A new world open to Barry Bonds
With Giants as champs, slugger has new chance to move from villain to ambassador
During that wait, the city saw its share of controversies and tensions. Being part of the baseball exodus from New York left a few sore spots in New York fandom, but for the most part, that hatchet is buried, even if not so much for the Dodgers. But the Giants did help pry open the door for the expanding influence of baseball, landing almost as far as possible from their native New York.
In watching their World Series championship march, I found it interesting to note the ever-moving shadow of Barry Bonds, the man who may be their most iconic figure of controversy and tension. Bonds was visibly supportive of his former team. He came out to cheers before Game 3 of the NLCS against the defending NL champion Phillies at AT&T Park, and he showed that he does still have some love in San Francisco, despite the cloud over his statistically illustrious career.
But the assessment of his career on the larger stage of baseball's legacy does not stand up and applaud so readily. He had a record-breaking career, surpassing Hank Aaron in career home runs and smashing the single-season record in 2001. Most of his next moves have revolved around a reactive game of defense. Denial, inquisition, question marks, asterisks.
In breaking one of the near-impossible baseball records, he had no ambassadorship to develop, no time to provide perspective, no opportunity to heal through his accomplishment. When Muhammad Ali became king of his sport, he traveled, he broke down doors. He also had many on the world stage welcoming him even amidst his controversies. And his controversies carried tremendous weight, involving religion, war, politics and race. But he moved people.
Even when Riddick Bowe became a boxing champion, he tried to do the same. He toured the world, attempting to open doors and be a diplomat of humanity, but it fell a little flat. Maybe that was just a function of the charisma of a man, or maybe it was inherent in how people perceived the achievement itself.
Nevertheless, on paper, Bonds has tremendous entrée to have an Ali-like door open to him. Endless talents, coming from a baseball family, record-breaking abilities, a brilliant mind for all things Major League Baseball. Yet, with all these factors, at no time since his record-setting season could he spend time beyond what was required for his own defense. His methods of achieving those records were in question, the wounds of his father's frustrations were still tangible and bleeding, he did not have catchy rhymes or a consistent message and approach to provide ... other than to dip and dive.
That is what can happen when you don't think about what something means beyond the numbers before you surpass it. You end up seeing it only through your personal lens. Then you have to make up the rules as you go, spend time on the short-sighted initiatives like clearing your name, instead of seeing the golden opportunity to connect with people and fans who long to witness history or watch history be rewritten.
But there is no rule as to how you are supposed to embrace the game and its history. We all come from somewhere and have our perspectives. Just as when I played in Philadelphia, Scott Rolen had no interest in being front and center, whereas Jimmy Rollins thrived at being front and center. Different players, different experiences.
Yet I was hopeful, as we all are, about who can come along to take the game to the next level, who can create a new legacy for the game and how they might do it. Even with those hopes, baseball is a game we don't want to change so much all at once. We want to still recognize it after records have been shattered. We want to have time to frame it in the proper context compared to what happened before. Just as so many steroid-induced players became unrecognizable in their physical attributes, so too did the statistics they suddenly could produce. As a result, the game underwent reasonable suspicion and no one could say for sure what new path the game was on.
But the time is ripe for a metamorphosis. Bonds performed for a city that is now a champion. A place that can now open doors to new markets and new possibilities for this franchise and the game. Few have captured the minds, opinions and emotions of so many fans during his tenure as did Barry Bonds. That type of impact could be channeled to bring to the forefront issues beyond the drug culture in sport or the waiting game within legal wrangling; it could transform a nation of fans in the spirit of its other trailblazers.
Maybe it is too soon to know or understand Barry Bonds and what he or his work will mean to the game. The game may take the lessons from his career and apply it in its own way, see it as turning the page toward a cleaner game, a game of integrity, a renewal in a game that can still excite without patronizing superhumans on the diamond. He may not have intended it, but the game may put more emphasis on what transpires beyond the numbers, and that may well be his legacy.
Bonds still has an opportunity; the game is resilient, even forgiving, despite so many unwritten rules and biases. Maybe he will reach out and work for the greater game and start a new legacy. He just has to step beyond the small space of his personal batter's box.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and the fundraising committee of Boundless Readers. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released May 11. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com.
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