August 7, 2007

Can We Quit Talking About Barry Bonds Now?

He finally hit #756. The record is his, all his. Yes, he took steroids (although I doubt he'll ever admit it). But he still hit 756 dingers, more than anyone else ever has. In a few years after he retires, we'll forget all about the controversy and just look back on a long, statistically impressive career of a vaguely unlikeable yet oddly charismatic power hitter. (This from a fan of the Dodgers, who are the Giants' arch-rivals.)

Hank Aaron had prepared a video recording congratulating Bonds for his achievement -- he wasn't there, but then again, you couldn't keep on dragging the guy to game after game forever. Classy guy, that Aaron; he said he'd move over to make room for Barry and his family in the record book. Some fans have not been so classy, but then again I think Barry is probably used to getting some pretty cruel heckling. I was at a Dodgers game once (with my buddy who is a Giants fan) when a guy shouted at him, "You couldn't hit your wife with that bat!" He started to turn around in reaction to that, but stopped after an instant and kept his cool.

No one would have heckled Hank Aaron like that. He got a different kind of abuse during his playing days. My grandparents once told me a story about him. Back when he started playing for the Milwaukee Braves, he bought a house about a block away from my grandfather's, not far from County Stadium. My grandfather moved. I asked why, and was appalled to learn the answer. Seeing my reaction, my grandfather explained that when a black man moved in to a neighborhood, property values dropped quickly and he was really trying to preserve the value of the home. I protested that this was Hank Aaron, for crying out loud, and being his neighbor would have made the house more valuable, not less. My grandfather didn't explain it any further; apparently I was too young to really understand these kinds of things. But I understood it just fine. It would have been very cool to have had Hank Aaron for a neighbor.

Would I want Barry Bonds for a neighbor today? Damn straight I would. That would mean I would have attained sufficient wealth to become a member of the idle leisure class. So unless I win the lotto, it's just not an option. Back in the day, a player like Aaron could aspire to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and then be dismayed at the white flight.

But more to the point, the money that's in baseball today is immense compared to what was going on in the 40's and 50's, even adjusting for inflation. As late as the mid-1960's, Sandy Koufax held out for a million dollars to be paid over six years, and that was thought by many sports fans to be extortionate even for a player of Koufax's caliber (this was after his third no-hitter). These days, if you have an OBP of more than .250, your clutch fielding error rate is not obviously worse than Bill Buckner's, and you don't drool on yourself during the seven or eight interviews the press gives you a year, that's a million bucks for 162 games -- and if you play for the Royals or the D-Rays, you just might be considered a squad standout.

And, I'm looking forward to Friday night's game at Coors Field. The Cubbies will be in Colorado. It ought to be fun. Zambrano will pitch tomorrow, so I won't see him, and Soriano is injured. But hey, Matt Holiday and Todd Helton are fun enough players. Helton might not be so much of a wild card if he played at sea level all the time, but he doesn't, so I'll enjoy it.

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