If I’ve learned anything about Barry Bonds over the course of his career, and especially in recent years, is that you can never fully give up on him.
Bonds, perhaps the more polarizing figure in sports in recent years, seems to thrive in conflict, turning boos into awe when sending a pitch into orbit.
When Bonds does hit 756, he will put the proverbial cherry on top of his already stellar Hall of Fame resume. But we’ve already known that he’s been headed to Cooperstown since the turn of the century.
Before Balco and before the leaked Grand Jury testimony, Bonds was a three-time MVP and a seven-time All-Star who blasted 40 home runs in three separate seasons. Yet, when Bonds does finally make history, history itself may not look so kindly upon him.
If the book were to be closed on Bonds today, it would say on one hand that Bonds was the most feared hitter in the early 2000s, and arguably one of the greatest players of all time. But in that same book, Bonds would be labeled as a player who thought cheating was OK, so long as he got away with it, and that his prickly demeanor toward both media and fans was acceptable, so long as he continued to crank out the home runs.
Bonds has maintained the facade that he doesn’t care that the book may label him a cold-hearted cheater.
That, of course, is a lie.
It’s impossible for Bonds to not care what others think of him. Bonds isn’t a robot, and anyone on the verge of accomplishing something like breaking the most coveted record in baseball deserves credit and recognition.
On some level, it must bother Bonds that the man he’s about to pass, Hank Aaron, wants nothing to do with him. It must also bother Bonds that Bud Selig is still debating whether to be at his record-setting game.
For that matter, it must irk Bonds that when he finally does break the record, the crowd on hand will be unsure of what to do.
If I was in Bonds’ position, I would undoubtedly want a cascade of adoring cheers. But if I were in the crowd of that game, I would be undoubtedly torn of whether to applaude wildly or boo incessantly (though the latter would be more likely to win out right now).
Only a player of Bonds character and ability could conjure such torn feelings.
The situation Bonds finds himself in reminds me of Andre Agassi — not the bald, family-oriented Agassi who gracefully bowed out at the U.S. Open last year — but the brash and rebellious Agassi with his long hair and contempt for social etiquette.
Agassi was able to reform his image over the course of his career because he admitted past mistakes and ultimately became a more responsible man and dedicated tennis player. He reached out, asked for forgiveness, and ultimately was embraced as one of the most loved players in tennis.
Bonds can follow in the same vein as Agassi, apologizing for whatever transgressions he’s had in the past (to the extent that it’s legal, of course). He can make changes to his tarnished image and make fans think twice before bringing “Stop at 754” signs to games.
The baseball community is, if nothing else, a forgiving bunch — but only if the player seeks it.
Pete Rose hasn’t apologized, and as a result, he’s still not in the Hall of Fame. The same goes for Mark McGuire, who has completely disappeared from baseball’s landscape despite being previously hailed as one of its saviors.
Meanwhile, Jason Giambi, who also had his Grand Jury testimony leaked, hasn’t suffered nearly the same consequences as Bonds among fans. This is in part due to Giambi being a generally likeable character, but also because he was willing to admit his mistakes and move on.
So what will history say about Bonds when he finally hits 756? Will there be an asterisk next to his record, or will he be embraced the same way Aaron has been?
For Bonds, it’s still not too late to rewrite what history will say, and if I’ve learned anything about him over the course of his career, it’s to never fully give up on him.