Baseball, Bonds, and a number

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Barry Bonds is, by all accounts, a singularly unpleasant man-sullen, arrogant, and nasty to opponents, teammates, and fans alike. In all likelyhood, he owes his home run record both to his own remarkable athleticism and to the relentless use of performance-enhancing drugs in the latter years of his career.

So that puts baseball fans in a quandary. More than any other sport, baseball is a game of numbers, of statistics, of charts-at least, for fans.

Playing the game has nothing to do with numbers, other than runs. If, after nine innings, you have more runs that the other team, you win. Statistics are just nerdy irrelevancies. You catch the ball, or not. You make the throw, or not. You get a hit, or work the pitcher for a walk, or advance a runner with a bunt or a sac fly, or not. It’s a simple, transparent game, but one which is supremely difficult at its highest level.

Many years ago, one of my college pals was the team’s star pitcher. One day he was throwing in the batting cage to his catcher, and wanted someone to just stand at the plate with a bat, as if he were the batter. I volunteered, put on some protective gear, and stood there.

Hawk threw in the mid-nineties. I never saw the ball-I just heard it hiss as it sailed over the plate. Years later, I understood why Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest athlete of the 20th century, never got to the bigs. He couldn’t hit-not enough bat speed maybe, or he couldn’t see the curve ball.

If Barry Bonds had never juiced, he would have been a lock for the Hall of Fame. But when he decided to transform himself from the lithe, speedy, power-hitting superstar to a grotesquely bulked-up home run hitter, he abandoned the game for the meta-game; the statistics that obsess and rule the fans. He was a far better player, and far more useful to his team, before he became a one-dimensional slugger.

But he got what he wanted, it seems-the game’s holy grail, the home run record. He’ll be immortal…or will he? Maybe the stats nerds will move on, and look at the intangibles-the players whose stats may not impress, but who help their teams win, on the field, and in the clubhouse.

Among all the furor and tumult over Bonds’ pursuit of the record, one simple statistic stands out.

His team, the San Francisco Giants, is firmly mired in last place in the National League West, 13 1/2 games out of first, with the third-worst record in the major leagues.

And that game last night, when Bonds hit his 756th home run?

The Giants lost, 8-6.

8 Responses to Baseball, Bonds, and a number

  1. The Giants may have lost last night, but any San Francisco baseball game in AT&T park is a sublime experience; win or lose.

    We have the best view stadium in any league…the most passionate fans in the country…the best garlic fries in the world…and we love our native son.

    In this country everyone is innocient until proven guilty, so try to refrain from using Barry’s accomplishment as some kind of, albeit beautifully written, morality play. Barry has never failed a steroid test and he has never been indicted.

    Displaced Giants Fan
    August 8, 2007 at 3:51 pm

  2. Everyone in this country is innocent until proven guilty when charged with a crime. This is not the case for Bonds. And, as commentator Bob Costas said, there would be more than enough evidence for a jury to convict Bonds of doping it up if he were to stand trial for CHEATING in baseball. The best garlic fries? Is that all you got?

    solidly placed baseball fan
    August 9, 2007 at 9:39 am

  3. No, we have fresh crab, sourdough bread, Anchor Steam, The Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, cable cars, a world class symphony, Anchor Steam beer, brilliant wines that never leave the state, and the 49ers-just to mention a few other things.

    We also have a Hank Aaron’s video tribute to Barry Bonds. Aaron’s clearly and graciously said, “I would like to offer my congratualtions to Barry Bonds on becoming baseball’s career home-run leader. It is a great accomplishment, which required skill, longevity and determination.” He also offered best wishes to Barry and his family.

    So there!

    displaced giants fan
    August 9, 2007 at 2:53 pm

  4. Forget baseball; Hazlehurst you sure called De Marsche’s leaving the FAC right in last Friday’s BJ column.

    Did you have inside info, or you really that good?

    Maggie
    August 9, 2007 at 3:44 pm

  5. I heard that Hazlehurst keeps a crystal ball on his desk that he periodically peers into to see the future — things like the the Giants will finish in last place, that “native son” Bonds is not even from San Francisco and that immoral baseball fans will become ill from eating local fresh crab.

    solidly placed baseball fan
    August 10, 2007 at 8:27 am

  6. Yes, I do in fact have a crystal ball on my desk-but the future remains obscure. Like any ink-stained wretch of a journalist, I rely on luck, cunning, and the kindness of strangers to manufacture the news…but as far as Bonds and the Giants are concerned, both of them are going south-or maybe Peter Magowan will move the team to Yerevan, where juicing may still be legal…now that’s make ‘em contenders!

    John Hazlehurst
    August 10, 2007 at 9:57 am

  7. Hey solidly placed,

    Your information is flat… wrong.

    Barry Bonds was born in CA, he attended high school in San Mateo (a close-in San Francisco peninsula suburb), his father played for the Giants for years (Bobby Bonds) and Barry has played for the Giants for over 14 years and he won seven “MVP” awards during that time. That qualifies SF Giant fans to call him their native son!!

    While most of us have trouble accepting the idea of our sports heros juicing with performance enhancing drugs, should this lack of acceptance include Viagra?

    displaced Giants Fan
    August 10, 2007 at 1:41 pm

  8. Let’s call an enhancement an enhancement. Go Viagra and Go Bonds! If Bonds is “enhanced” so is almost every other baseball player, but THEY didn’t break Hammering Hank’s record.

    Mary Jean
    August 12, 2007 at 9:44 am