Wednesday, August 08, 2007

No cause to celebrate

I once saw Henry Aaron at a Braves game in Atlanta.

He's a gentle man. He's dignified, doesn't say much, and one suspects would prefer to avoid the spotlight.

It took him a ton of plate appearances to pass Babe Ruth's magnificient 714 home run career record. But he was so easily to like, the kind of guy you're proud to call a Home Run King.

I didn't plan to waste 15 minutes of my life writing about Barry Bonds. He isn't worth it. But when I woke up this morning and saw that he'd hit home run No. 756* (* Home runs hit while doped up on steroids from 1999-2005), I couldn't resist.

Forget his unplesantness. That's unfortunate, but not really an issue. That famous wall of plaques at Cooperstown is filled with surly individuals. (Think Ty Cobb).

No, what 756* (* Home runs hit while doped up on steroids from 1999-2005) means is that we've just rewarded a cheater. We're telling our kids that cheating is OK.

That it happened in my game, this beautiful American game, adds insult to injury. That Bonds passed Aaron to achieve his smoke-and-mirrors record is even worse.

It's fine, though. Most everybody outside of San Francisco, where the Kool-Aid must be particularly strong, knows the truth. They will forever put that asterisk besides Bonds' name, even if the official record books don't.

And in our heart's we'll root like hell for Alex Rodriguez to stay healthy and keep hitting homers, no matter what we might think of him or the Yankees.

Today isn't a day for celebration. Bonds has his record and little else. If there's any justice in the world, he'll be indicted one day. If nothing else, maybe now he'll fade off into the twilight and be relegated to the ash heap of baseball history.

The great thing about records, though, is that they'll be broken. This record will fall one day. The player who earns it will have done so the old-fashioned way.

Ruth will still have his 714 in fewer plate appearances. Aaron still has the pure record and the love and admiration of a nation.

Few look to sports to find heroes anymore anyway. The last man I really respected in sport was Paul William "Bear" Bryant. And he's been dead for more than 20 years.

So don't celebrate. But don't fret either.

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