As Mr. Bonds approaches the ‘most coveted’ milestone and record in all of sports (the career home run record set by Hammerin’ Hank Aaron of 755), I thought it would be appropriate to dwell on what could have been.
I don’t actually mean what could have been without steroids or what could have been in different eras or with different people. I mean what could have been with Bonds, this year.
Remember back to those great early 90’s Saturdays when Bonds paired with Bobby Bonilla to be the scariest 1-2 punch in baseball for the Pirates? Remember the MVP awards, the incredible talent, and all of the hoopla over his move to
Those far gone days were magical. The slender Bonds was, give or take Griffey, the best player in the game. If he had retired in 1999 or 2000, he would have been a Hall of Famer, even without milestone numbers. The way he played, the MVP, the All-Star balloting, everything. His surliness with the media was forgiven by the beauty of his game.
In 2000, a much larger Bonds hit 49 home runs, his career high. Then in 2001, he hit 73, making McGwire’s 70 look pathetic, and becoming the third person in 4 years to pass the previous record of 61, this time by 12. Instantly, 73 home runs became appalling. For the first time, people started to notice that Bonds looked different, that the game looked different. In 2002, the steroid scandal broke with the former MVP (and recently deceased) Ken Caminiti’s interview with Sports Illustrated and the ‘coming out’ of Jose Canseco as a user. Steroid talk was everywhere, and the game’s biggest sluggers were put on notice. Major League Baseball didn’t do much, and in the years since, they have done very little more. But Bonds could have changed things.
Bonds’ 2006 was awful. He was still recovering from the injury he took that erased most of the previous season, the season that he was to threaten Aaron’s record. His knees bothered him, he looked foolish fielding his position, and his batting average dropped 100 points from just four years prior. His contract was up. He stood at 734 home runs and had only Aaron’s 755 to beat. He should have retired. He should have been graceful. Hall of Fame reporter, Peter Gammons would have called it heroic. It would have been seen as an honorable thing to do. He would go down in history like Sandy Koufax, or Jim Brown and Barry Sanders in football, as leaving the game while he still could. It would have been a show of respect to Aaron for what he did and how he did it. Hall of Fame voters would've voted him straight away. The public may have even forgiven him the steroid controversy. He would already enter the Hall with a ridiculous walks record, the single season crown, and the public memory of his being the most dangerous hitter of his era (even if it is the steroid era, that is still saying something). Baseball would be able to close the book on the steroid era with some ridiculous records, but would be able to slowly evolve into a steroid-free sport. But Bonds couldn’t do it.
Bonds could have saved Baseball in the midst of the steroid issue that is currently threatening the very future of the game. One selfless act could have saved us all. But Bonds chose selfishness, which threatens everything, including the sport and the record he’s breaking. Thanks, Barry, for all of that old magic that you seem hell-bent on turning to dust.