst enemy. That’s another choice he settled on years ago. He’s kissed off fortunes of endorsements because he refuses to play the conventional P.R. game. Right or wrong, he lacks pretense.
It took a special kind of arrogance, both on and off the field, for Bonds to do it all on his terms. Most reasonable people realize that he rubbed in the cream and swallowed the clear, among other pharmaceutical crutches. It also must be said that many people bow to the achievement and simply don’t care about the rest.
Which doesn’t change the following: One of Bonds’ best friends continues to sit in jail rather than spill his boss’ syringes. Bonds’ trash-talking attorney is almost daring the feds to arrest him for perjury. Bonds’ former mistress, from an affair which stretched through both his marriages, poses for Playboy this fall and threatens to drop more bombs. And in a telling slight, Aaron — the most decent of men — refused to be there on the big day, though his video message of congratulations was classy.
No, it’s not easy being Bonds, and watching him has proven even harder. He has strongarmed himself into baseball history’s first paragraph and, as an attachment, accepts the fact he’ll be the No. 1 example of one of the game’s most notorious eras.
No megastar ever has been more alone at the top. Again, it was his choice, the price he agreed to pay nine years ago.
So cheer if you must.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org www.or 578-2302.