Barry Bonds After 756: Beyond the Numbers

Mike EaganSenior Analyst IAugust 14, 2007

Period. End of sentence. No further punctuation necessary. 

It is fact.

I should know, because I had the ultimate privilege of witnessing the feat in person.  And for the record, there wasn't one part of the act that was fraudulent, illegitimate, or make-believe.   

In fact, it was quite simply the most exhilarating and emotional sports moment I've ever been a part of, and I would venture to guess that many of the other 43,153 on hand felt the same way.

I just wish everyone else could be in on the fun.
Despite what most in the national media (and one Chicago-based blowhard in particular) will tell you, we fans in San Francisco aren't blind sheep.  Our eyes are as wide open as anyone else's when it comes to Barry Bonds. 
In fact, more so. 
We've seen how Bonds often treats members of the press corps as though they were seagull turds stuck in his cleats, and how it has come back to bite him in the ass.  

We've observed the BALCO story routinely make the front page in both of our major local newspapers for over four years, and we've heard ad nauseam the details of the leaked grand jury testimony later memorialized in Game of Shadows.
We've beheld with our own eyes the transformed body and the accelerated home run count, and we remember Barry's front-choking of Jeff Kent in the dugout, which may have been a prime-time episode of 'roid rage.
(Though, to be fair, that could just as easily have been an instance of Captain Mustache getting what he so, so richly deserves. But I digress.)
All that said, we've also seen something some of you seem to have missed: the day-to-day exploits of one of the most amazing athletes (if not the most amazing athlete) to have ever set foot on a baseball field. 
We saw 500-plus stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves, and seven MVPs.  We also saw unquantifiable things—the generation's quickest bat and sharpest eye, and the unparalleled ability to capitalize on a pitcher's one and only mistake of an entire game.
In other words, we've seen it all when it comes to Barry—good, bad, sensational, tragic, transcendent, embarrassing.
Being a fan of the Giants during the Bonds Era has been an emotional roller-coaster ride. To say it's complicated would be putting it mildly.
With that in mind, it always strikes Giants fans as odd when people around the nation vastly oversimplify the matter along the lines of Bonds=Dirty Cheater=*, and derisively dismiss those observers who know him the best as biased homers.

When you think about it, it does makes some sense: The national audience is constantly exposed to the uglier aspects of Bonds' career, but hasn't had the opportunity to appreciate his raw talents on a daily basis.  If "756-plus" constitutes people's only lasting impression of Barry, it's understandable that they'd have a bitter taste in their mouths.

But the anti-Bonds crusade is also endemic of a larger problem in the game.  If the saying "Records are meant to be broken" applies anywhere at all anymore, it's certainly not in the baseball world.  It seems as though baseball traditionalists have a somewhat unhealthy attachment to numerical records, as though they were Platonic values of higher truth. 
Should a revered record be broken, the twisted logic seems to go, how will we know it ever existed?
This is of course ridiculous, as evidenced by the recent outpouring of respect for Henry Aaron.  More importantly, it's simply not possible to appreciate a baseball career by glancing at a list of statistics. 
If there's a point to be made here, this is it: The story of the all-time home run record—indeed, of baseball in general—cannot be told by just reciting the numbers.

Willie Mays' career achievement isn't just "660"—it's hitting all those home runs while playing in the Polo Grounds and Candlestick Park, and establishing the all-time benchmark of a "five-tool player."

Babe Ruth's career achievement isn't  just "714"—it's redefining the very idea of the home run, and compiling nearly 100 wins as a starting pitcher to boot. 

Hank Aaron's career achievement isn't just "755"—it's stringing together the most mind-numbingly consistent career in history, and doing so in the face of a despicable tide of racism.
And Barry Bonds' career achievement isn't just "758-and-counting"; it's parlaying a prolific, Hall-of-Fame career based on a combination of speed and power into an "enhanced" career that vaulted him to a superhuman throne above all those who played in baseball's Steroid Era of 1986-2005.
In the end, there's nothing simple about it. 
Nor should there be.

If you can't bring yourself to celebrate the number 756 because of the probability of artificial enhancement, I can understand that.  But that shouldn't in any way preclude you from celebrating Barry Bonds' overall achievements—as well as those of all who preceded him.