Keith Raffel, author of Dot Dead: A Silicon Valley Mystery, recalls the electrifying atmosphere at AT&T Park on the night of Barry Bonds' record breaking home run.
Hmm. The sports story of the year?
What about the Red Sox coming back against the Indians from a 3-1 deficit to crush them in three games and continue the juggernaut against the Rockies?
Nah. Nothing earthshaking here. The BoSox are to this century what the Yankees were to the last. The combination of an unlimited budget and diamond smarts will make them a favorite for years to come.
Then there was Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy’s long-awaited Super Bowl championship—but it all seemed anti-climactic, didn’t it?
I’m a Bay Area boy, so how about something closer to home? Like Coach Don Nelson gaining the upper hand in his feud with former boss Mark Cuban when the Warriors beat the Mavericks. It was, after all, just the third time a top seed had fallen to an eighth seed in NBA history. Despite my home town proclivity, it’s just too local a story.
I have to consider Stanford’s last second victory over 39.5 point favorite USC in a game that probably cost the Trojans the national championship. In the last five years, Southern Cal has recruited 50 players listed on one top-100 recruits list, compared to Stanford’s three.
Okay. I’ve thought things over. None of the above.
Hanging on the wall to my office is a framed ticket to the Giants game on August 7th against the Nationals. The two teams weren’t playing for much—if the hapless Giants team had won, they would have tied the Nats with a less than stellar 72 wins at season’s end, instead of finishing two games behind them. Still, what happened that night will be discussed by my grandchildren (if they are baseball fans, pray to God) in a way that the other four candidates for story of the year will not.
August 7th was the night Barry Bonds launched the 756th home run of his career.
Ohhh, the excitement of being there. I just stood in the stands with 50,000 others and cheered at the top of my lungs for five minutes. The exhilaration, the feeling that I was part of a greater whole, is something that only a great sports event (or maybe a political rally or religious experience) can bring to us mortals. After running out of air, I headed to the concession stands and bought as many orange “I was there when Bonds hit his 756th” T-shirts as I could lay my hands on.
Of course, another reason to choose this event as the top sports story of the year is what it says about drugs, the state of sports in America, and the look-the-other way-since-we’re-making-so-much-money corruption of baseball’s owners and commissioner. I am certainly not ignoring the fact that Bonds has been indicted. (I met his lawyer, Allen Ruby, years ago; Bonds has put his future in good hands.)
Bonds does not deny using steroids. He’s being indicted for saying he didn’t know he was using them. I don’t want to talk too much about drugs and the legal process; I want to pick a great sport story. So here is all I will say. In 2004, after Major League Baseball instituted drug testing, Bonds had the highest OPS (on base percentage plus slugging average) of all time. And he was 39!
Then in the 2007 season, he trailed only Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz in OPS!
Drugs aside, Bonds is the most amazing, exciting ballplayer the game has seen since his godfather, the incomparable Willie Mays, patrolled center field—or even since the Bambino, Babe Ruth, hit more home runs than most teams. Whenever I can, I turn on the radio or TV every time Barry is up. Not for Albert Pujols, not for Ryan Howard, but for a 43-year old guy with gimpy knees.
Pitchers use drugs, too. (Okay here I am still talking about drugs.) In fact, the hurler for the Nats who served up Mr. Bonds’s 756th had been suspended for steroid use himself. Why is Bonds picked on then? Because he’s private, cantankerous, selfish, and African-American?
Now as readers of Bleacher Report know, I have a soft spot for Bonds. I passed Barry walking his fatally ill father up and down the corridor at Stanford Hospital in the summer of 2003, while in the midst of another all-time great season. When members of the media were thumping their chest and asking where the heck Bonds was when he should be talking to them, he was taking care of his father like a good son. In this, he was being a better role model than he’s ever given credit for.
Others have said there is no more revered record in sports than the career home run title. We might know that Jerry Rice has the career touchdown record and that Gretzky and Kareem hold the points records in their respective sports, but we don’t have a clue about the precise number.
But we know 756—and I was there when Bonds hit it. Even if I hadn’t been, that would be the sports story of the year.