Saturday, May 27, 2006

Bob Wing and Brian Burwell on Bonds Haters and Bonds

Bob Wing on Bonds Haters
Bonds(I'd been meaning to post this five days ago, shortly after I received the link, but now that Barry Bonds has hit his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth's total of 714 for second place, I think it's especially apt.)

Here's another take (thanks Bernie!), from the Black Commentator website's guest writer Bob Wing, on some sports commentators' and fans' ongoing hatefest against Barry Bonds. I agree with him on many points (and since he didn't try to type his as quickly as possible as I did mine, they're not as crabbed and more comprehensible). I really am waiting for Bonds to hit his 715th home run so that we who follow baseball can pass this particular junction.

Brian Burwell, an African-American sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is having none of this. He views Bonds's plight quite differently and disdainfully, dismissing comparisons between Aaron's experience with racism as he broke Ruth's record with the media criticism of Bonds. His point of comparison is O.J. "The Juice" Simpson; as he believed was the case with OJ, race only became a salient issue once he found himself in trouble. Or as Burwell says:

He's a brother who has basically lived untouched by most of the normal strictures of blackness. Born to wealth, accustomed to privilege, impervious to racism's harmful limitations all his life, Bonds is now what I call a brother of convenience.

He is conveniently casting himself in the role of the persecuted black man being undone by some unseemly plot by The Man, when the truth is, he's nothing but a cheating jerk caught redhanded.

But is all of this true? Wasn't Bonds a target of media criticism, some of it tinged with racism, before the steroid scandal erupted? Hasn't he been singled out for years for "personality" problems (he's "difficult," he's not "friendly to the media," he's "angry," etc.) in ways many of his non-Black peers were not? Also, isn't it possible to criticize Bonds's occasional arrogance, self-absorption and moments of self-pity while also not forgetting the role of racism and racist discourse in American professional sports and the sports media?

Back to the other home run leaders. I wish Ken Griffey Jr., who's never been linked to steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs, hadn't suffered through several injury-filled seasons, or he might be closer to Ruth by now. As it is, of the active batters with over 400 home runs, Griffey Jr. is the closest after Bonds, at 542, putting him 12th on the list; next on the list of active players are Frank Thomas at 457, Gary Sheffield at 453, Carl Yastrzemski at...okay, just joking (he finally did retire!), Bonds HottieJeff Bagwell at 449, Jim Thome at 447, Manny Ramirez at 444, A-Rod at 440, and Mike "Butch" Piazza at 403. Griffey is entering the tail-end of his career, and has struggled to stay healthy, so he should at least break 600 if he can hang on.

Of this others in this cohort, A-Rod has the talent and enough years left, if he doesn't get injured, to catch Bonds-Ruth, and perhaps Vladimir Guerrero (316 after 11 years) and Albert Pujols(223 after 6 years) will also at least break the 550 mark if they keep hitting at their current pace and play for about 20 years. But there's no one on the near horizon who looks set to catch up with Bonds. The anti-Bonds fanatics perhaps should start accepting this fact, though the main effect may be to provoke them go after Bonds even more.

One of the most recent casualties of the anti-Bonds crusade is Albert Pujols, the star first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols, who is leading the league in multiple categories right now, and who's on pace to tie or even break Bonds's single-season home run record, had the independence of mind (gall?) to praise Bonds's talent, act friendly towards him with the Cardinals were playing the Giants, and even tape a segment for an ESPN show.

And as surely as Prince Albert, or El Hombre as he's also been dubbed, was born in Santo Domingo, at least one St. Louis sportswriter and some fans began their criticism. Actually, what most got St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bernie Miklasz's nose in a twist was Pujols's legitimate question, "Are steroids going to make you better? Who knows?" Steroids probably did make some already talented players--including Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi--better hitters, but there are many who haven't really been helped, either for a season or over the long haul at all. Miklasz has a right to his opinion, as Pujols has to whom he associates with, but I wish sportwriters like him would also take a little space at least criticize the very system and those running it that looked the other way about steroid usage for a decade or more.

All Star Game
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