Friday, March 25, 2005

Sweet SweetBarry's Baadasssss Song

Barry Bonds is out until mid-season, and maybe for 2005. Or maybe he's ready to call it a career.

He says he's exhausted and I believe him. A few thousand sportswriters take turns sticking pins into voodoo dolls of him, the government seems fixed upon getting him on perjury charges for his testimony before the BALCO grand jury, an alleged spurned ex-girlfriend wants to do anything her power to take him down, and his knee hurts.

Part of me suspects that this is just one of those "player vacations", and maybe Barry will just skip the boring part of the season, and return for the stretch drive and playoffs--if the Giants are able to keep it close in his absence.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be shocked if Barry decides to rehab that knee in a country that doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Call me a Bonds apologist, but I still don't have any anger to direct at Baryy. He used steroids, perhaps unknowingly, which calls into question his achievements of the past several years. It seems that at the very least he was involved in some sort of relationship with this Kim Bell who testified before the BALCO Grand Jury, and who's been appearing on any media outlet that will have her. That makes Barry a cheat on his marriage, which isn't a terribly nice thing to do. He's also been kind of a crybaby as the vice has closed in on him. None of this is admirable behavior.

So Barry Bonds isn't a hero. Maybe he's not even a role model. For some reason, and I'm not certain it's rational, I'm still pulling for the guy.

You see, Barry's become baseball's anti-hero. Like Preacher in Superfly or Harry Callahan, he's not a nice guy. He's not playing by the rules, or doing things for the noblest of reasons. But some of us are still rooting for him.

Is it that we're immoral? We don't care about the legacies of poor Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and Hank Aaron? Maybe we're seduced by Barry's charisma? I dunno.

Part of what makes a decent anti-hero is the quality of his opposition. In the blaxpoitation tradition, the bad guy you rooted for was eclipsed in his badness by the even worse guys that were out to get him. So sure, Preacher was a drug dealer who'd threaten to pimp out his best friend's wife. But he was up against a bunch of racist, murderous drug-dealing cops, so that kind of takes the edge off the drug dealer thing.

Maybe that's Barry's appeal. The people who have been after him are so unpleasant--one reads the nasty gloatings of Selena Roberts in the Times and it's pretty hard not to feel some simpathy--that Bonds looks less hypocritical by comparison.

Maybe it's just that I find it hard to judge ballplayers on anything other than their performance, which makes it very difficult for me to give a damn about a player who's a "bad person." I've seen so many players switch hats between villain and hero in my short time as a fan, that it feels as if MLB is the WWF (or WWE, or whatever they call the big pro wrestling group these days).

I mean, first Wade Boggs was a great guy, a real ballplayer. Then he was a selfish guy, sitting out at the end of the season to win the batting title. Then he was a real bad guy, because he cheated on his wife and made the Red Sox clubhouse a "25 guys, 25 taxi cabs" no-chemistry place.

Then he shows up in the Bronx, and he's a gamer again, a clubhouse leader. The judge of the friggin' kangaroo court! How did that happen? Did he get a personality transplant?

Some of this is games that the sportswriters play, rewarding the guys that are nice to them, and burying the fellows that aren't so polite. The real issue is, do we ever really get to know the folks that play baseball for our favorite teams? You get your impressions: I've always thought that Don Mattingly was a great guy. No one ever had anything bad to say about him, not that I've heard, anyway. But do I really know that he's a good person?

Nobody'd ever dared claim that Kirby Puckett was anything but an adorable Teddy Bear. That reputation, as much as the glaucoma that cut his career short, got him into the Hall of Fame. He retires, gets inducted, and suddenly it turns out that Puckett's a sexual predator, a wife beater. An ugly human being.

Did he move to the dark side once his playing days were over, or was there just another side to the fellow, which the beat writers and press guys either never saw, or never reported? I mean, Kirby was in the public spotlight for eleven years. He played in two World Series, under the most intense scrutiny the game can muster.

We knew this guy. It just turns out we didn't know him.

The point is, you never know. I don't know Barry Bonds. From what I've heard, that's possibly for the best. The one thing I know is that I've never seen anyone hit like him. Before all this home run hoopla and steroid talk, he was still one of the most incredible players I'd ever seen--part Rickey Henderson, part Ken Griffey Jr.

Before any of that stuff, there were folks who loved to tear him down. "He's aloof," they'd say. "Bonilla's the real power on that team," they claimed when Bobby Bonilla and Bonds were both Pirates. "He's a post-season choker," they carped when the Braves mowed the Pirates down in the playoffs a couple of times in a row. He missed a couple of MVPs, and not for the best reasons. Later they bitched and moaned about Barry's "body armor" his clubhouse recliner, his surliness.

And maybe now, all that I'm left to root for or against is his performance, which I hope continues to tumble Aaron's career home run mark. Even if he's a cad, a juicer, and an adulterer.

How weird is that?

A few more incoherent ramblings:

The Score Bard's epic poem about the steroid hearings is so funny, it should carry a "don't drink anything while reading this" warning.

Speaking of that, I've always wanted something like this to happen, for all the folks that make the folks that assume Bonds was lying in his grand jury testimony. The setup--Bonds gives an exclusive, no-holds-barred interview with Bob Costas. We pick it up in progress:

BOB: ...and you actually thought it it was flaxseed oil?

BARRY: Yes, Bob. That's what they told me it was. I didn't know what the heck flaxseed oil is supposed to look or taste like.

BOB: But what do you say to everyone who doesn't think it's...credible...for a world-class athlete like yourself to claim he didn't know exactly what he was putting in his body. You have to admit that's pretty...far fetched.

BARRY: Funny you should mention that, Bob. You remember when we were in the green room before the show? I handed you that mug of coffee you're drinking right now.

BOB: I don't see what that has to do with anything...

BARRY: I put 25 cc's of THG in your coffee, Bob. Did you know you were taking steroids?

As they say, one Vial of THG: a couple of hundred bucks, and ten years in Federal prison if you get busted with it. Watching Bob Costas do a spit-take on National TV? Priceless.

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