Thursday, August 09, 2007

756*

Well, he done gone and did it. Barry Bonds has surpassed Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron as the all-time home run king.

As a life-long baseball fan and something of a student of the game, what to think?

As for if it was going to happen, I never had any doubts. I perhaps thought that Bonds might (at the far, far end) might retire amidst the controversy that makes me so ambivalent about this accomplishment.

Whenever such a record is surpassed, it is a notable day for the sport in question, and for baseball, yesterday was no different. What I could not help but notice was that this story was about fifth in the network and PBS newscasts...whatever goes on in baseball, the rest of the mostly cruel joke of modern life goes on I guess.

On one level, I must say "bully" to Mr. Bonds, if for nothing else, for being here to do it. That was no easy record to break (even if it took the equivalent of lying to Congress to do it), and well, good for you.

Then there is the other level, where I feel indignant about the achievement of a true athlete like Hank Aaron being topped by a suspected steroid fiend like Barry Bonds and I get pissed off. "How dare he," I and countless others say. Hell, even Bud Selig phoned in his congrats. What the hell message does that send?

What it says is that, as Charles Barkley has always been trying to tell us, athletes are not role models nor should they be construed as such. They are people doing a job for large (almost inconceivable) amounts of money and what they do in their personal lives is none of the public's business and even less of a reason to admire these people.

But, wait, Bonds is suspected of reaching these heights through breaking the rules, so what then? Well, I guess he will end up like the greats Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, having all of his records with an asterisk next to them that explains the extraneous circumstances surrounding his feats of prowess. Fate worse than death? Hardly...he did really hit all of those homers, whatever strange chemical cocktail was coursing through his veins at the time.

Will he ever be stripped of these records and refused entry to Cooperstown? I suppose only time will tell on this one, but Pete Rose only gambled on his team and look what happened to him. In our messed-up, Puritan based society, drug use outpaces even gambling in the hierarchy of moral turpitude. If you were to throw in some juicy stories about hookers on the road, well, that would only serve to sweeten the pot, wouldn't it?

Is there a larger lesson to be learned here? If there is, it is a fairly simple one and (to your horror, dear reader) it relates back to economics. It is a simple fact (pointed out by many economists for whom setting up incentive schemes is a favorite indoor sport) that given the right incentives, anyone will cheat. This fact is intensified in such high risk, high reward, high potential for failure worlds as professional athletics.

So, to Barry Bonds, congrats I guess, and if you did break any rules, shame on you. You will have to live with the dreaded asterisk. You will learn to do this.

The real question, then, is will WE learn to deal with it? CAN we? SHOULD we?

1 comment:

mjenks said...

Do we really have an asterisk next to Pete Rose and Joe Jackson? Or is there just a pall that accompanies them. I thought the only notable asterisk was next to Roger Maris.

And, well, Bonds now. Maybe.

As far as Cooperstown...I guess time will tell. We'll see what happens with McGwire next year, to see if he recovers some or is still hidden under a rock. I don't know. I wish I did know (then I could bet on it).

Barry's an incredible athlete. An incredible asshole, but an incredible athlete nonetheless. My only hope is that A-Rod breaks Bonds' record...and even then, thanks to Conseco opening his mouth (again), even A-Rod will have that same pall hanging over him.