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With Regret


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.

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8 responses to “With Regret

  1. Kevin Brennan August 8, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    As one who followed the McGwire/Sosa race über closely (die-hard Cards fan!), it was incredibly sad to understand it was all about the drugs. And I hate to tell a Giants fan that everyone else knew that what Bonds was doing wasn’t legit. It’s hard to see past one’s fandom.

    As far as I’m concerned, Hank Aaron and Roger Maris are still the home run kings. Funny how no one’s come close since the steroid age supposedly ended …

    • kingmidget August 8, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      Giants fans knew it wasn’t legit but we chose to ignore it so we would have something to cheer for. The whole period from the mid-90s through 2007 or 2008 should have an asterisk.

  2. hirundine608 August 8, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    Indeed … yet doping in such pursuits has been around since WW2 and perhaps before? When such large sums of money and glory are to be had, it’s hard to be a citizen. Ask Shoeless Joe? The USSR, China and East Germany, how they did it? Even USA and Canada? In 1960’s I worked with a man who had been a horse trainer in UK. He said something to the effect every win, was tainted. That it was just missed by the race authorities? Just say NO is a parody … Cheers Jamie

    • kingmidget August 8, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Agreed. There’s no question that some athletes in just about every sport have doped or found other ways to cheat for an advantage. The cheating in the Olympics is legendary. Horse racing too. There will be some of it no matter what the leagues and commissioners and responsible parties can come up with to try to stop. Technology is ever evolving. What bothered me about baseball is that it was obvious that cheating was going on at a large scale and they did nothing about it for a number of years. I’ve always considered Bret Boone the real poster child of this. For a few years, he was a relatively light-hitting second baseman. One year, he showed up at Spring Training about 30 pounds heavier than the year before and hit more home runs than imaginable based on his previous stats. And within a couple of years, he had shrunk to his previous size and didn’t hit much home runs any more. And Bonds did the same thing. Only his time as an enlarged player lasted for the last seven or eight years of his career.

      The owners and managers and executives of Major League Baseball turned a blind eye to the whole thing in exchange for the almighty dollar.

      • hirundine608 August 8, 2017 at 8:45 pm

        Agreed and especially your last paragraph.

        It is my belief they were more than complicit, in this blindness. The players for the most part had little option, anyway. They were screwed if they did and ditto if they did not. Higher management purposefully turned on their blindness. Maybe there were even some conversations between higher management and agents. The players were between a rock and a hard place, even though the financial rewards dangled were exorbitant. The players in whatever sport, male or female are the ones whose bodies are on the line. Dropped from the team or lauded to success. My sympathy, strangely, is with them. They’re the ones under temptation, whether it’s deflated footballs or inflated arms. When all you know is any sport. Baseball is a good example. You have to have a career to ease into the next level, coaching and on to management. Always looking for the next edge. Like Billy Bean? Otherwise it’s selling cars, insurance or real estate? Few real options. Cheers Jamie

  3. Cayman Thorn August 12, 2017 at 3:14 am

    I read this piece on my phone several days ago and had to come back to comment on it. It’s a great piece of writing, first off. This is what it feels like to be a baseball fan of a certain age. Not to sound like an old codger, but the game has changed in so many ways since I first started watching in the late ’70s. But steroids, it changed things for good.

    I think it’s a crying shame that Bud Selig is in the Hall of Fame. The man looked the other way when this stuff was exploding across his stuff and the funny numbers were changing the history of the sport. Baseball was all about magical numbers for me when I was growing up. There was Ted Williams and his .406 batting average over the course of a season. Joe D’s 56 game hitting streak. Rose’s chase of it that ended at 44. Babe Ruth’s 714 hr’s and Hank Aaron’s 755. Unfortunately, those home run numbers were vandalized by the steroid era. I still value them, but how many of today’s generation would? Sad thing.

    Another sad thing is a fact you pointed out regarding Bonds. He didn’t even need the stuff! He was a first ballot before he went that route. I saw him play when he was with the Pirates, and I saw a generational player. He was special. It was maybe ten years later when I took in a game in Philly and he was with the Giants. Everything had changed by then.

    Great piece, King!

    • kingmidget August 12, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Thank you for the compliment!

      I agree that the steroid era is still having a negative impact on the game today. There is something that has changed fundamentally in the game.

      And you’re right about a couple of other things. The numbers — for years, the first thing I did in the morning was go to the Sports section and check out the box scores. There is no sport like it — a six month long story told through the lines of numbers on a daily basis. The worst part of the summer is the all-star break because the story takes a break.

      And you’re right about Selig. The man was a tragedy for the game — plucked from the owners’ ranks to protect the owners’ interests and then he wilfully ignored what steroids was doing.

      The reality for me these days is that I’m not watching much baseball. The Giants are horrible and for the first time that has become a basis for not watching them on TV I’ll watch an inning or two, but won’t waste much more time on them this season. And the rest of baseball …. well, a thought just occurred to me and I hate to say this, but it has become much like the NBA has been for the last 10 or 15 years. A one trick pony. Instead of isolation plays and two man games played while the rest of the players stand around and don’t do anything, baseball has become a game of swings and misses or home runs, players hitting into the shift because they refuse to hit to the opposite field, and interminable pitching changes in the late innings. It’s just not that interesting to watch anymore.

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