Monday, May 22, 2006

Number 714

Yesterday I was eating lunch at The Cheesesteak Shop near my house. They have a TV for the patrons to watch while stuffing their faces, and it's usually got some kind of sports on. Today was no different, and the Giants-A's game had just come on. I watched the end of the previous night's game, with Barry Bonds striking out against Huston Street to end the game. I was hoping to see Bonds hit in the first inning, but it went 1-2-3. Bonds was left on deck. Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt had a shaky first inning, but managed to get out of it only giving up one run. At that point, my family and I were all done with out cheesesteaks, so we left. We were in my wife's minivan, so there was some soft rock station on the radio. They soon announced that Barry had hit home run #714, tying Babe Ruth. I had just barely missed it! If only Jason Schmidt had been quicker, or Michael, Jr. had taken longer eating, I would have seen it as it happened. Oh well.

Of course this has been the biggest news in sports this weekend. It's humorous that some people are trying to downplay it. Some (including MLB) say, who cares about 714, when the record is 755? It's funny to hear people saying that, and yet #714 was a headline all over the country last night and this morning. They say it was anti-climactic because it took Barry a long time to go from #713 to #714 (or from #700 to #714 for that matter.) Yet almost every baseball player interviewed yesterday was asked about #714. Even those that say #714 is a big deal, say that it's not as important because of the steroid allegations hanging over Bonds. Maybe so, but now people are eagerly awaiting #715.

The truth is that #714 is a really big deal. It's an even bigger deal because it was hit by Barry Bonds. Nobody (outside of his home market) liked Barry before the steroid scandals, and now he's probably the most despised player in all of sports. Forget Terrell Owens or Ron Artest, they're fan-favorites compared to Bonds now. And that's why it's an even bigger deal that Bonds hit #714 than if it was some well-liked and apparently clean-living slugger (not sure if there's one like that out there, but let's be theoretical.)

Bonds has re-defined the game. Steroids may not always be part of baseball, but you better bet that some type of "performance enhancement" will. Bonds wasn't the first to go this route, not even close. But he showed that it's a necessity now. That's right. You have to juice, in one way or another, if you're going to be the best. The bar has been set higher, some would say artificially high. Bonds will finish his career with the most home runs. He will provide ample statistical evidence to claim that he is the greatest of all time. He has set the bar even higher, and don't think for a minute that people won't shoot for his marks. And to hit his marks, they will juice. I thought it was particularly ironic that Albert Pujols was defending Bonds earlier this week. I just want somebody to ask Albert what his neck size is...

It doesn't even matter how tough MLB tries to get. The IOC are incredibly tough on juicers, but it hasn't done them much good. In fact at some point, I would be surprised if the IOC doesn't recognize that there are negative financial consequences to the tough policies and they will relent. The games (not just basball) have changed. We, the fans, require a level performance that cannot be consistently achieved "naturally." Otherwise, we're not going to watch.

No comments: