When Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record in 1974, it was a thrilling civil rights victory. Despite some death threats, the vast majority of Americans proudly affirmed the right of one black man to hit slightly more home runs than one white man who had died three decades earlier. No one even questions that anymore.
Now Barry Bonds, who could surpass Aaron's record next week, is about to strike an equally important victory for the oppressed of our era: the performance-enhanced. When Bonds uses his redwood-trunk legs to trot around for No. 756, I hope he's joined on his way around third by the Botox-ed, the Viagra-ed, the Propecia-ed and the breast-augmented. For it is a victory for all of them. Also, because I think it would make great TV. Even without the Botox-ed, the Viagra-ed and the Propecia-ed.
The media's objection to Bonds' alleged steroid use - as with the Tour de France's objection to all of its riders (there's a fair chance that on Sunday, I will be given the yellow jersey) - is that they're cheaters. That they're using medical technology to exceed human limitations.
Get used to the 21st century. In 1999, people slunk away for a "weekend in Palm Springs" while their noses shrank or their cheek skin became earlobes. Before 2000, otherwise normal-looking people's teeth were slightly off-white.
But now women proudly declare that their lips are plumped, their derm micro-abrased, their serotonin selectively inhibited on the re-uptake. Sure, maybe other women hate them for drawing stares at bars with their fake breasts. Politicians hate their Botox-ed opponents, college kids hate students who crank out papers on Adderall, and I hate other commentators for whatever smart pills they're on. It's another class rift between the haves and the have-nots, the Cialis-ed and those who just kiss their partners good night.
The problem is that we have broken a basic human covenant to suffer whatever genetics we were given. The assumption was that the playing field is fair in the big picture, that some of us are born hot and smart and talented and it somehow gets balanced out by being Michael Lohan's daughter.
But it's not fair. And it should be OK to use technology to compete. Should all the laurels go to those born button-nosed, lactose tolerant with perfectly balanced attention? Shouldn't a man who can only hit a home run once every 16 at-bats - and whose father is Bobby Bonds and godfather is Willie Mays - be allowed to hit a home run every nine at bats? Isn't that what Jefferson meant when he wrote that whole "pursuit of happiness" thing? Or do you really think the dude was just talking about taxes and tea?
In a more enlightened age, when the risks and the costs of these medical miracles come down, we'll look back on Bonds' triumph as a victory for all of us. We'll see our booing of him as symptoms of a silly, Luddite phobia of manipulating our own bodies. I'm sure there was an equal outcry when makeup was invented. And hair dye and the Wonder bra. How our ancestors went on, I have no idea.
Bonds is not using a corked bat, which many players have, just as plenty of pitchers have scuffed balls. He has simply redesigned his body. Like so many of us have. Medicine, surgery and genetic engineering are no more an affront to God than drinking the protein shakes he didn't leave on the vine. And until we accept that, we're going to keep losing to those we call cheaters.
So next week, I'll be watching Bonds with my smooth face, free of the scar that was laser-pulsed from my nose, while I run a hand through my Rogain-ed hair. And of course I'll be holding - because it makes me feel better - a beer.