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Archive for Sunday, May 21, 2006

Commentary: Bonds has taken the joy out of 714

May 21, 2006

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— Didn't see it.

Didn't want to see it.

Had no interest whatsoever in seeing it.

I wouldn't have even known it happened if one of the editors hadn't told me when I phoned the office Saturday afternoon.

"Barry Bonds just hit No. 714," he said.

Yippee.

The Orlando Sentinel has been running this series in the Sunday sports section during the past three weeks. It's called, "What we miss," and it's a nostalgic look back on sports the way it used to be.

Well, you know what I miss? I miss the day when we would have celebrated Barry Bonds equaling Babe Ruth. I miss the time when the greatest players were heroes instead of heels. I miss rooting for the home run record to be broken; not dreading it.

What a difference 32 years makes.

I remember exactly where I was April 8, 1974. I was a teenager sitting on the living-room floor in front of our low-definition Sylvania TV. And I was sitting on an ugly cow-skin rug somebody gave to my mother. And even though I was a Dodgers fan, I cheered like crazy when Hank Aaron hit No. 715 off the Dodgers' Al Downing.

But in another three decades when somebody asks where I was when Bonds tied the Babe, I'll have no clue. Why would I? I mean how would this sound? "Well, I wasn't really watching because Bonds' home runs are meaningless to me."

I turned on the TV Saturday afternoon to watch the replay of Bonds' historic homer not because I wanted to, but because I felt I needed to. This is what Barry Bonds has done to us. He has taken what should be one of the most compelling moments in sports history and turned it into drudgery. He has gutted the euphoria and exhilaration out of this historic pursuit and turned it into an apathetic afterthought.

And, please, don't be fooled by those fans in Oakland who stood and applauded when Bonds hit No. 714 Saturday. They weren't cheering for Bonds; they were cheering for themselves because they were in the stadium to see history being made - no matter how tarnished it may be.

A better indication of public sentiment came from 3,000 miles away, where the Mets and Yankees played Saturday in New York. When the Mets posted a message on the scoreboard about Bonds hitting 714, boos cascaded from the Shea Stadium stands.

What's it tell you when Russ Springer - the pitcher who plunked Bonds the other night in Houston - receives a standing ovation and briefly becomes the most popular player in baseball? What's it say about Bonds that every time ESPN shows one of his at-bats, you can just picture kids across America crossing their fingers, closing their eyes and saying a quick prayer ("Please, Lord, don't let him hit a home run.")?

And maybe that's the one positive we can take from this whole sordid steroids scandal. If nothing else, Bonds is a living, breathing, tortured, tormented illustration we can point to when we tell our kids, "You know, when you cheat, you're only cheating yourself."

Bonds has cheated himself out of the adoration and adulation that should have been his Saturday. He cheated himself out of the respect and reverence that traditionally is reserved for our greatest athletes. He may have even cheated himself out of the Hall of Fame.

What do we miss in sports?

We miss that time when hitting 714 was a magical moment, not a melancholy one.

There's no joy in Mudville today.

Mighty Barry, we regret to inform you, did not strike out.

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