The impact of 756

August 8, 2007

(This post was originally published on baseballgb.co.uk)

Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Home run number 756 has cracked off the bat, flown into the seats and landed in a New Yorker’s bank account.

As I reflected upon back in May, it was always going to be a difficult event for baseball to come to terms with. Arguably the most-cherished record in North American sports has been broken. That it has been broken by a man shrouded in suspicion is a real shame for everyone concerned.

I don’t believe in sweeping the issue of performance enhancing drugs under the carpet and we all know of the circumstantial evidence that surrounds Barry. By the same token, Bonds hasn’t tested positive for using steroids as far as we know. Ultimately baseball has to accept the situation; however imperfect it may be. There’s no case for stamping an asterisk in the record books. The idea that records stand alone as simple statements of facts is flawed; our own preferences and prejudices colour our perception of them. The record says Bonds has hit more home runs than any other player, it’s everyone’s prerogative to follow it with a “but” if they so choose (“but he was on the juice”, “but the balls were juiced”, “but the pitchers were all lousy”, “but it is easier to hit homers nowadays” etc).

While we can all make our own decisions on how we perceive Bonds’ record-breaking feat in time, two people in particular had the baseball world waiting to see their initial reactions. In truth, both of them reverted to type.

The MLB Commissioner wasn’t at AT&T Park last night and I think we can all be grateful for that small mercy after his cringe worthy behaviour when Bonds hit number 755. I’m hardly a Bonds apologist so if he had decided that wild, joyous celebrations were not the appropriate way to mark the event then I would have completely understood, but Selig should have either stood and politely applauded with the rest of the crowd or simply stayed at home. Reluctantly standing with hands shoved firmly in his pockets and his face screwed up in a curmudgeonly scowl made him, and by association MLB, look pathetic. He then compounded the situation by releasing a snide, snivelling press statement, a trick he repeated last night. Okay, Selig has Congress breathing down his neck about the issue of drugs in baseball and there’s an obvious reluctance to go overboard with the praise if there’s a risk of it coming back to bite you in the future. Did he need to pepper his statements with references to all U.S. citizens being “innocent until proven guilty” and drawing attention to the “issues” that swirl around the record though? Not really. A simple, short statement acknowledging each of the two achievements would have done the job, recognising in a subtle way that these monumental events have some doubts attached to them. Maybe Selig was in a no-win situation? Regardless, he reacted to it in a fairly class-less manner.

Contrast this with the response by a man who wasn’t there in person, but saw fit to mark the event in a respectful fashion. Hank Aaron has really been put through the mill over the last year or so by some parts of the media desperate to interpret every “no comment” into a sign of outright disapproval. Aaron generally refused to be drawn into the circus of heroes and villains and kept a dignified silence. On the night when his thirty-three year reign as the Home Run king came to an end, he passed on his congratulations via a pre-recorded video message and that was that. He stepped back to let Bonds take the spotlight and left every individual fan free to make up their own mind on how they wish to recognise the event. The actions befitted a man of great decency and integrity, just as Selig’s actions befitted a man who bungles his way through anything that is vaguely challenging.

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