August 13, 2007


Deathly Numbers (Roger Angell, August 20, 2007, The New Yorker)

Bonds’s record dinger, in the fifth inning of a night game against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park, in San Francisco, came in his third at-bat of the evening, succeeding a loud double and a single. One vacationing Maine-coast cottager with a dinky summertime TV set—this cottager—had recently fallen into the habit of going upstairs to brush his teeth and put on his pajamas after watching Bonds’s first at-bat, returning before the second one, and tottering back up to bed when it was over, never mind the rest of the game. This time, the vision of Barry’s locked-in, more characteristic swings kept him awake, and brought him back down again minutes before midnight: just in time for the blessed three-and-two solo blast, four hundred and thirty-five feet to right center field, and the clenched fists to heaven; the slow but not too slow base-circling; the extended-family hugs (including one with Willie Mays, who is Bonds’s godfather); a careful but placating prerecorded concession by the saintly and now deposed Hank Aaron, delivered on the JumboTron (“I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historical achievement”); and locally—on the stairs once again, with the set turned off at last—a “Yesss!” in the dark.

The rejoicing here is not just over an expected natural decline in the booings and editorializings about Bonds’s inferred but unproved use of steroids during the 2000 to 2003 seasons, late in his career (he is forty-three), when his customary thirty-seven or thirty-eight homers per season jumped into the upper forties and, in 2001, produced the all-time single-season record of seventy-three. Another hope is for less piety, a shift in the altogether mystifying popular notion that the lifetime home-run mark is somehow sacrosanct—“baseball’s most hallowed record,” as the news reports called it the other day. Hallowed but hollow, perhaps, since home-run totals are determined not just by the batters but by different pitchers, in very different eras, and, most of all, by the outer dimensions of the major-league parks, which have always varied widely and have been deliberately reconfigured in the sixteen ballparks built since 1992, thus satisfying the owners’ financial interest in more and still more home runs. Bonds has been called a cheater, but the word should hardly come up in a sport whose proprietors, if they were in charge of the classic Olympic hundred-metre dash, would stage it variously at a hundred and six metres, ninety-four, a hundred and three, and so forth, and engrave the resulting times on a tablet.

Didn't we strip Ben Johnson of his medal? Mr. Angell seems an especially unlikely person to argue that baseball should be even dirtier than track and field, which steroids killed off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 13, 2007 11:26 AM

"Another hope is for less piety"

Good grief. Without piety baseball is nothing.

Posted by: b at August 13, 2007 12:11 PM

Come now, OJ: Do you really think MLB or the HOF would even consider stripping Barry Bonds of the Home Run records he's "earned?" Especially when Bud the Used Car Dealer's visual intransigence has come very close to making Bonds look like a sympathetic figure?

Posted by: Brad S at August 13, 2007 12:33 PM

Yes. Bud's the victim here. The Union has had baseball over a barrel for thirty years. It's the only sport where the players matter more than the uniforms.

Posted by: oj at August 13, 2007 1:13 PM

IMHO there are two "sacrosanct" records (or records likely never to be broken). Cy Young's 511 wins and Johnny Van der Meer's back-to-back no-hitters.

Posted by: Bartman at August 13, 2007 1:31 PM

The San Francisco ballpark has been Pacific Bell Park, SBC Park, and now AT&T Park, but it has never been Petco Park. Where are the New Yorker's fabled fact-checkers?

Posted by: Ron Newman at August 16, 2007 11:43 AM