Sunday, August 5, 2007

Remodeling the 500 Home Run Club

On Saturday, baseball's 500 Home Run Club underwent some major remodeling. Alex Rodriguez became the Club's newest member and, at 32 years old, the youngest to reach that milestone. By comparison, Barry Bonds clobbered only 332 home runs by his 32nd birthday. Barring injury, Rodriguez seems to have an excellent chance to one day become the sport's all-time home runs leader. Of course, considering that we are talking about major league baseball it is hardly surprising that there is at least a faint shadow hovering over all of this. Jose Canseco, an admitted steroids user who believes that he has been blacklisted by the sport and is taking his revenge by revealing the truth about baseball's steroids-tainted stars, recently announced that he will have something to say about Rodriguez in his upcoming book. Is Canseco grandstanding, trying to promote his book and unfairly putting Rodriguez' name out there without substantiating anything? Yes, yes and yes. On the other hand, after the pitiful performances offered by everyone other than Canseco on Capitol Hill it is sad to say that he may be the only guy who is actually telling the truth. I hate rumors and speculation but enough of what Canseco has said has proven to be true that he cannot simply be dismissed as a disgruntled ex-player.

Frank Thomas, who is by all accounts a 100% clean player, says that he is "disappointed" by how he has performed this season but he did join the 500 Home Run Club this year and on Saturday he belted two more round trippers to raise his career total to 505, passing Hall of Famer Eddie Murray to move into 20th place on the career list. In light of Jason Giambi's admitted steroids use, I join those who have suggested that Giambi should be stripped of the 2000 American League MVP and that the honor should go to Thomas, who finished a close second in the balloting; Canseco should also be stripped of his 1988 AL MVP. No, we can't identify for sure every single player who cheated but the ones who have admitted to doing so or who have failed drug tests certainly should be punished.

Bonds upstaged Rodriguez and Thomas by breaking out of his recent slump to hit a solo home run in the second inning of the San Francisco Giants' 3-2, 15 inning loss to the San Diego Padres, tying Hank Aaron for first place on the career home run list with 755. No one can deny that Bonds is an amazing athlete but you don't know whether to laugh or cry considering the sideshow that is accompanying his march toward history. San Francisco fans will apparently cheer for him no matter what, while road fans boo him and hold up signs mocking him but bring their cameras to every game to try to get a snapshot of history. When someone is chasing the most hallowed record in all of sports and fans don't know whether to boo, cheer, take pictures or look the other way then you know that the caretakers of the game have failed miserably in their duties--which brings us to Commissioner Bud Selig. He attended the game in San Diego, witnessing Bonds' homer firsthand, which is only fitting since Bonds likely could not have accomplished this without Selig turning a blind eye to baseball's rampant illegal drug problem. Selig has been at all of Bonds' recent games, except for a brief break to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Selig laughably described his travels as "Herculean," doing his best to make it clear to everyone how grueling and distasteful a task it is to him to follow Bonds around the country and wait for him to break the record held by Selig's close friend Hank Aaron. If Selig had made a "Herculean" effort years ago to rid baseball of steroids--instead of waiting to be pressured by Congress to enact a drug testing policy that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) still considers to be inadequate--then he and the rest of us would not be in this mess. As Bonds slumped and Selig continued to accompany him on this joyless quest, one almost wondered if Bonds dragged things out a little bit just to make the Commissioner squirm.

Staying true to the end to his pattern of never taking a firm stand on anything, Selig did not preside over any official ceremony marking the tying of the record but instead issued the following tepid congratulatory statement:

Congratulations to Barry Bonds as he ties Major League Baseball's home run record. No matter what anybody thinks of the controversy surrounding this event, Mr. Bonds' achievement is noteworthy and remarkable. As I said previously, out of respect for the tradition of the game, the magnitude of the record and the fact that all citizens in this country are innocent until proven guilty, either I or a representative of my office will attend the next few games and make every attempt to observe the breaking of the all-time home run record.

I just contacted the offices of Wishy-Washy Commissioners Anonymous and they graciously translated this statement into plain English: "I have no choice but to grudgingly acknowledge that Barry Bonds has tied Hank Aaron on the career home run list. I don't want to do it and I still hope that we or the Feds get the goods on Bonds, in which case all copies of this congratulatory statement will be permanently deleted from all baseball history books. I hemmed and hawed until the last moment about going to these games, hoping that the Feds would indict Bonds or that something--anything--would prevent this from happening. Finally, I decided that I should attend the games but sit far enough away that no photographic evidence will link me to these tainted home runs. I have not decided if I will go to the next game or if I will send one of my lackeys in my place."

Watching Barry Bonds now is like watching Anakin Skywalker morph into Darth Vader: he could have been recognized for his great deeds, but instead he went down a different path, leaving open the question of what he would have become--what he could have accomplished--had he made better choices.

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