As a Georgia native (ok, born in Jersey, moved here at the age of 4… that should qualify as native) I am saddened at Barry Bonds’ feat of hitting 715. It’s not the feat that I am disappointed with, really. I am disappointed that it’s Barry Bonds who did it.
Hank Aaron faced hatred when he surpassed Ruth. Babe Ruth was an icon, and it was just 1974 when a black man surpassed baseball’s greatest. It might seem like a shock to some, but Atlanta remained largely segregated and charged with racial inequity well through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Atlanta was the home of the civil rights movement, and the fact that a black man hit that home run… the home run.. in Atlanta of all places… was pure magic. Aaron was not only the right man for the time, but has remained a pivotal figure in Atlanta.
When trying to name the new stadium, protests were held to name the new stadium “Henry Aaron Stadium” instead of “Ted Turner Stadium”. Hammerin’ Hank gets the street right in front of the stadium named for him, and a statue at the entrance, which were small pittance to the legion of fans who remember the difference that Aaron made in Atlanta.
My disappointment with Bonds’ feat is not just with allegations of Bonds’ consumption of performance enhancing drugs. It will take a lot more than allegations from a punk like Jose Canseco, but Bonds is tainted. Either test him and catch him at it or shut up, we all say. If he’s guilty, prove it… if you can’t prove it, then get on with life. But we all can’t help but wonder… he really did beef up pretty quickly. Was he juiced? If so, how much of that contributed to 715?
We all publicly rooted for Sammy Sosa. Screw the corked bat silliness, Sosa was the man for the times, but just couldn’t surpass McGwire. With a two-fingered kiss to the sky, we wished Sosa the best and hoped that maybe, just maybe, the magic could repeat itself the following season.
Bonds is no Sammy Sosa. My biggest disappointment with Bonds’ feat is with his public personality.
While I was disappointed that McGwire was tainted with steroids allegations as well with his magical season, McGwire was bigger than the game. He was personable, knew that signing autographs and answering the same question a hundred times of night to the uncreative press was all part of the game. He knew how to bring personality to the game. McGwire hit the home run of a generation, and the image we all remember is McGwire lifting his son into the air.
What do you remember about Bonds breaking the single-season home-run record? Do you even remember it, or was it such a let-down that you blocked it out, too?
I am tired of seeing interview after interview with Bonds where he looks exasperated at having to talk to the press. I am tired of seeing kids straining over the first base line with gloves and baseballs asking for just a simple scribble from a Sharpie marker, only to be snubbed with a self-absorbed Bonds staring at his feet or the sky.
If you have seen Billy Crystal’s incredible movie, “61*” about Roger Maris’ magical season, you know the story. The press hounded him for not being bigger than the game. The difference is that Maris was a recluse, a reluctant celebrity with a very short adjustment time in the shadow of the more popular Mickey Mantle.
No, Bonds is not shadowed, and Bonds had plenty of time to adjust to the spotlight. Bonds is a flat-out jerk.
In Atlanta, Hammerin’ Hank is an icon. You can’t listen to the radio or watch a Braves game without a reminder of the greatest day in Atlanta baseball. Recants of the public address, “You were there! You fans here at Atlanta Stadium have just witnessed the great, if not the greatest, moment in recorded sports history!” Replays of “Over the left-field wall! He’s done it!” still make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up for respect of a different time, a time when personalities like Mr. October, Charlie Hustle, and Johnny Bench ruled the airwaves.
In the book “Hank Aaron And The Home Run That Changed America”, author Tom Stanton sums it up:
“Aaron’s historic blast – and the yearlong quest leading up to it – not only shook baseball but the world at large. It exposed prejudice, energized a flagging civil rights movement, inspired a generation of children, and also called forth the dark demons that haunted Aaron’s every step and turned what should have been a joyous pursuit into a hellish nightmare.”
Bonds isn’t breaking down any barriers, Bonds isn’t energizing a generation. That’s why I am disappointed. I am disappointed that the personality doesn’t match the feat.