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Don't Hate Barry Bonds

Baseball is messy, always has been. Enjoy it.

Bob Krieger 8 Aug

Bob Krieger is a baseball fan who, in his spare time, draws editorial cartoons for a Vancouver newspaper.

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'Baroid' on top

I think what I love most about baseball is the debate it provokes. Should they hit and run or steal? Pitch out? Who's the greatest pitcher of all time?

And, of course, who's the greatest home run hitter?

I was in Seattle last year watching San Francisco play the Mariners. With two out in the top of the first, Ray Durham stepped to the plate for the Giants and Barry Bonds stood on deck. The guy in front of me and one seat to my right stood and booed Bonds, calling him a scumbag and other choice expletives.

Now, to me, this is all part of the game. Except that a young girl, maybe eight or nine years old, was sitting directly behind the guy and he kept standing and screaming at Bonds as the game continued. So I tapped him on the back and asked him to sit down. He looked at me with the same disgust he showed Bonds and said "no." I told him I didn't mind him yelling but felt pretty sure the young girl behind him came to see the game, not his [rear end]. He suggested I go [have sexual relations with myself]. But there was plenty of time for that. I was here to watch a ballgame. So I told him, "Fine. I'll go get an usher and you can scream at Bonds through the radio after they throw you out." So he sat.

Cheaters with honours

Next to the guy were two young Giants fans and it didn't take long for him to get into it with them. God, I love baseball. I listened for a while, then leaned over and asked him if he thought Ty Cobb or Gaylord Perry should be in the Hall of Fame. He sneered "I'm not talkin' to you." Undeterred, I restated the question and he paused for a long time to think about it. After five or 10 seconds I lost patience.

"C'mon" I said. "You're a baseball fan and you don't know if Ty Cobb belongs in the Hall?"

"Yeah, yeah... Cobb belongs in the Hall!!" he finally admitted.

"Well," I said, "Ty Cobb was a virulent racist and murderer who sharpened his spikes to deliberately injure and intimidate opposing players. Bonds might take steroids. What's worse?"

He waved his hand dismissively. But I continued, reminding him that Perry got into the Hall throwing illegal spitballs. Babe Ruth drank during prohibition. Throughout the 1960s players swallowed greenies (amphetamines) by the handful in order to play hung over.

And, when you look at pictures of young Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, it's clear they were juiced during their chase of Roger Maris. "Did you get this worked up about McGwire?" He stammered and said "Uh, sure!" Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrre.

Asterisks aplenty

Baseball has changed drastically over the decades making it extremely difficult to judge quality definitively. Ruth never played night games, didn't have to fly across the country and, most importantly, never competed against black ballplayers. There's a school of thought suggesting all records before Jackie Robinson should have an asterisk. Baseball, especially the American League, didn't fully integrate until the 1960s.

Without a doubt Hank Aaron was a prodigious power hitter. But he played in hitter-friendly stadiums in Milwaukee and Atlanta while Willie Mays lost two years to the army and spent his career in the Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park -- tough hitters' parks. On the other hand, Mays' home/away homerun stats are about the same. Ted Williams lost five prime years to military service. So who's the greatest home run hitter?

Bonds, who eclipsed Aaron's home run record last night, certainly looks like his body has benefited by steroids. It's quite possible he cheated. But does that make him less of a great home run hitter? I don't think so.

Steroids would've helped him recover from injury more quickly and may have added some distance to his hits. But what amazes me about Bonds is his eye. I remember a few years ago there was a point in the season where Barry had more home runs than swings and misses. More homers than swings and misses!!!

Barry's bad luck

Bonds finished 2004 with more round trippers than strikeouts. In 2002 he had one more K than dingers. I don't think steroids help that. Consider his record number of walks and you have to marvel at Bonds' patience and focus. One can only imagine how many homers he'd have if the Giants had someone decent hitting behind him. Bonds has had the likes of Durham, J.T. Snow, Edgardo Alfonso, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Feliz. Not exactly Gehrig, Mantle or McCovey. Still Bonds far surpasses everyone in the game today. And, if Jason Giambi testifies that baseball was rife with steroids over the past several years, it means Bonds is that much better than others who cheated.

Bonds is a jerk. A role model for jerks. He's also black which, I think, further alienates him from your average, mostly white, baseball fan. But he's an unprecedented seven time MVP who probably should've won 2 more and is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Is he the greatest home run hitter of all time? That, of course, is debatable.

Will surpassing Aaron diminish the Hammer's achievements? It shouldn't.

Who's the greatest home run hitter of all time? Who cares?

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