22 September 2007

Bye-Bye Barry

After 15 years, the Giants are cutting ties with Barry Lamar Bonds, the Greatest Player of All Time. Barry is 4 years younger than me-- I watched his Dad play when I was a boy. I have followed his entire career. I remember when he was signed out of high school and went to ASU instead of into the Giants farm system. I remember, as Peter Magowan recalled, the first homerun he hit at Candlestick, in his first home game as a Giant. I will never forget his exceptional play in the 2002 post-season, powering the Giants to the brink of a championship. Bonds was the distilled essence of pure baseball drama: his every plate appearance was filled with tension and mounting excitement. When Barry hit, you stopped and watched, or listened. No one ever captivated a baseball audience like Bonds. His magnificent technique, coupled with his devotion to the craft of hitting, made him The One to Watch. Opposing managers--all of them, from Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa to Bob Melvin and Mike Sciosia--went to ridiculous lengths to neutralize his impact on the game. Opposing fans booed him, then booed their managers for walking him. No ballplayer has ever been so scrutinized in the history of the game, yet continued to perform at such a high level. Much has been made of his alleged use of PEDs, all of it virtually irrelevant gossip-column stuff. Bonds is a modern athlete, in a modern multi-billion dollar entertainment business, whatever he did or did not do to stay healthy and productive is his business. The talk of asterisks and "tainted" records is a lot of silly moralistic posturing by pundits unable to deal with Bonds' hauteur. Bonds, in short, is a snob. He disdains those in the media because they aren't ballplayers. He has more respect for a 21-year old rookie clinging to life in the Bigs than a 30-year veteran of Sports Illustrated. Y'know something? Deal with it. Just like PEDs. Fer chrissakes, get over it. An arrogant jock is tolerable to most fans and sports-writers, if he delivers the goods. Even an arrogant African-American jock. But a snob is not, especially a black snob, who rubs his "I'm Barry, I'm Black, and I'm Beautiful, and You're Not" in your face. You know something? Suck it up. Barry got the Big Bucks to hit the Big Bombs and he did it. And you loved it, even if you hated him. The gorgeous ballpark in San Francisco was built to showcase Bonds, but no one asked him to help design it. Turns out, after transforming himself physically and getting even better at the art of hitting in his athletic "old age," he is the only one in all of baseball who can do it. No one hits them out into the water but Barry. No one. Bonds' on-line journal on his website, is routinely mocked by the scribes (see Fred Claire's snide piece on MLB.com "Giants right to let Bonds go" as a perfect example), contains one of the classiest farewells I've ever seen by an athlete. Does it bother anyone else that ballparks are filled with white people and staffed by black people? ("Race isn't an issue" is all I hear these days.) In Barry's words:

It is also important to thank all the men and women behind the scenes at the stadium who come to work every day and make it possible for us all to enjoy a day at the ballpark.

Thanks, Barry. Does anyone else thank the ticket-takers, custodians, and beer vendors? After all this time, why do Bonds' teammates, past and present, consistently describe him in glowing terms? Where are the diatribes against him for selfishness and conceit? Turns out that Bonds loves baseball. Loves the game. Loves to play. Watch Bonds with the umpires, look for his comments over the years about them. He treats them as fellow professionals, and respects their work and judgments. Sort of amazing when you consider that every play in baseball is a judgment call. Barry has mastered that art, that subtle balance and sophisticated psychology of influencing the strike zone in the minds of the umpire and pitcher. How can you be a fan of the game and not be awe-struck by his poise in those classic matchups with all the great aces? Even his so-called "failure," his lack of a World Series ring, is another case of ignorance run amuck. Besides the obvious--it is a TEAM game, hello--the scorn heaped on 2nd-place finshers in this country is bizarre, and unwarranted. No one remembers who lost the Super Bowl or World Series, no one honors the Silver Medalist or vanquished contender. It doesn't matter that it took spectacular athletic skill and determination to achieve at that level. Only the Gold matters, and failure is not a lesson. Bill Buckner, goat of the 1986 Series, remembered thinking "oh, crap, we lost the game" when he made his infamous error. And just as quickly thinking, "oh boy, we get to play tomorrow." He thought, the poor sap, that picking up the pieces from a collapse and going out the next time just as determined to win, and just as full of confidence, was what competing was all about. He found out it wasn't. Bill won't be in the Hall with Barry, but he shares Bonds' understanding of the game. It is about the struggle to excel, it is about the climb to the mountaintop, whether you get there or not. Pedro Martinez says the secret to his sucess is that he is "not afraid to fail." Bravo. Barry gave us his all, his best. Giants fans know this, even the ones who have Bonds Fatigue. This fan will lament losing Barry. But I knew it would come some time soon, and so I am not shocked. Just numb. As far as the future of the ballclub goes, it isn't pretty in the short term. Bonds is BY FAR the best position player on the squad, and he won't be replaced by anyone remotely close to his ability. That brilliant fellow GRANT at McCovey Chronicles is far more eloquent than me about the Good Ship SF Giants. Read his post "Pollyanna" (9/22) for a look at the next few years. And say a fond good-bye to Barry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark, for saying eloquently all the things I am feeling. I am bereft -- and angry -- there is no one left to watch who even approaches Barry. He filled the ballpark for them and they treat him cavalierly -- what chutzpah. On the ABC news there was a feature on Barry Bonds being asked to leave the Giants and there was a 4 year old boy standing in the ball park crowd who had just been told the news by his dad. There were tears running down his cheeks and he was sobbing -- he couldn't be consoled. I know how he felt. NOC