One of a kind
Turning 40 may be a harbinger of old age for some, but it's just another plateau in the sports stratosphere for Barry Bonds.
Barry Bonds turns 40 on Saturday, which is not in and of itself particularly special. I know someone whose surprise 40th birthday party was delayed two hours (and thus ruined) by the O.J. chase, so it's not like cake and punch for all his sportswriter friends is going to break new ground.
We've pretty much figured out his legacy anyway. The player of his generation, the cheater of time, the devourer of planets, and the walkingest dude as ever was.
And, of course, there's BALCO.
It all depends on the Barry Bonds you want.
You see, now that he's reached Hugh Beaumont age, Bonds has finally reached the highest level of achievement. He is what you want him to be.
Best home run hitter ever? Give it a couple of years. He always makes noise about how tired and sore he is, but the man got a root canal done the other day, which means he's planning to stay long enough to care about his dental health.
Most feared hitter ever? Every walk tells a story, babe.
The picture of charm? Not if you had a nuclear squint.
Devotee of performance enhancers? As the singer says, "Things that make you go hmmm ..."
So far, charged with nothing more legally binding than a small dump truck of circumstantial evidence. So far, can't be guilty of anything before 2003 because baseball was not only not against performance enhancers before then, it was positively thrilled by the perceived effects: "Here's the 1-2 pitch to the slightly-built, undertalented backup shortstop ... and Jumping Jesus, he's hit it off the roof!"
And in any event, his work product is so staggering that it is hard to see anyone matching it, even if performance enhancers are made mandatory by Commissioner Donald Trump, or Commissioner Ian McShane, or Commissioner Dave Chappelle.
You see, and make of this what you must, Bonds is not just doing things that nobody has done before, but things that nobody else is going to do again, and certainly not at this age.
I mean, 40, for God's sake. Does anyone think Alex Rodriguez is going to be this frightening at 40? Is anyone going to avoid Manny Ramirez this devotedly at 40? Is anyone going to avoid the natural laws of talent erosion so defiantly as to meet Bonds' level at any point?
In a word, no.
Oh, his legacy will lose some luster because he was so adamant about keeping the fun of playing the game at his level to himself. His choice, too, and we'll leave the psychology to the next film crew looking for a Bonds documentary.
But performance enhancers or no (and the evidence ring hasn't been closed as yet, so you don't know any more on this topic than you knew before), there won't be a 40-year-old like this again. Hell, even if steroids were this good, they couldn't be THIS good, could they?
This birthday celebration will be an odd one because of Bonds' baggage. It's hard to get people to sign on to the program because, well, he just isn't the type you throw a surprise bash for. He is particularly unskilled at the art of being publicly cuddly.
Plus, the chemical police have connected a few dots here and there on the outskirts of his reputation, thereby emboldening his critics by exchanging new ammunition for old.
And you still won't get a 40-year-old like this again.
It's hard to explain this to anyone who believes Bonds' pharmacological culpability in the BALCO mess, especially now that track and field has been decimated by it and bicycle racing has been beaten about the face and neck by it. For them, the numbers won't ever add up. They'll just stop counting, if they haven't already.
But since baseball chose to no-fault the entire fun juice family until 2003, Bonds can't have been guilty of breaking baseball rules that didn't exist, which isn't nearly as pedantic as it sounds. Plus, nobody has yet figured out how much fun juice actually does help, or specifically how.
And we'll go around and around on that until we all burst into flames, if you're free on Thursday.
The point remains, though, that clean or otherwise, whatever the rules do or don't say, there won't be another 40-year-old like this. Ever. And we'll leave the rest of it to you to decide if that's good news or not.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com
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