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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Chemistry & Baseball
by Hal Vickery

When you get right down to it, the Sox are hardly news these days, unless you call moving “up” to eight games under .500 (as of Sunday morning) newsworthy. No, the “big news” in baseball this week wasn’t from Chicago. It was from San Francisco, where Barroid Bonds, the human chemistry lab, “broke” Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record.

I really can’t comment on the event. I have no idea who was there, who spoke, or who did anything to honor Mr. Bonds. You see, I didn’t bother to watch. I didn’t bother to watch it live, and I didn’t bother to watch any of the 3000-plus replays that were probably shown on ESPN (especially ESPN, I’d guess) or elsewhere.

I’ve become pretty disillusioned with Major League Baseball this summer. The Sox have been anything but fun to watch this summer, and as I stated a while back in this column, I have better things to do with my time than watch a losing team. I’ve been to the mountain top, and I won’t settle for anything less than a winning team any more.

But the Sox aren’t the only reason for my disillusionment. No, this whole “home run record” thing has completely turned me off to Major League Baseball. Call me silly, but I prefer my ball players to be the product of something other than a test tube.

I’m sure the fans in San Francisco are thrilled that one of their own has broken Henry Aaron’s record. After all, San Franciscans have been into chemical enhancement for years. Remember Haight-Ashbury? Bonds would fit in there very nicely.

I’ve been avoiding reading press reports of Bonds’ feat, too. I would hope that sportswriters would think something of the integrity of the game when they write about Bonds’ “record.” But I trust sportswriters’ integrity even less than that of Mr. Bonds. So I have nothing to say about the media’s reaction to Bonds’ “record.”

When Bonds “tied” Aaron’s record in San Diego, I received a phone call from my son who asked if I was watching. I told him that I wasn’t. He reported that a number of fans were holding up signs that simply said, “*”. Those fans know the truth.

It was appropriate that Bud Selig was actually there. According to my son, Selig didn’t applaud. He simply stood up with his hands in his pockets.

Selig was wrong in not applauding Bonds and embracing him. After all it was Selig and the various management types at MLB who looked the other way while steroids became prevalent in many major league clubhouses.

It was Selig who embraced the Mark McGwires and Sammy Sosas who “shattered” all kinds of home run records. It was Selig who looked the other way when a number of 180-lb players came back after a winter of “workouts” weighting 230, and all of it muscle.

“Chicks dig home runs,” became MLB’s rallying cry during the steroid era. And there was this skinny kid, named Barry Bonds. He was probably the best all-around ballplayer in the game. But very few people knew him. They knew Mark McGwire. They knew Sammy Sosa. They knew all the other players who looked more like beef cattle than humans.

And Barry Bonds made a decision. He decided that if Chicks did the home run, then he would become the best home run hitter he could. So he worked on it. In the process his hat size changed. He used “flaxseed oil” and his muscles bulged. The only reason people didn’t confuse him for the Incredible Hulk is that the “flaxseed oil” didn’t turn his skin green.

He came back as Barroid Bonds, power hitter extraordinaire. And he shattered Mark McGwire’s single season “home run record.” ESPN dutifully followed his every move. ESPN gave him a reality series. ESPN promoted him. ESPN became the Barroid Bonds Network: almost all Barroid Bonds almost all the time. Does that tell you anything about East Coast cynicism?

And after a Federal grand jury began investigating Bonds for perjury regarding his testimony over the use of steroids, all Bud Selig could do is form a commission to investigate the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. The Mitchell Commission has yet to report. Will they ever?

Bud Selig would love for this all to go away. However, if certain reports are true, Bonds will find himself facing those perjury charges in Federal court.

Barry Bonds got his recognition, all right. It says something about the character of the man in the way that he chose to get it. But you can’t blame him entirely.

Most people who engage in self-destructive behavior have enablers. Those are the people who are in a position to do something about it, but instead choose to look the other way and say nothing. They actually help to create the conditions that enable the behavior to continue.

Barroid Bonds has had a number of enablers. Bud Selig looked the other way as players shot themselves up with juice because, after all, it was “saving the game.” The sportswriters looked the other way during the McGwire era and then after Bonds “bulked up” (at least until Bonds ended up in front of that grand jury). ESPN was one of the biggest enablers, paying Bonds for that reality series, and hitching their wagon to his star all through this sordid mess.

As for me, I’ve lost a lot of my taste for major league baseball. This summer I’ve spent most of my time watching the minor leaguers at Kane County and here in Joliet. There seems to be some integrity left at that level of the game. At least I’d like to think that.

Barroid Bonds, I hope you’re happy with your “record.” I refuse to recognize it. There are a whole lot of fans like me. Perhaps that’s because we don’t live in San Francisco and we choose not to look the other way.

ESPN, I hope your ratings go down the tubes. I haven’t bothered to watch you in a year. I won’t be watching soon. I hope others feel the same way I do.

Bud Selig, I hope you rot.

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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