We should take some time to celebrate Barry Bonds in his pursuit of the most important record in American sports, the ML career home run record. No other record is as hallowed, so seemingly inviolable. We just don’t care as much about any other number in sports.
Bonds is one of the athletes most everyone ‘knows’ and knows as a bad person. That matters. It shifts the public perception of this record; we downplay it automatically just because it’s easier that way.
Immensely important record, registered bad guy= complicated story that we’ll perpetually diminish
Here’s a way to feel a bit better about Barry Bonds being the guy who we celebrate. Remind yourself that he’s the best player in American team sports today.
Okay, it takes a moment to get there. But ask yourself, is Barry Bonds one of the five best players in the history of baseball? Even if grudgingly, you have to say yes. It’s simply that clear. And he’s the only active player in American team sports for whom that is true.
In the NBA there are at least five players who are sometimes considered among the top five ever. There’s no consensus on anything in the league right now. Dwyane Wade plays for a sub .500 team and is going to become a chic pick for MVP since the defending champs will only be a playoff team if he comes back too soon from serious injury.
But really, the closest you could come to putting a current NBA player in an all time top 5 is Shaq and a 6-3 white Canadian point guard may boast a 3-1 MVP advantage on him by the end of the season. Duncan, Garnett, AI, Kobe may appear on an occasional list if you’re young and fixated on a certain element of the game.
The NFL is so specialized that it’s hard to even generalize a best ever argument without defining it specifically by position. And really, unless you’re trying to be a pain in the butt, there are at least 3 quarterbacks in your top 5. Having all 5 being quarterbacks would not be a popular or cool choice but certainly legitimate.
There are only 2 top 5 possibilities in the NFL right now. And no, despite how vogue it is to consider, LaDainian Tomlinson is NOT a possibility. (Deepest sympathies, man. The worst thing in the world.) The two are Tom Brady, if you’re a championship resume person or Peyton Manning, if you’re an historical greatness fan. If QBs are the most important player and your team has won the most Super Bowls you’re the best. That’s a pretty limited way of deciding in my eyes but hey, some folks go there. In the historical greatness views, Peyton Manning is the Barry Bonds of his sport. (Remind me to develop a contrast between these two. How fun would that be?) Peyton is certainly a legitimate top 5 candidate but someone would need to justify that argument and you’d probably both be right.
The NHL may actually throw out my theory if a) they’re still considered a major sport (why isn’t it tennis? Beautiful people; a very cheap sport to play; distinct personalities; real rivalries; American strength; beautiful people; simple rules; specific numbers and history. We should push for this to happen.) and b) Mario Lemieux is still playing. Back when I knew what network broadcast hockey, it seemed clear all the puckheads agreed that Super Mario was top 5. That all seemed a little tough to figure but nobody seemed to dispute it so I just went with it.
In MLB, there are a couple other guys who might show up on someone’s top 5 list. If you love power pitching then you could ginny up a case for Rog-, oh no, who am I kidding? There’s no chance any active player can show up on your top 5 list besides Barry Bonds.
And you can’t pull Bonds from your list, either. Whether it’s the homers or the MVPs or the defense or the walks or the steals or the two stretches of dominance or the RBI total or the fear he instilled in entire teams or the disruption of the Manager Guidebook.
So maybe it makes a little more sense. Like him or not, Bonds is the best we have right now. And no, he’s not a hero like Henry Aaron but maybe we live in a world where heroes are less important to us. Maybe, for a while at least, being the very best can matter a little more.
After all, it’s only baseball.