Friday, April 14, 2006


By Tim McManus

I flicked on the TV the other night and *61 was on, right at the part when things started to get real bad for Roger Maris in New York.

He was getting chairs thrown at him in the Yankee Stadium outfield, people were sending him death threats, the media was twisting stories to make him a pariah, his hair was falling out...

The intended (and achieved) reaction is sympathy for a character whose only flaws are 1) that he's less than obliging to the press and 2) is so good at his job that he's threatening the most sacred record in all of sports.

You always leave that movie realizing that fans objectify players to such a degree that they tend to lose human compassion. How otherwise could people unleash so much hatred towards a man who, in reality, is nothing more than a successful entertainer chasing an empty number? He has a family and an ability to get wounded, just like those who are harassing his family and inflicting the wounds.

It makes little sense.

The next night I came home from work and flicked on the tube again, and SportsCenter was airing a segment from "Bonds on Bonds". Barry was sitting back in a chair and talking about all of the negativity and criticism that he has endured from the general public over his career. He started out coming off cold and hard and impenetrable, then cracked in the next instant and started to weep.

"You can't hurt me or my family anymore than you already have," said Bonds in a rare glimpse of vulnerability.

Now I know that show was manufactured to enhance the embattled slugger's public persona, so it has to be digested in accordance.

I know that he was blatantly bloated by steroids during his peak seasons, when he demolished numbers that hold significant meaning to loyal followers.

I also know that he comes off as abrasive, unapologetic and unlikable. He has done little through the camera lens to welcome you in or make you warm to him.

But above all, I know that none of those things are reason enough to rip apart another man.
And as I watched Bonds shed his machismo for a minute, I couldn't help but flash back to Maris.
Their moments of ridicule, after all, both reached their apex when they each stood just a handful of homers away from Babe Ruth. As less-than-beloved characters, fans became vehement when they approached the ultimate legend of the game.

Neither catered to the media, and were therefore pounded in the press harder than they would have been otherwise.

Maris got hate mail. Bonds got hate mail. Maris had a chair thrown at him. Bonds had a syringe thrown at him. Maris broke Babe's record anyway. So will Bonds.

The biggest difference, of course, is the use of the juice by Barry. This injustice validates the fans' venomous approach to the greatest player of their generation. He was tainted, and as a result, tainted their experience.

What Barry and his cohorts did does cast a shadow over the sport, no doubt. Numbers and seasons will have to be revisited and scrutinized, and your level of faith and enjoyment in baseball may have been jeopardized.

What he did was bad, sure, but what we're doing is worse. Like Maris, he is nothing more than an entertainer chasing an (ultimately) hollow number, and has been absolutely shredded for doing everything in his power to ensure that he thrives at it.

And as enough time passes, he may just evolve into a tragic hero as well. People with an unattached view will sympathize with a character whose only flaws are 1) that he's less than obliging to the press and 2) is so good at his job that he's threatening the most sacred record in all of sports.

There may even be a movie about it one day. Call it *715.

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