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06/13/2006 Archived Entry: "History: Inside Feature"

Fair Play and the Legacy of Barry Bonds

By Richard L. Barrett, III

It is of important note that athletes have used modern medicine to improve their level of play. For example, the Lasix eye surgeries that improved the eyesight of Greg Maddux and Tiger Woods is, in the eyes of the media and fans, acceptable because all athletes have legal access to this procedure, if they so desire, thus it is considered within the bounds of fair play. The public disavows Bonds because their sense of fair play has been shattered by his alleged use of steroids from 1998-2004, an illegal and controversial substance.

It was this same sense of a lack of fair play by the top men of Enron, Adelphia and the numerous other corporate heads who are now being prosecuted for their consummate greed that drove public opinion against them. It is one thing to lay off workers to save a company and quite another when all workers (and investors) suffer because their company was driven to ruin by the moral and ethical bankruptcy of its leaders.

Baseball fans are a breed apart from other sports fans because, to serious fans, baseball's records are cherished, romanticized and even sacred. When one of baseball's most beloved records, the single-season home run record, was broken by Bonds just three years after Mark McGwire broke the then 37 year old Roger Maris mark, baseball lost one of its most important endearing lures of the game, its mystique. When Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, baseball was reduced to all the subtlety of beer-league slo-pitch softball.

In 1961, New York Yankee outfielder Roger Maris was in hot pursuit of Babe Ruth's single season home run record. Maris, who by nature was a quiet man, disdained the New York press corps, though by no means was he adversarial towards the media. So they branded him as stand-offish, an insolent who had no right to impede on Ruth's single season home run mark.

Interestingly enough, right there with Maris, matching him homer for homer, was Yankee icon Mickey Mantle. It was deemed by the press corps and the fans that it would be okay for Mantle to replace the Babe. Why? Because Mantle was, in today’s terms, “media friendly”, and he was a "true" Yankee god in the eyes of the fans. And when it comes to Yankee history, only gods can replace gods.

Like Maris, Barry Bonds is also an insolent figure. He lacks the charisma of a Mark McGwire and a Sammy Sosa, who America fell in love with during their quest to break the Maris record during the summer of love fest back in 1998. Unlike Maris, Bonds, due to his career-long adversarial relationship with the media, one can argue that his reputation is deserved. Nonetheless, history will determine Bonds' fate as to his prodigious production from 1998-2003, the years of his alleged use of steroids, and as such, it will also determine his legacy in baseball.

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