Wednesday, August 08, 2007

756 - Guest Blog

It is rare that I read a blog post that is so poignant and heartfelt, that I feel compelled to share it with the readers of plezWorld. My buddy Dave, over at SullsBlog, has written such an entry. Without further ado and without additional commentary, I present my guest blogger.


April 8, 1974. I was a skinny, energetic nine year old who was counting the days until his first game playing organized baseball in the Hyde Park little league. Baseball had recently replaced hockey as my favorite sport. We were having dinner at my Aunt Carol's triple decker apartment just off of Washington Street in Roslindale. As usual in those days (and these days as well) I was engrossed with anything concerning baseball and someone breaking the all time home run record was a huge deal. After scarfing down dinner I made my way into the parlor and sat on the couch to hopefully witness history. I didn't know until I was older that this event was bigger than one great ballplayer eclipsing another. I wasn't aware that Mr. Aaron endured death threats, feared for his families safety and was a physical and mental wreck due to his pursuit of the "Babe". This was about baseball, pure and simple.

I am now 42 and baseball is not just about baseball. The innocence that the game once held is gone. Baseball, since its beginning has been played by men. Men drink, gamble, carouse and swear. Until the past thirty years it was a game played by average men, of average size, coming from middle or lower class households. Most players had to have a job in the off season just to make ends meet. Being a ballplayer was a hard life. Every boy thought he could be a ballplayer someday because there was no class distinction and when the color barrier was broken as long as you were the best of the best you would have a place in the game regardless of where you came from.

Reporters understood that it was career suicide to tear down the "working class hero" facade that enveloped the game. You couldn't read in the paper about the Babe's drinking binges or any players private indiscretions. Men were men and it was accepted that when you get 25 men traveling the country for eight months "stuff" was going to happen. No one cared about the integrity of the men off the field it was the integrity on the field that counted.

Enter 2007.

Who would have thought thirty years ago that you go to a ballpark and pay $85 to see 18 millionaires run around and play a game that may not be legitimate. Use of HGH, steroids, greenies have grown with the outrageous salaries. Why do the players get outrageous salaries? Because the owners make outrageous profits. Why do the owners make outrageous profits? Because the fans dole out the money. Why do fans dole out the money? Because they love to see home runs. How do they see more home runs? By the players taking more HGH, Steroids and amphetamines.

[insert: picture of young Barry Bonds] [insert: recent picture of Barry Bonds]

It no longer matters if what players do on the field is legitimate. We hear about players stints in rehab, domestic problems, Vegas trips and stops at stripper bars, but no one cared until Barry Bonds got close to the home run record that many baseball players no longer look like humans, but cartoon characters. No one cared that McGwire, Sosa and Bonds went from svelte, athletic rookies to pumped up, acne covered side show freaks.

Hypocrites.

[insert: picture of young Sammy Sosa] [insert: recent picture of Sammy Sosa]

[insert: picture of young Mark McGwire] [insert: picture of St. Louis Cardinals Mark McGwire]

Mr. Bonds has accomplished an incredible feat for the ages. The perseverance, longevity and skill that it takes to hit 756 home runs is beyond comprehension. The only one in my mind between the 755 that Mr. Aaron hit and the 756 that Mr. Bonds hit is the adversity each man endured on his journey. Mr Aaron feared for his life in the year preceding his pursuit of the Babe due to something he couldn't control, the color of his skin. Mr. Bonds has endured tremendous adversity, but all of it self imposed. If he never was implicated in the BALCO affair and he was able to accomplish this feat without the use of performance enhancing drugs, then today there would be nothing but accolades coming his way.

I still remember the black and white images of Aaron running briskly around the bases after belting 715. The only thing different visually from that home run than any other of that time was the two fans that ran the bases next to him and the flashing "715" they showed on the scoreboard. He did his job and humbly went to his dugout.

The irony is when Bonds hit his historic bomb he stood at home plate for a few seconds to savor his accomplishment then raised his arms triumphantly. A little humility would have helped to endear him to his critics.

I hope that by the time A-Rod breaks the record circa 2015 that we worry more about the integrity of the game on the field than the players lives off the field.

6 comments:

tom said...

I'm a little older than that guy and remember Aaron as only one of many stars of the 60's, along with Mays, Mantle, Clemente, Robinson, etc ... Ironically, Aaron was never known for his home runs until he played long enough to break the Babe's record. Aaron never led the league in home runs in any season. When you thought about home runs in the 60's, you never thought of Aaron. He was a doubles hitter, primarily, and an all around great player. Now the all time home run leader is someone who is known for his home runs, and I think it's perfectly fine. Barry standing at the plate for a few moments? That's Barry. Barry pointing at the sky? Barry.

Come on people. Let it be.

And don't forget about all the amphetamines they were using in the 60's, for that matter, or the caffeine, or whatever it takes for any athlete to get any edge they can. It's as old as the original olympics. Sheesh.

plez... said...

tom,
thanks for your perspective!

as an old ball player used to say, "if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'!" *smile*

David Sullivan said...

Plez: Thanks for the high praise.

Bonds may never be exonerated in the court of public opinion, but it will come out within the next ten years that many players, including pitchers, were using performance enhancing drugs. At least at that point he will not be singled out. He is a great ballplayer.

David Sullivan said...

In Bonds first 10 years in the Majors he averaged a homerun in every 17.2 at bats.

In the last 11, including the 2005 season, where he only had 42 at bats he averaged a homerun every 10.1 at bats.

If my math is correct steroids are responsibile for about 170 of his 756 homeruns, which still makes him a prolific homerun hitter and one of the games greatest players.

That being said, I have no issue with Bonds and I think my post reflects that sentiment. I have a problem with the hypocrites who will chastise players off the field actions, but allow the integrity of the game to be compromised just to see homeruns.

I wanted to puke when McGwire and Sosa were doing their man-hugs with their steriod pumped arms, but the average fan loved it.

In defense of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, Hank Aaron never had to face a split fingered fastball, relivers throwing 98 MPH or 5 man rotations with rested arms.

"Cheating" is part of all sports, but if you get caught with a corked bat, stick 'em on a receivers hands or a hockey stick that has too much curve you get ejected or suspended and you accept it because there is no denying you cheated when you get caught. Lets see if Barry, Mark and Sammy accept their fate when they are finally caught.

Anali said...

Great post Dave! The whole steroid thing does take away from Bond's achievement, but I agree that we'll learn about many more people using steroids also. And I can't be too much of a hippocrite, because I just added Bonds to my fantasy baseball team and I got the point for #756.

David Sullivan said...

Anali:
Its sad but I have Clemens on my team and I vowed never to have a Yankee on my team ;)