Are you ready for Barry Bonds? Ready or not, he?s coming to a T.V., newspaper, radio, Web site and every other form of mass media you interact with every day or the rest of this month. He?s chasing baseball immortality by possibly breaking the most mythic sporting record of them all, most home runs in a season. After a three-dinger tirade in Colorado on Sunday, he has slightly less than three weeks to hit eight more longballs and break the mark. But unlike the home run race in 1998, this time our protagonist is arrogant, cantankerous, and obnoxious beyond words. Will America be enthralled by the drama again? In the next few weeks we will find out.
Four years ago, Mark McGwire broke a record that had stood for 37 years. He battled with Sammy Sosa, whose infectious smile and manner helped pull McGwire through the obvious torture he was living through with the media examining his every move in and outside of the ballpark. When he finally broke through and reached the mythic number of 62, it was a scene straight out of a Barry Levinson movie. His son greeted him at home plate, and the two shared a hug which would have brought tears to Mussolini. Sosa happened to be on the opposing team, and he came in from his right-field position to high five his friend and slugging rival. Norman Rockwell would have been called ?cheesy? if he painted something this perfect.
Big Mac also used the platform he had thrust upon him to bring attention to a cause close to his heart, the physical and sexual abuse of children. He is also a divorced father and openly accepted being a role model for families changed by joint custody, publicly discussing the friendly relationship he maintained with his ex-wife and his role as a father. Not to mention he kept a nation distracted from Ken Starr, Monica Lewinsky and seemed to heal the divide between the game and the casual baseball fan still scarred by the 1994 strike. His genetically enormous body and good-guy image made the superhero analogy all too easy.
Barry Bonds is the anti-Mac. He is surly, condescending, and has the most amazing swing I?ve seen from a left-hander sans Ted Williams and Ken Griffey Jr. He is loathed by most of his teammates, who perceive him the same way the fans and media do, as the most talented brat in the game. He has a similar media crush inundating him, and instead chooses not to discuss his home runs, refusing to acknowledge the nation?s intrinsic fascination with his chase. This from a man born into baseball royalty ? his father Bobby was a slugger for the same team he plays for now, and his godfather is living legend Willie Mays. If anyone should appear grateful for all the blessings inherited and otherwise bestowed on him, it?s Bonds.
All season long, the media has given Bonds the opportunity to restore his fractured image, and he turns aside the opportunities like hanging curveballs. He almost seems to relish the role of anti-hero, answering media questions with rhetorical ones of his own. Baseball history is littered with men like Cobb, Rose, and Henderson. Men with great records but weren?t good guys. For the rest of this month, we?ll watch another one attempt to join the ranks. Like it or not, get ready for Barry Bonds.
Collin Sherwin is a junior majoring in political firstname.lastname@example.org