Monday, April 10, 2006


Bonds media frenzy

The fact that Barry Bonds has yet to hit a home run after six games of the 2006 baseball season has many sportswriters speculating that the Giants' left fielder is literally on his last legs. Many seem to feel he deserves it. With baseball's steroid scandal in overdrive after the publication of Game of Shadows and MLB launching an internal investigation headed by former Senator and currrent Red Sox director George Mitchell, Bonds is clearly in the media's crosshairs. Most seem to want him to fail - to not eclipse the all-time home run totals set by Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755). That would protect the hallowed records from being "tainted."

The drumbeat quickened last week when New York Daily News writer T.J. Quinn wrote that Bonds "bordered on pitiful" when he struck out in Thursday night's game against the Braves. "He flailed, leaving him staggering to catch his balance. Most un-Bondslike. When he was on base, he moved between bases the way most men in over-40 leagues do, like he was trying not to rupture something. In the outfield he had the range of Frankenstein... Bonds look decidedly unhealthy... He looks like he's hurting." national writer Barry Bloom (my brother) took issue with Quinn in his game piece on Saturday: "Bonds was hardly Frankensteinian in left field Saturday. He ranged quickly back in the second inning to make a one-handed grab at the fence on a ball hit by Adam LaRoche. Two innings later, he had to charge Edgar Renteria's liner and grab it one-handed as he lunged toward the foul line."

But Quinn was unbowed. He went after Bonds in his Sunday column, "The Score," complaining how difficult it is for a mild-mannered sports reporter like himself to cover the unresponsive megastar. "We're all this forest of bored trees with limp pens and notebooks that say things like 'walks to locker, holds bat, doesn't talk'," Quinn griped.

Quinn's colleagues joined in on the Bonds bashing as well. Columnist Mike Lupica has been at the forefront to "get Bonds." On Sunday, he brought up the subject of race, which some liberal writers have suggested is at the core of the issue: "If it's really racism that has people all worked up about Barry Bonds as he sets himself up to pass Babe Ruth, here's sort of an interesting question: How come nobody got worked up this week when Ken Griffey, Jr. passed Mickey Mantle on the home run list?"

Like, uh, who cares?

On several occasions, Dave Zirin, who writes the "Edge of Sports" online column, has brought up the issue of racism as it pertains to Bonds' home-run chase. "Is Barry Bonds the object of a racist witch-hunt?" he asked rhetorically on April 1, then answered: "The fact is that racism smears this entire story like rancid cream cheese on a stale bialy."

Zinn criticized the sports press: "There is no question that Bonds has spent his career treating the press the way a baby treats a diaper. But Bonds is not the first athlete to sneer at a reporter or two. In fact Mark McGwire was a notoriously surly personality who was presented to us like a grinning Paul Bunyon. When it comes to Bonds, the press has called for everything but a big scarlet S on his chest, all of which has the appearance of a hellacious double standard. When a prominent ESPN talk show host says, 'If [Bonds] did it, hang him,' the perception is that this is little more than a railroad job of a prominent and outspoken African-American superstar on the precipice of Ruth and Aaron's records."

Food for thought? Not to another New York Daily News columnist, Bill Madden, who also tore into Bonds on Sunday. "If it's any consolation for Bonds in his time of distress," Madden wrote, "he still has a supporter in Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who's been making the rounds of the talk-show circuit putting the lie to the title of his own recent autobiography Clearing The Bases: Juiced Players, Monster Salaries, Sham Records and a Hall-of-Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball. In Schmidt's eternal Pollyanna world, Bonds is the greatest hitter who ever lived and players shouldn't be blamed for using steroids to get an advantage. And even if they're found guilty, they still deserve to be put in the Hall of Fame if they have the numbers, just maybe not on the first ballot. Indeed, Schmidt's apologetic pap is even more vomit-inducing than Bonds' self-pitying reality series... Anyhow, [MLB commissioner Bud] Selig must hope...that the intense heat Bonds is getting from the media and the fans, combined with his deteriorated physical condition, will prompt him to take himself out of the game and give up the pursuit of Hank Aaron's Holy Grail record of 755 homers."

In contrast, in Sunday's New York Times, reporter Bill Rhoden compared Bonds to legendary boxer Jack Johnson, who was brought up on Mann Act charges for procreating with a prostitute. "The most important thing for Bonds to know about Johnson is how his career was compromised and short-circuited when powerful forces within the federal government decided he had become too big for his britches and had to be brought down," Rhoden wrote. "If a succession of 'white hopes' couldn't beat him, the government would. When Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig caved in to pressure and deputized a posse to pursue Bonds and past steroid use in baseball, I thought this could be to Bonds what the Mann Act was to Jack Johnson."

In today's Times, Rhoden adds: "Bonds is chasing Ruth and Hank Aaron, but Major League Baseball is chasing Bonds. Well, baseball says it's chasing anyone it suspects of using steroids. Baseball's investigation into steroid use has put a cloud over the optimism that usually accompanies a new season. What happens here with Bonds will dictate the mood and focus of the season. Each Bonds home run will be a tremor as he approaches Ruth's 714 and Aaron's 755. Judging from his strained running motion these past four days, Barry Bonds is hurting. Hitting six home runs to tie Ruth may seem like climbing Mount Olympus."

Stay tuned...

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