The once illustrious single-season homerun record has been cheapened.
As number 71 sailed over the right field porch at Pac-Bell Park, the self-serving, arrogant Barry Bonds tarnished one of the most cherished and storied records in all of sports.
As the country was approaching the Great Depression, Babe Ruth and his 60 homeruns set the standard. At the time it was the most remarkable feat ever to happen in America’s pastime. In 1927, Babe had more homers than many teams.
Let me repeat that: One-man hit more homeruns than all the players on a team combined. And the previous year, the “Babe” had hit more than twice as many homers as the next guy in the league. Sixty homeruns in a season was a fantasy number set by a man of mythic proportions: Ruth’s legacy was the only thing that was bigger than his appetite. His record was before juiced baseballs (This year alone the league’s biggest disappointment, the Texas Rangers, hit 245 homeruns), watered-downed pitching talent from expansion, and kiddy sized ball-parks (It is 307 down the right field line in Pac-Bell Stadium where the Giants play their home games).
Ruth hit 60 in a season, and 60 became a majestic number.
For 34 years no one touched the Bambino’s record, and most imagined no one ever would. Then teammate Roger Maris beat the mighty Ruth’s record, hitting 61 homers.
Sixty-one then stood as the number in baseball until 1998, when Mark McGwire crushed 70 and became the new Home Run King. This was okay though, because it took 37 years for the record to once again be broken, and it was Swingin’ Sammy Sosa versus Big Mac back and forth all season competing for the homerun crown. In 1998, baseball regained its popularity, and sports writers voted it as the best season in the history of baseball.
When McGwire finally broke the record, Maris’ family was in attendance and the whole thing was done with class.
Then, with one swing of the bat last Friday night, the record lost its prestige. Barry Bonds is anything but class. He represents the modern day athlete — selfish, greedy, and unwilling to sit through interviews or sign autographs after games. Unlike all his predecessors to hold this record, Bonds is no ambassador to the game; instead, Bonds fits the mold of a self-gratifying athlete.
Take your pick at why you want to hate Bonds, because there are plenty of reasons.
Maybe you hate him for asking for a reduction in his child support payments during the 1994 strike. Poor Barry, how was he going to be able to put food on the table? Or maybe you hate his propensity to stand motionless when deep fly balls are hit over his head. If Bonds thinks the ball is gone, he does not bother to expound the slightest effort in running after it. You would think after his lack of hustle and misjudgment cost the Giants a game in Milwaukee last year, Bonds might re-think this policy, but he has not.
Then again he is only making around fifteen million dollars a year, so why should he over-exert himself?
It is an understatement saying Bonds is unpopular among his teammates. Giants’ second baseman Jeff Kent was recently quoted as saying, “On the field, we’re fine,” says Kent, “but off the field, I don’t care about Barry and Barry doesn’t care about me. [Pause.] Or anybody else.”
Bonds is not a team player. He has his own section in the locker room, way in the corner away from his teammates. For two years running, he is the only Giant to miss the team picture. He does not join his 24 teammates for stretching on the field, does not ride the bus with them, does not eat clubhouse meals with them, and has his own personal PR guy, separate from the team.
He does not ever give interviews, and if he does they are short, brief, and he seems irritated, as if he has something better to do.
Sure Bonds is not Rae Carruth and he has not killed anyone, but his breaking the single-season homerun record is bad for the game of baseball. The magic and spirit behind the record have been broken, as Bonds has reset the bar at 73.