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