The Tragedy of Barry Bonds

By William Clarke

For fourteen years my devotion to Barry Bonds was limitless. As a nine year old baseball fanatic Bonds was my favorite and most beloved baseball superstar. On the field he was unparalleled as a true five tool player who could arguably perform at a higher level than any other player in baseball. He should have won four consecutive MVP awards. He was a total offensive machine and defensive guru. He was the best. Unlike many other baseball fans, I didnƒ?TMt look to Barry to teach me any ethical or moral lessons. As far as I was concerned my mother was the only person I trusted to answer those questions. The lessons Barry taught me were about being patient at the plate and preparing for every game like an NFL quarterback. Thatƒ?TMs why I watched sports, to be entertained and to hopefully become a better player myself. I never believed for one minute that professional athletes had a responsibility to be more moral or ethical than anyone else. I didnƒ?TMt then and I still donƒ?TMt think athletes should be held to a different standard. Thatƒ?TMs not their job and it shouldnƒ?TMt be.

For all of his on-the-field greatness, I was still one of the few fans of Barry Bonds on this side of the Sierra Nevadaƒ?TMs. Unlike Ken Griffey or Chipper Jones, Barry was never a fan favorite. In the land of Yankees, Mets and Phillies fans, he was hated. For whatever reason, being a Bonds fan was anathema to baseball purists and their obnoxious offspring. Those very same fans could love a team owned by George Steinbrenner, root for the obviously juiced up McGwire and couldnƒ?TMt get enough of Sosaƒ?TMs Sambo-like hop, skip, jump and smile routine. These are the same fans who now want Barryƒ?TMs statistics stricken from the books and for him to be tossed out of baseball like Pete Rose.

Despite constantly having to defend myself as a Bonds fan, it was Barryƒ?TMs unpopularity that made him even cooler to me. Not only was he the most supremely gifted athlete in baseball, but he flat out didnƒ?TMt give a damn, and neither did I. For years he left it on the field and didnƒ?TMt feel the need to keep petulant sportswriters and fickle fans happy. In the cutthroat world of middle school and youth sports that attitude was the best thing I could have learned from Barry. The hardened shell that Barry seemed to have was awesome. Handling the flack coming from coaches, parents and teammates can be rough, especially considering the fragile psyche of most children. I adulated Barry to such a degree that I modeled my entire game and routine after him. For a while I even tried to hit lefty, although I quickly realized that was one way in which I could never be like Barry.

Now, that entire veneer of invulnerability is gone. Barry has done his best to act like he doesnƒ?TMt care about the books documenting his use of just about every performance-enhancing drug known to man. However, this time itƒ?TMs not just the same old mindless attacks from journalistic hacks.

Sorry Barry, but this time itƒ?TMs different. He knew as well as everybody else that by the end of 1998 he was a first ballot hall of famer who would go down as one of the best all-around baseball players in history. But it wasnƒ?TMt enough.

For all of Barryƒ?TMs efforts to appear untouchable, we now know that it was never true. It was all an act, and thatƒ?TMs the heartbreaking part. Just like everybody else, Bonds is a sham. And in that respect weƒ?TMre all to blame. Why do any of us need professional athletes to inspire us or teach society at large? In my childlike disappointment I look in the mirror and wonder why Barry Bonds mattered so much to me.

While I never expected Barry to start grinning like a fool and hamming it up with Joe Public I thought he was like Ali without the politics. But unlike Ali, Barryƒ?TMs undoing is his own. Barryƒ?TMs sneer and ƒ?oescrew youƒ?? attitude faded in the limelight of the McGwire and Sosa homerun race and Barry compromised the one thing nobody could ever take away from him, his legacy as a competitor who outperformed everybody he ever competed against. In a Shakespearian fall from grace, Barry Bonds has gone from being mentioned in the same breath as Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Hank Aaron to being mentioned alongside Sosa, Palmeiro and Canseco. Now, due to the rampant drug use his body is failing him.

Barry has become something I didnƒ?TMt want him to be: a glorified designated hitter and a person who let his life be dictated by what others thought about him. In other words, human, just like me. And for the 12-year-old inside of me, thatƒ?TMs the most disappointing part of it all. Despite his extraordinary talents, Barry Bonds ainƒ?TMt nothinƒ?TM but a man, and itƒ?TMs my fault for ever thinking differently.

William Clarke can be reached at [email protected]