We’re All A-Rod Fans Now

O.K., choose the correct analogy.

Barry Bonds holding the home run record is to Major League Baseball as . . .

  1. Rosie O’Donnell succeeding Bob Barker would have been to The Price is Right;
  2. An incapacitating illness to George W. Bush would be to the US (I.e., Dick Chaney as president);
  3. Jar Jar Binks was to Star Wars;
  4. The Richard M. Scrushy parkway is to the city of Fairfield, Alabama;
  5. George O’Leary was to Notre Dame;
  6. Mike Strahan’s sack record is to the NFL.

When I saw the replay of home run number 755, I immediately began wondering if there was any other situation in which such a despicable person held such an amazingly noble position. Numbers one through five came from that line of thought.

Not all of the people are despicable, of course, Rosie and Jar-Jar are just ridiculous, O’Leary foolish. Nor are all the honors extraordinary. Star Wars is only a movie, though it is Star Wars. And Fairfield ain’t Paris, thought the RM Scrushy Parkway is it’s main drag.

The gist of the first five, however, is what initially annoyed me about Bonds: In a position that is not only honorable to the person holding it, but is also representative of something larger than the position, is a stupid, or ridiculous, or nasty person. Thus my initial answer was: Just as Dick Chaney would be not only unworthy of holding the office of president but would by holding that office debase the entire United States, so Barry Bonds is not only unworthy of being Home Run King but by being Home Run King has shamed all of Major League Baseball.

Hence the title of this post. Just as everyone would count down the days until the next election should Chaney become president, so everyone is now cheering for the youngest guy to ever hit 5oo home runs to continue his success.

Then I though about it some more. Now I think the answer is number six. Strahan’s sack record is one of the most dubious of all sports records, for two big reasons. One, he did not deserve it, as he recorded the record setting sack late in the fourth quarter of the final game of the year when Bret Favre ran a naked boot leg right at Strahan and then laid down for him. Two, it’s a record in the books only. Strahan had 22.5 sacks in 16 games. But in 1967, before the NFL decided that the sack was an official statistic, (and prior to the expansion of the schedule to 16 games) Deacon Jones had 26 sacks. In short, Strahan holds a meaningless record, and doesn’t even deserve to hold it.

Ditto Barry Bonds.

One, Bonds does not deserve the record. Unlike Strahan, though, who owes his record to another player’s lack of integrity, Bonds is himself a cheater. He owes plenty of his home runs to steroids. I don’t blame him for that any more than I do the other cheaters out there (Mark McGwire, Raffy Palmeiro). Everyone was doing it, and MLB winked and nodded because monster home runs are good for business. But it’s still cheating.

The rampant cheating leads to reason two that Bonds’s record is like Strahan’s sack record. Home runs today do not mean what they did when Hank Aaron was hitting them. Not just because of drugs, either. Expansion means more jobs, which means diluted talent, which means today’s hitters get to beat up on pitchers who never would have even reached the majors in Aaron’s time. Ballparks are more hitter friendly, too (more runs equals more fans). There’s less foul territory, so lots of balls that at one time would have been caught for outs now end up as fouls into the stands. Fences are closer as well, making home runs easier to hit. There’s also Bond’s body armor, which lets him crowd the plate without fear of being hit in retaliation; smaller strike zones; and the conspiracy theories about “juiced” baseballs.

In short, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy or even eighty home runs a season today is not the same thing as it would have been even just twenty years ago. Thus a life time total of 755 home runs today is not the same thing as Aaron’s 755. This is not to say Bonds is anything other than a great hitter. I’m sure that if he’d played in Aaron’s time – with no steroids and against superior talent – he would have been great. But because of the differences between then and now, I give greater more to Aaron’s home runs than to Bonds’s.

So how many more homers would Bonds or any other modern player have to hit than Aaron for me to say the player was a better home run hitter? I do not know. The Home Run Era is too young to make that determination. I became a baseball fan at the tail end of the honest era, when thirty home runs a year was remarkable and a pitcher who had an era above 4.00 would not be an MLB pitcher for long. I guess because that was how I initially learned to “feel” about home runs, thirty or forty homers a year still sounds like an accomplishment. But it really isn’t. In 1986, for instance, Jessie Barfield led MLB with 40 homers, no one else reached 40, and only 13 hit at least 30. Twenty years later,  in 2006, two players had over fifty homers (Ryan Howard and David Ortiz), Barfield would have come in at number 11, tied with Adam Dunn, and 33 players hit at least 30 home runs. Is forty the new thirty then? Would the old forties equate to the new fifties? I don’t know. I guess we’ll know how remarkable the new home run records are when we’ve had a generation or two grow up with them.

In other words, only time will tell if Bonds has done something worth celebrating. Maybe it would even make him more tolerable. Or at least his place in the record books less painful. I’ve never heard anyone say anything nice about Ty Cobb, you know.

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