Saturday, August 11, 2007

Perspective and Continued Debate

With one sweet lefty swing, six months of controlled chaos ended. Bonds breaking the record became inevitable when the Giants finally agreed to re-sign him, after briefly toying with the idea of letting him walk. All the melodramatic subplots - Selig, Aaron, crowd reaction, opposing pitchers – provided the only suspense. Tuesday night the story played out, a few days leaves us with perspective, and unfinished debates.

After intermittently following Bonds for over a week, Selig missed the historic moment, sending a MLB official in his place. When he finally decided to attend the games, Selig received wide commendation for “doing the right thing”, but his actions and commentary during the pursuit lacked sincerity. Selig became a spectacle to himself. The weekend prior to the record-breaker Selig was quoted as calling his travel following the home run chase “herculian”. Excuse me, but when did watching baseball games become a super-human task. Selig’s other excuse, work responsibilities requiring his presence in the NY office, also reeks of falsity. If thousands of road warriors find ways to work away from the office, I believe the commissioner of MLB can receive the accommodations to do the same.

Selig should have been at AT&T Park. He should have attended every game, even if it lasted the entire season. Once you commit to acknowledging the record, follow through to completion. Enough negativity surrounded the pursuit, without Selig adding to it. Maybe San Francisco was a better place on August 7 with Selig far away. His reaction in San Diego to homerun 755, off a convicted steroid user, was borderline morbid, standing with hands firmly in pocket and an uninterested, gloomy facial expression. The act appeared contrived. If Selig opposed the record as strongly as his actions show, he needs to speak out, not attend the games take a firm stance. In a fitting conclusion, Selig issued a statement both congratulating Bonds, and implying the Mitchell investigation will dictate the historical context of the record. Another case of Bud tacitly playing to both sides. The commissioner needed to act more decisively, take a stance, and remain genuine, his half-hearted effort failed.

The one figure the public embraced and sympathized with during the chase, Hank Aaron, turned from hero to hypocrite with one taped message. A few months ago, when asked about attending the record breaking moment, Aaron notably proclaimed he did not even know how to spell his (Bonds) last name. Aaron further stated he would not be at the game, maybe not even the country. Hammerin’ Hank essentially threw Bonds under the bus, calling the record tainted.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, after Bonds triumphantly crosses the plate, soaking in ecstasy from the hometown crowd, all eyes shift to the oversized scoreboard behind CF, up pops Hank Aaron. The now former homerun king stared directly into the camera, not unlike Rafael Palmeiro in front of Congress, and in his deep Southern drawl, congratulated Bonds on the great achievement. Aaron had all the reason in the world to refuse to legitimize the record due to the allegations swirling around Bonds, but how can he then proceed to send a heartfelt public congratulatory message only weeks after calling the record tainted? I respect everyone’s right to an opinion - particularly regarding such an open-ended issue still lacking all the facts – however, I find no dignity with double talk. If Aaron truly felt Bonds cheated, and he said as much, he should have kept his word and not appeared on that scoreboard.

Possibly due to the inordinate side stories, or the uncertain legal status potentially altering its historical context, or the sheer prolonged hype the chase received, it lacked that spine-tingling sensation of historical baseball moments. Two nights earlier, even with Glavine watching from the bench, I had the feeling when Ruben Gotay tossed to Carlos Delgado for the last out of win number 300. Watching Glavine emerge from the dugout trying to withhold almost 20 years of emotion gave me goose bumps, as I flashed through classic Glavine moments in my head.

Bonds broke the most historic record in sports, only the third homerun leader in over 80 years, surely an historical moment. Rather than celebrating an elite career, attention focused on the controversy, the legitimacy of the accomplishment. Unfortunately, the story remains unfinished since we await the conclusion of the Mitchell investigation, along with Grand Jury testimony that may indict Bonds, officially marring the record. This occasion usually yields a call from the President of the US, particularly one so immersed in baseball. Given the circumstances, forget it. Half the country lost interest, or rooted against Bonds, taking that special feel away for most.

With all the opportunity in the world to play the villain, Bonds actually handled the whole situation splendidly, making others affiliated with the situation look even worse. He said the right things publicly, never criticized the people or fans that slammed him like a piñata, outside of Bob Costas, all the while continuing to play at a high level, without any supporting cast to note. If Barry only displayed this public persona the past ten years, rather than a grumpy surliness, the public would be embracing him. Too little, too late.

Time will tell how Bonds we remember Bonds blast 10, 25, even 50 years from now. Congress may expose Bonds as a cheater, immediately asterisking the record, though he clearly would not be alone. In less than ten years, he may watch A-Rod smash his record at a considerably younger age. Anything remains possible under this cloud of uncertainty.

…On a side note, always an interesting side note, the play-by-play call of the moment. The home radio, home television, and ESPN broadcast, all handled the occasion well, with each broadcaster remaining under control, sticking with their traditional homerun call, describing the moment appropriately, and providing a nice balance of excitement and professionalism. Broadcasters have a knack for going way over the top, picture John Sterling calling the homerun. Jon Miller was clearly more excitable than Dave O’Brien, but that goes with being the home broadcaster opposed to the neutral national broadcast. My guess, we hear Duane Kiper if Visa ever makes a Bonds commercial.

…and if Visa does make a commercial about the record homerun, it should end with the infamous Met fan emerging from the right-centerfield scrum with the famous ball. One $20 bleacher seat, one ball worth over $500,000, now that is priceless.


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