Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run last night, after this blog was posted…
Whether you like baseball or not, chances are you have heard the names Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, and you may even know that Bonds is now tied with Aaron for the all-time home run record, 755 in a lifetime. Sometime in the next few days, chances are that Barry Bonds will hit 756, becoming the all-time Home Run King.
Some people call this the greatest record in sports.
Some people believe that Bonds is not playing fair, with rumors of steroid use hounding his record.
Some people believe that accusations against Bonds are unfair, offensive efforts to deny his achievement.
Some people aren’t sure what to think or how to respond, not wanting to take sides. According to Washington Post Sportswriter Michael Wilbon, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig seems to be in this mushy category, attending games but keeping his hands in his pockets.
Here’s what I think: Baseball is a game, a fantasy that makes a very few people very rich. Real life is very hard, and most people I know cannot imagine the wealth and fame of professional athletes. I know so many people — Trinity students and alumnae — whose life accomplishments mean so much more than hitting balls with sticks. I know many people — me included (I remain a hopeless Phillies fan, even after all these years!) — who enjoy watching professional sports as a form of entertainment, escapism, pleasant diversion.
For real, raw athleticism, frankly, I prefer amateur sports — Olympics, college athletics outside of the big Division I behemoths, our own wonderful Trinity Tigers! What counts is playing your best, honing skills to the best level possible, competing fairly and cleanly, accepting the realities of wins and losses along the way. The goal is a great game, not a fake achievement.
Professional sports long ago crossed some intangible line between healthy competition and ultra-hyped business/entertainment, repressing the marvels of great natural athleticism that mere mortals could emulate in favor of feats of brute strength and artificially-boosted achievements. Wilbon is right that it’s not just Barry Bonds, frankly, it’s a pervasive problem in pro sports.
But when a celebrity athelete grabs the headlines, responsible people — commentators, educators, commissioners — need to call the play accurately.
I have no idea whether the accusations about Bonds are true. I would expect the Baseball Commissioner to know, after all these years. I find the questions, doubts, rumors, suspicions to be an indication that this sport is in grave distress. So’s cycling, basketball, football. Major professional sports are in serious trouble, made worse by the failure of the leadership to stand up to the problems.
But we fans need to keep our heads as well. It’s just a game. Players are just that — players, not “role models” or other deities. The Home Run Record is NOT a test of where we stand on great social issues of our times. It may be a bellweather of how a great sport has changed, perhaps for the worst. But it’s not real life.
Real life is women working hard to provide for their families while finishing their degrees. Real life is young students working many hours to pay for tuition and books so that they can realize their dreams. Real life is faculty and staff who don’t give up on the potential latent in even the most challenging of students. Real life celebrates college acceptance letters, passing Precalculus, getting to Cap & Gown, holding up that hard-won diploma at Commencement.
Whenever Barry Bonds hits 756, let’s remember it’s just a game — note the moment as you wish, and then look around and cheer for the heroes who triumph in real life.