A Long Out

As of this writing, the season is two and a half weeks old and Barry Bonds has yet to hit a homerun.  Like columns in architecture, the absence itself implies the presence.  Bonds is hitting the ball, and hitting the ball well.  He has three doubles.  He isn’t whiffing, he isn’t dribbling the ball to the pitcher.  He has hit a number of balls that fell just short, doubles off the wall, or, more often, a long out.

How many of those balls two years ago would have been home runs?  It is almost as if the baseball gods are taunting Bonds.  The number of fly outs on the warning track has been noticeable, although perhaps because we are watching.    How long until the doubts creep into even the self-possessed Bonds psyche, like Furies from a Greek tragedy?  Can he do it anymore?

SI’s Tom Verducci writes eloquently of the decline of Bonds:

Baseball cannot be rushed. It is a game that reveals itself through repetition, which is why the very best high school and college players almost always serve compulsory apprenticeships for years and years in the minors. Its cruelty is that the secrets it reveals are inversely proportional to the betrayal of the ballplayer’s physical skills. So just when the master tradesman understands the game deeply, his aged, worn body cannot manifest the wisdom of the mind.

Bonds beat this mind/body equation, the ancient house rules of the sport.

But Verducci’s vitriol at the end of the article is astonishing:

The comfort of knowing he is better than everybody else, because without it, is there anything about Barry Bonds worth caring about?

You mean despite the fact that he is a human being? 

Why does Bonds evoke such passionate loathing?  Let’s stipulate that Bonds used steroids.  Was he alone?  Big Mac can blubber about talking about the past, but he arouses pity or disgust, not the blinding hatred of Bonds.  And let’s face it, all of baseball, from the players to the league to the fans who cheered and returned to the ballparks to watch the spectacle of sacrosanct homerun records falling before the new titans of the game.   The Game of Shadows makes it clear Bonds was seduced by the circus freak show that was *** nineties baseball.  — Michael Norton



  1. Cyn

    Your assessment of “Big Mac” is off-base. Ever since his “I’m not here to talk about the past” performance, he has lost a lot of that adoring fan base.

    The difference being, McGwire doesn’t rub what he did in our faces every day like Bonds does.

    As they say, personality goes a long way. If Bonds wanted people to be nice to him, he should have thought of that before he started cheating and before he decided to hone the persona he has for his tenure in MLB.

  2. Matt

    First time reader, enjoyed your post and agreed with just about all of it – except I dont see Verducci’s “astonishing vitriol”. Bonds has spent his career alienating people, especially sportswriters, and like a lot of things he sets his mind to, he’s very good at it.

    I wanted to take a stab at your question, “Why does Bonds evoke such passionate loathing?”

    Four factors, I think. In ascending order of importance: race, steroid usage, personality and, ultimately, talent. Hatred requires segregation from the object of your revulsion.

    Nothing segregates Bonds from the general public, or from his peers, more than his colossal talent and obsession to be great. It puts him in the center of every storm, in the middle of the the fiercest statistical debates. Few care about, much less hate, arrogant black drug users who played a year or two and hit .240 with 11 home runs. Fans care about 714, 755 and the relative merits of the game’s greatest all time players.

    The second most segregating aspect to Bonds is his infamously aloof, disdainful personality. About 15 years ago, Jim Brock, Bonds’ Arizona State coach, was asked some open ended questions about his long coaching career(1000+ wins) in a radio interview, and even back then he emphatically made the point that Bonds had been by far the most difficult, uncoachable, unlikable kid he had ever coached in his life. This was a college coach speaking about a player who had departed several years earlier. Barry must’ve really left an impression!

    The steroid usage itself is only the third most segregating aspect, as hundreds and hundreds of contemporaries likely used PEDs during Bonds’ career – many of whom were stars collecting all sorts of individual and team accolades. Bonds alleged usage is a tiny portion of the abuse that permeated baseball for over a decade. While his usage is a valid substantive issue, he was a relative latecomer to PEDs and when he finally did cave in, he was joining a well established fraternity.

    Lastly, “race”, apart from virulent racism, is always a segregating factor, although I dont believe it’s of paramount importance here. I’ve often wondered how much public perceptions of Bonds, Sosa and McGwire would have differed if they had switched skins. My guess is that the taciturn, abrupt McGwire would be treated more harshly by the general public and that Bonds and Sosa would be given more slack, but those observations cant be empirically proven or refuted.


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