Barry Bonds will always hold a special place in my memory. As a 9 or 10 year old, he was a member of the first sports team I paid attention to and loved – the Pittsburgh Pirates. The four names I remember from that era were Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke (my favorite), Bobby Bonilla, and Jim Leyland. I can’t say I appreciated how good Bonds was. Even at that age, I disliked Bonds, though I can’t remember having a reason why. It may have been that everyone around me disliked the man, and I picked up on it. Van Slyke was cool, and I liked Bonilla as well. Leyland was a great manager. Bonds, however, was someone I was not fond of. He made it worse by leaving the team for the Giants. As a kid, I didn’t understand why the Pirates couldn’t hold on to their team and try to get to the World Series again. I also thought players were a bit more attached to the concept of “team”. Naive? Yes, but I still disliked Bonds all the more for leaving, and Bonilla and Van Slyke also suffered in my perception as the Pirates began their plunge into their current cellar dwelling ways.
As far as I can tell, Bonds wasn’t on steroids in Pittsburgh (this is confirmed by just about every reputable source out there). After he left, and the strike happened, I lost track of Barry Bonds. When Bonilla retired, I assumed Bonds must have retired while I wasn’t looking.
Then the home run race happened. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire tried to hit a lot of baseballs out of a lot of ballparks. I was rooting for Sosa, but remember hearing that Bonds was still around. I was surprised, but figured he had to be on the tail end of his career. It had been a long time since I had seen him in Pittsburgh, and hitters don’t last that long.
That’s when his hitting picked up. This seemed odd to me. By that point, I’d followed baseball long enough to know that this wasn’t right. As his hitting picked up, he started getting press. The pictures took me aback – Bonds looked nothing like how I remembered him. Comparison photos taken since prove this – Bonds looked like a totally different person. His head was a different shape, and his body was much more muscular than I remembered. Even then, I suspected him of steroids, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, I felt I had been unfair on him when he left Pittsburgh. I’d seen how Pittsburgh fans treat their quarterbacks, so I knew that we were capable of assuming the worst of everyone who played in the ‘Burgh we didn’t like. Even so, I hated seeing Bonds surpass McGuire’s record. It seemed anti-climatic, like I had seen something that I had been told was a “once in a lifetime” event for the second time, cheapening that event. Also, of all people in baseball to get this record, Bonds? BONDS? I had already had enough of this guy.
The instant he started talking about rubbing on cream he knew nothing about, I knew for sure. Bonds was on steroids. Nothing he could say after that would change my mind on that fact.
Barry Bonds should keep the records he gets to. No asterisk should be placed by his name. It won’t ever have to be. Thanks to this era, everyone will remember that the accomplishments were tainted. The history of baseball will not let us forget – unlike many sports, baseball has a long memory. Had Pete Rose been in the NFL, he would have been reinstated by now. Baseball will never let him be reinstated. Bonds may not be banned, but he will forever be remembered as a surly cheat.
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