Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bonds, Babe, and Big Mac

As he prepares to tie Babe Ruth for #2 all-time in career home runs, Barry Bonds has become a staple conversation piece for every sports radio show in America.  Bud Selig’s decision to snub Barry’s tying and passing home runs has added plenty of firewood for the topic.  I suppose I could hop on board the filler wagon (hey, one less original idea to come up with), but I won’t bother with the main topic of whether we should or should not celebrate the achievement.  I’m more drawn in to the Bonds-McGwire comparisons that have been used in arguments lately.

The pro-Barry camp and the devil’s advocates within the anti-Barry camp frequently declare that it is a double standard for America to root against Bonds passing Ruth when America revered McGwire passing Maris.  Inevitably, the race card is pulled after the “friendly image” discrepancy.  I don’t think that’s fair nor accurate, at least for the majority of fans, and I’d like to explain my thoughts as to why.

Cheating Some History Revisionists like to claim that “no one was calling McGwire a cheater” back when he chased 69.  That simply wasn’t so.  There was a stir over McGwire and his watermelon-sized forearms.  However, it was a gray area in that (a) baseball had no steroid policy at the time and (b) McGwire openly told the media that he was using Andro, a steroid precursor that was legal in the U.S. at the time.  It was after this time that Congress banned the drug.  Bonds, however, has denied using anything at all and is accused with mounting evidence of using illegal and banned substances.  That isn’t to say that McGwire did no wrong, but rather McGwire’s size was not brushed under the rug nor was it as upsetting as what is alleged of Bonds.

Race There’s little I detest more than the race card being pulled like a knee jerk reaction.  It’s demeaning and too often abused in today’s society.  If this were simply about a black man threatening a white man’s record, why was hot rival Sammy Sosa so beloved during McGwire’s 1998 campaign?  Bonds himself is commonly reported to accuse the media and fans of racial bias, but little evidence ever backs these claims up.  

In my opinion, Bonds has such an anti-fan base because he’s had a long career building an undesirable reputation and image and because many believe that he is lying about steroids.  I think the public is far more forgiving about substance use than they are given credit for right now; Giambi and Sheffield are hardly outcasts in the MLB.  More precisely, I believe that it is the (possible) lying that galls Americans.  McGwire may not be the correct comparison for Bonds and his treatment.  A better comparison might be Pete Rose.  


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