Barry Bonds quest for the all time home run record will be a big story in upcoming weeks. For non-sports fans, the story line goes like this: Barry Bonds was an excellent player for many years, hitting quite a few home runs. In his mid 30's, his home run production shot upward, as did some other players. In hindsight, they were probably all on steroids, which some have admitted and most have denied. There are ongoing criminal cases and investigations. Bonds is not a popular player, except in his home park in San Francisco. He is unfriendly to reporters, and has generally adopted an isolated, surly persona. Because of the "taint" of the steroid allegations, major league baseball is not making much fuss about his upcoming record, and many fans do not think his record will be "legitimate". I don't know if a poll has been taken, but I sense most of the sentiment across the country is anti-Bonds.
I beg to differ. He should be recognized and respected for his monumental accomplishments. The standard refrain is that he "cheated". The problem is that cheating means breaking the rules. Fact is, if he used steroids or other performance enhancers, it was not against the rules at that time. The league and the teams did not discourage the many players who did it, they seemed to tacitly encourage it. Many of Bonds' contemporaries used performance enhancers, whether it was steroids, growth hormones, or other substances. His performance was so far superior to any other player, then or EVER, that it commands respect and admiration.
He was a superior player before the home run burst. His performance through this day, where at age 42 he remains the most feared and influential single player in the game, is remarkable. Teams continue to walk him at an incredible rate. He does not have a strong hitter after him in the lineup. Every move he makes is scrutinized and analyzed. Despite these obstacles, he is among the league leaders in home runs and on base percentage. He gets so few good pitches to hit, that all fans realize that he must have hit the most home runs, per swing, of any player in history....by a wide margin!!! Unless steroids or HGH gives you enhanced eyesight, judgment and bat control, we should all marvel at his production.
In any sport, my guage of a truly special player is when opponents say "Don't let this guy beat us". The greatest players rise above this and still beat you. All sports have players like this. The athletes who come to mind are Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretsky, and any number of football luminaries (Joe Montana, John Elway, Lawrence Taylor, Jim Brown). That is top flight company. In baseball there is only one player on this level in the modern era.....Barry Bonds.
Baseball, and baseball fans, should treat him that way.