Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Bonds Leaves Lasting Mark With No. 756

Sports of The Times
August 8, 2007

It’s his record. Barry Bonds earned it with 756 disciplined swings. Let’s give him a pass the way a thousand pitchers did. For one day, let’s call a truce, the way the generals did in ancient Greece when athletes were headed to Olympia.

Now he can celebrate the awesome feat of breaking Henry Aaron’s career record with his 756th home run, off Mike Bacsik of Washington last night, in front of his family and supportive fans, with a gracious taped congratulation from Aaron on the message board. It was his night.

Nobody — and certainly not some chemist in a white smock — swung the bat for Bonds against objects moving 80 or 90 or 100 miles an hour. He had to do that himself, with the superb reflexes he had as a cocky stripling, and the craft he acquired as a smug and enlarged elder.

No matter what anybody thinks about Bonds as a person, he walked out to home plate with a bat in his hand and some new-wave padding on his arms, and goodness knows what in his system, and he propelled baseballs into the briny deep.

It’s his record. What is baseball going to do, come up with some magic formula to pare down his home run totals? They are all his, every one of them. Victor Conte of notorious Balco didn’t hit them. Greg Anderson, the trainer guarding Bonds’s secrets in a California jail, didn’t hit them. The people who made money off Bonds and the union officials who blocked testing didn’t hit the home runs. Barry Bonds hit them, all 756 of them.

He did not do it with some wild Gorman Thomas-Rob Deer swing-from-your-butt, do-or-die lunge, but with the measured, disciplined stroke of a martial-arts master. He was self-contained. He knew what he was doing. He didn’t go out and get the ball with the jazz-improvisation genius of Yogi Berra (off his shoe tops) or Roberto Clemente (up around his eyebrows). He hypnotized the pitcher. He slowed down time.

Never mind the comparisons to Aaron or Babe Ruth. Bonds set this record with the latter-day arrogance and patience of Ted Williams: My pitches come to me. If you start giving the pitchers an eighth of an inch off the plate, those devious so-and-sos will start taking a quarter of an inch, and you can’t have that.

What a swing. I was reminded of his purposefulness in 2002, when Bonds played in his first World Series. Every time No. 25 came to the plate, like a lion tamer or a horse whisperer, he would concentrate on the essentials. No waving the bat over his head, no flexing, no strutting. Just a short stroke. Look into my eyes.

Seated in the far reaches of auxiliary press boxes, where they stick the likes of me in the postseason, I couldn’t take my eyes off that stroke. Even from deep right field or deep left field, he looked like a master carpenter hammering on expensive wood — thwack, thwack, thwack — no dents, no deviations.

Often the star of a World Series is a decent player who gets hot at the right time, but Bonds dominated that Series as few superstars ever have: seven games, 8 for 17, six runs batted in, three strikeouts and four home runs. He would have hit more, except that the Angels walked him 13 times, 7 of them intentionally.

Pitchers are still working around him, even though his body has thickened and stiffened at 43. He looks nothing like the smart-aleck kid, the son of Bobby Bonds, the godson of Willie Mays, indoctrinated early that the world was against him, carrying that chip of insolence into the Pittsburgh clubhouse, where he challenged Jim Leyland, one of the square shooters. Teammates would roll their eyes, but the kid could play. Then he moved on to his destiny in San Francisco.

The book “Game of Shadows,” by the San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, pretty much describes what a cold, manipulative person Bonds is. The book suggests he committed perjury to a grand jury and perhaps also failed to report cash income from collectible shows. It describes his relationship to Balco, before baseball and the union were finally shamed into accepting testing.

So far the tests have caught mostly fringe guys trying to earn that million-dollar season that will provide for their families. A lot of the positive tests were by pitchers trying to buy some muscle on their fastball. How many of the 756 home run pitchers were juiced? You think Barry Bonds was picking on innocents?

The Giants’ front office painted itself into a corner, using its stash to retain Bonds, and the old man has been laboring in recent weeks. He’s hardly the player who dominated nearly two decades, a first-ballot Hall of Fame no-brainer, no matter what he used.

He will never outdistance all the footnotes and asterisks and doubts and suspicions in our minds, but Barry Bonds hit those homers, all 756 of them. It’s his record.

E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com


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