It is Lent which is a time for confession. First confession, this is little article is an exercise in procrastination. But I hope it is also an exercise of love.
I’m turning to Baseball. Did you know that they are playing spring training games? More interesting, did you know that Home Run King* Barry Bonds has taken a small position as hitting instructor for his old team the Giants? When I was a child I did childish things, like play basketball. Basketball is a beautiful game, although coaches and TV are doing their best to ruin it. Coach Wooden had the appropriate appreciation in never calling timeouts. To get to the core of basketball you need to be in the flow. All the time outs allow for ads and money and the coaches to feel important on camera, to get big, but they ruin basketball at its core. When I grew up, I started to recognize the poetic depths in baseball that basketball just doesn’t have the vocabulary rival. Not that the players see these things. Most players are not reflective types. Even in baseball you want to get into the flow, and turning on the brain inhibits the flow. But I’m praying for Barry. Because it is in him. Anyone who can be that big of an a**-hole on purpose, anyone who can display envy on a staggering level as he has, also has the necessary powers of reflection if turned in the right direction. And we need him.
So much of what is eating at America’s soul finds a living symbol in Barry Bonds. When I was struggling to play my last desperate games of basketball, a lanky kid was demonstrating how to play America’s pastime. But nobody was watching, or at least in Barry’s mind nobody was watching. He broke into the league with the Pirates in 1986. By 1990 he won the MVP, the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove. I remember those Pirate years. Do you remember who was the favorite? 2nd rate slugger Bobby Bonilla, if not the journeyman catcher Sid Bream. Do you remember what Bonds would become known for in Pittsburgh during those years? Not being able to win in the post-season. In 1992 Franscisco Cabrera would knock in Sid Bream ahead of the Bonds throw to end the season…and Bonds time in Pittsburgh. That kid in Pittsburgh could have been the 2nd coming of Roberto Clemente. He could have continued to win awards and the respect of the league and been that example of excellence that gets talked about in hushed tones, a first ballot Hall of Famer that people trek to Cooperstown to see the brass plaque. But those were not the lessons Barry learned.
Barry learned that HR’s, not silver sluggers or gold gloves or stolen bases or any of the really hard things, are what bring what appeared like love. Pittsburgh loved Bobby Bo and not Barry. And instead of that being to Pittsburgh’s shame, Barry learned. Barry learned that “not winning when it counted” even though the club ace was Doug Drabek with a steep drop off after that is what you get playing for small market teams. What Barry learned was to get big. Growth, at any cost, was what was needed. And get big he did. He went from that all-around player competing for every major award while hitting 30 HR’s to the epic steroid run we remember. And when being smart about it wasn’t enough, when those hacks Sosa and McGuire hogged the spotlight, Bonds went all in the following years. Forget any semblance of fielding or the player he once was. He would put up the dingers in Ruthian fashion landing in McCovey Cove. Feats that haven’t and won’t be matched until a generation comes that does not remember Joseph.
America also learned those lessons – get big. Too big to fail. We not only blew one bubble but two. When the tech-bubble burst no longer allowing 20 year old geeks to become billionaires overnight, we blew the mortgage bubble. Can’t found pets.com, buy a McMansion on a $30,000 salary and liar loan and flip it. Get big, 2000…3000…4000 sq. ft. All growth is good growth, right? And in all that growth, we lost our soul. Just like Barry.
Of course he maintains his innocence. He will still occasionally try and say he didn’t use. When asked if he belongs in the Hall of Fame Barry will answer “of course”. He is right on a completely inconsequential level. His self-justifications are “scoreboard”. Look at the stats. Even if you don’t want to credit his late career, cut it off in the year of Sosa and McGuire. He’s still hall of fame by the strict letter of the law. The problem is that even our best is nothing in that court. If you are going by the law, it only takes one blemish. What we need is a Barry Bonds who could receive grace. We need Hall of Fame voters who could say, “He was wrong, but he was us. In a way, he was the best of us, which is also the worst of us.” And from that act of grace a Barry who could stand up at the Hall of Fame and talk not about 73* HR’s, but about teaching 18 year-olds how to hit in Spring Training. I’m praying for that Barry. We need him.
(HT: The Slurve, a great little baseball newsletter for following the game, and this article.)