On a glorious sunny day, I took my boys to a Giants game. They were 11 and 8 at the time. It was Sunday, May 28, 2006. A lifelong Giants fan, I tried to go to at least one game a year and I wanted to bring my boys up right. As Giants fans.
That afternoon Barry Bonds hit a home run that marked him as a great. He hit number 715, surpassing Babe Ruth.
It’s one of those memories etched in my brain. The boys and I sat in the upper deck somewhere between home plate and third base. The ball arced out to the seats just to the right of center field. And the celebration was on. Along with 41,000 of our fellow Giants fans, I screamed my head off. My boys did, too. I explained the significance to them and we were happy. It was a moment to revel in being a Giants fan.
Between Bonds and history stood only Hank Aaron’s magical number of 755.
This was a time when Giants fans didn’t have much else to cheer or dream about. Sure, a few years earlier they made the World Series — a series they lost because Dusty Baker thought it was okay to give the game ball to a starting pitcher before the game was actually won. And they made the playoffs every now and then. But seriously, for years, most of what Giants fans had to cheer about revolved around Barry Bonds.
His every at-bat was an event. Something could happen that would cause your jaw to drop. That short, compact, yet powerful swing just might produce another home run. He gave us something to watch. He provided meaning to every game. He gave us something to cheer in an otherwise empty chapter of Giants history — just like all of the other chapters in Giants history that stretched back to my childhood.
In May 2006, I was 41 years old. Being a Giants fan since I first became aware of baseball — because that’s what our family was — I was used to misery and not having anything to cheer about. I rode the Bonds train just like most every other Giants fan. What else did we have?
A little over a year later — in fact, ten years ago to the day — Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record with number 756. I watched a video of the home run earlier today and still marvel at his swing. At the sheer talent of what he could do. But I wasn’t at that game and the reality is that the stink of his chase had finally sunk in for me.
Barry Bonds likely had one of the most beautiful, perfect swings of any hitter in the game of baseball. He had an incredible eye and owned just about any mistake thrown by a pitcher. He was pretty much a Hall of Fame player before any steroid taint entered the discussion. He won three MVP awards in the early 1990s and put up numbers that were at the top of the game during that decade.
But it wasn’t enough. In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in a home run duel for the ages, with both topping the long-standing single season record. And, at the end of the day, it was all fueled by steroids.
What Bonds couldn’t stand apparently was all of the attention and accolades Sosa and McGwire received in 1998. Shortly thereafter he began a run of performance unrivaled by any player in the history of the game. A run that began when he was 35 years old, when most baseball players are winding down.
While I cheered and screamed wildly for all of his successes, just like the rest of us Giants fans, we knew. We knew that what he was doing was toxic. But what else did we have?
I look back now with ambivalence and with regret. This article over at si.com describes better than I can the reasons for that.
The odd thing that happened while I thought about this tonight was that I compared it to what is going on in America today. For almost a decade, the hundreds of thousands of us that call ourselves Giants fans overlooked Bonds toxicity, his cheating, his arrogance, all of it … because he was our guy. Guess what all of those Trump supporters are saying today … it doesn’t matter what he does because he is our guy.
Yes, there is a huge degree of difference between something as ultimately meaningless as baseball (although baseball is life and art and poetry) and the honor and integrity of the Presidency, but I feel sick at the idea that I ignored his cheating because it felt good at the time and because he was a Giant.
What I am most grateful for is that it was only a couple of years after his last season with the Giants, after purging him from the organization and cleaning house, that the Giants went on their first successful World Series run in more than 50 years. 2010 will always be the year the Giants wiped the slate clean. 2012 and 2014 were just icing and the cherry that none of us expected. And each one of them put the tragedy of the Bonds years further behind. For that I am thankful, but that success will never change how I will always feel about Bonds.
My hope is that he never makes the Hall of Fame, although I think he eventually will — likely in either his ninth or tenth year of eligibility. I won’t care then and I won’t celebrate it. He doesn’t deserve it. He was the poster child of the poison that was Major League Baseball for about ten years. He and several others, just like Pete Rose, should be forever banned from the Hall for what they did.