Friday, August 10, 2007

Barry Bonds: The Pursuer becomes the Pursued

For the fourth time in the last twenty-two years the breaking of a famous Major League hitting record has been sullied by the tarnished image of the player who broke the record. The breaking of Ty Cobb’s record of most lifetime hits by Pete Rose, the breaking of Roger Maris’ single season home run mark by Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, and, now, the breaking of Henry Aaron’s lifetime home run record by Barry Bonds, are obscured by the dark shadows cast by the above-mentioned players.

It’s moot to argue whether Bonds’ record should be allowed or not. Considering the disgraceful silence Major League Baseball has displayed regarding the steroid question it’s unlikely they will disavow the record since it would almost certainly mean an admission that Major League Baseball has deliberately turned a blind eye to the blatant use of steroids by players. (Another key point baseball fans should remember was that another major factor in Bond’s surpassing of Aaron’s home run mark was the deliberate policy decision made by Major League Baseball to allow the ball itself to be loaded up from 1995 to 2002. The fact that the ball was juiced, coupled with the use of steroids are the vital underpinnings for the obscene surge in home runs during that time period. If the ball hadn’t been juiced then Bonds might hypothetically be still pursuing Aaron’s record. It was also the reason why Maris’ home run record was eclipsed as well).

Indeed when contemplating Bonds’ milestone I am reminded by something I had when I was a little boy. I used to have a book titled Great Receivers in Football History. In that book there was a chapter on NFL receiver Billy Howton (who played for the Packers, Browns, and the Dallas Cowboys in the 1950’s and 1960’s). Howton broke the record of Green Bay Packer legend Don Hutson for most receiving yards in a career. Hutson was there to witness Howton breaking the record and after the game he went into the locker room to congratulate him. Howton was basking in the glow of breaking the record and he told Hutson, “I did it. I broke your record!” And Hutson said, “That’s right and, one day, someone will come along and break your record.” To which Howton gave Hutson a look of understanding and comprehension—and as it turned out, Huston was right. Howton’s mark has been surpassed many times and, if memory serves me correctly, Jerry Rice now holds the record for most receiving yards.

But the point is this: Bonds may reign now as the all-time home run king but there are other players who are primed and ready to stalk his steroided carcass. While all eyes were on Barry Bonds, it should be noted at Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez has become the youngest player ever to hit five hundred home runs. A-Rod has been having a splendid season in what has been a superlative major league career. Although there are other active players with more career home runs than A-Rod they are all in the twilight of their careers and will not pass Barry Bonds. A-Rod still has many years to go and, barring an unforeseen injury or scandal that could derail his career, A-Rod—if he’s willing—has the potential to break Bond’s lifetime mark and remove the stain cast upon the record by Barry Bonds.

And if A-Rod is unwilling or unable to surpass the mark then there is another player in whom I possess the highest confidence in his capability to become the all-time baseball home-run king: Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies. A-Rod may be the youngest player ever to reach five hundred home-runs but Ryan Howard just broke A-Rod’s mark of becoming the youngest player ever to reach one hundred home-runs and if Howard continues his magnificent slugging (despite missing a month due to injury, Howard is close to hitting forty home runs this season) it is quite possible that Ryan Howard will break A-Rod’s mark of becoming the youngest player ever to reach five hundred home runs and if he reaches five hundred home runs then the next obvious step is to go after Barry Bonds or A-Rod if the latter surpasses Bonds’ mark.

I refuse to give in to despair. Instead I seek comfort in observing baseball’s future and their names are Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard.

Play Ball!

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