Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No. 756 in the Warm and Fuzzy World of Barry Lamar Bonds

I have no illusions that this will be a popular article. People will not react positively to it or will flat-out ignore it and that's cool—I'm well aware that Barry Bonds is persona non grata as far as the general public is concerned.

For good reason.

The guy is a Class-A prick by all accounts and there are just too many to dismiss them all as suspicious hearsay.

Bonds is the perfect example of what happens when a (presumably) spoiled and pampered child matures, but in body only. The vast majority of the blame is on Barry, but some of the figurative blood is on our hands—on our culture's hero-worship of gifted athletes from high school onward in Barry's day and much earlier now.

If you think guys like Barry were/are bad, just wait for the 10- to 12-year-olds who are being slobbered upon today to arrive in the professional ranks tomorrow. But that's a story for another time.

A second lesson Bonds' exemplar teaches is what happens when a ballplayer takes the very accurate description of baseball as a team game assembled from individual confrontations and carries it to a deleterious extreme.

Barry Bonds truly believed and made himself an island in a clubhouse that should function as a cohesive unit. He was arguably good enough to compensate for the damage he did in this regard, but Bonds did damage.

Make no mistake about it.

Baseball is not as discrete as it looks—there are subtle threads that connect the batter to the baserunner to the fielders to the pitcher and they are constantly being adjusted. Except when Barry was out there—ironically, in this regard, he came no-strings-attached (hahaha, wordplay).

There are many other negative things you can say about Barry Bonds, the least of which is his ongoing performance-enhancing drug issues.

Each new name has proven and will continue to prove the PED problem cannot be used to smear one individual from this era.

Whether it be Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Brian Roberts, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Rick Ankiel, Jason Grimsley, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Ken Caminiti, Wally Joyner, Jack Cust, Ryan Franklin, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul Lo Duca, Kevin Brown, or any other of the hundreds of users (either admitted, alleged, or undiscovered).

It's all or nothing, baby.

Still, PED-use is not a badge of honor yet it's firmly affixed to Barry's over-inflated chest. That it doesn't even rank as one of the reasons to be righteously disgusted by the guy says more than you need to know about just how flawed the man is.

But this is about how I see Barry. And I'm a die-hard San Francisco Giants fan who couldn't care less about the personal lives or habits of celebrities/pro athletes.

Honestly, take that TMZ crap, People magazine, all those behind-the-scenes shows about athletes on ESPN, MTV Cribs, etc. and sweep 'em up into a pile. Then nuke the entire thing—the world would be an infinitely healthier, wealthier, and wiser place.

Really though, it's about rooting for the team that Bonds carried to contention almost single-handedly—even the years with more talent around him in the lineup (like 1993 and 1997-2002) saw Barry do most of the heavy lifting. Considering how average many of those pitching staffs were, there was a lot of lifting to do.

So I've always loved the guy. To me, he is only Barry Bonds the great San Francisco Giant—he is not Barry Bonds the odious off-field personality. It's a fine and convenient line, I know.

But it allows me to be one of the few people who gets to really savor the New and Technologically Improved Home Run King. More specifically, it allows me to be one of the few people who gets to appreciate just how special No. 756 was.

Major League Baseball, its fans, and basically the entire baseball-watching world has ignored Bonds' record-breaking big fly from the moment it cleared the fence. Again, I've got no problem with this—I'm not saying everyone should appreciate it.

I'm just emphasizing how few people really look at it closely enough to realize how perfect it was.

And it was perfect. P-E-R-F-E-C-T...

1. No. 756 came at home in Pac Bell Park.

Bonds had already become public enemy numero uno in 2007 so this was the only place the big bomb would've played well. Plus, Pac Bell is the Park that Barry Built regardless of what Peter McGowan wants you to believe.

Most SF fans love him and we went crazy when he finally hit the milestone.

2. It came on a 3-2 pitch.

The most incredible thing about the chemically-enhanced Barry was how he never seemed concerned with the count. It seemed like he squared EVERYTHING up on the screws regardless of whether it was 0-2 dookie or a 3-1 cripple fastball (which he never saw).

Plus 3-2 is just a cool count because you know something will happen and that's the way it was with Barry Bonds—you didn't miss his at-bats because you knew something was going to happen.

3. It was a solo shot.

Barry Bonds redefined how the opposition handles supremely dangerous hitters in watered-down lineups. He simply did not see pitches to hit with men on base if the hurler could help it. Consequently, it seemed like all of Bonds' long balls came with the sacks empty—that's the only time pitchers dared challenge him.

Who says ballplayers are dumb?

4. No. 756 put the Giants ahead 5-4.

It wouldn't surprise me if 90 percent of Barry's homers put the Giants ahead, pulled them even, or brought them to within a run. Obviously, the proportion isn't close to that so I would be very surprised, but you get my point—most of his dongs seemed to be crucial to the team's ultimate success.

Barry leaves a wide swath of irony wherever he goes.

5. Barry crushed that ball.

This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of MLB trying to move passed the moment as quickly as possible (again, not a bad/unfair decision) because you don't see the shot replayed very often. Well, I've got it saved for posterity on my TiVo (or until it gets reset) so all I have to do is hit play to watch it whenever I want.

Trust me, Bonds got every little bit of that ball. He hit it well out to the deepest part of Pac Bell, I'm talking WAY out of Triples Alley. Even the heftiest of hefty hitters rarely challenges this particular dimension.

If you're wondering how Benjie Molina managed to record a three-bagger in 2007, I give you Triples Alley. And No. 756 sailed right over it.

Furthermore, everyone knew it was gone from the minute it left the bat.

It was a HUGE fly with the all-important and melodious click of bat on ball that's really the pill saying, "Adios, I'm gone for good."

6. The Giants ended up losing the game in extra innings.

Individual excellence resulting in eventual team failure—the story of Barry's professional career, especially in San Francisco. He could take his team through many promised lands, but he couldn't ever goad them into The Promised Land.

Bonds came close in 2002 and would've been the World Series Most Valuable Player had Dusty Baker not wrestled defeat from the jaws of victory in Game Six. But baseball ain't horseshoes and it ain't hand grenades.

His 756th home run was incredible for the particular physical feat, for what the single homer announced about Barry's cumulative achievements, and because it embodied almost every element of his superlative career—warts and all.

Is Barry Bonds a wonderful human-being?

I don't know the man, so I won't answer definitively. But the signs point to 'No' and they're pretty tough to argue.

But, even if true, that just places Bonds on a very long list of very flawed individuals who have been blessed with incredible gifts—gifts that bring them attention, scrutiny, and pressure the likes of which most of us will never know.

Of course, this doesn't excuse Barry's behavior, attitude, or general treatment of other people in the slightest. And it's on him that so many people who love the game of baseball don't get to appreciate such a quintessential moment.

Instead, they feel obliged to acknowledge it if forced to do so and then to return to a world where it doesn't exist, which is exactly how most in baseball weathered the man himself. In a way, that makes the monumental shot even more perfect.

It sesms the only thing missing was LA.

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