x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Barry Bonds home run record is of little significance

The focus is on Barry Bonds perjuring himself when it should be on what relevance all those home runs actually have.

Barry Bonds arrives at the federal courthouse in San Francisco yesterday for the start of his perjury trial. Baseball's all-time home run leader was charged with lying to a federal grand jury when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo
Barry Bonds arrives at the federal courthouse in San Francisco yesterday for the start of his perjury trial. Baseball's all-time home run leader was charged with lying to a federal grand jury when he denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs. Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

Step now into the imaginary doping museum, noting historic achievements in athletic cheating. As you pass the outsized Ben Johnson statue in the lobby, do take a moment to note the sculptor's depiction of the outsized deltoids.

Avoid for now the East German swimming wing, the American football gallery and the Tour de France annex, but allow time later for the Floyd Landis room for its advancements in absurdism.

Bypass the lovely portrait of Marion Jones and the impressionist painting of American baseball players embarrassing themselves before the United States Congress. Ample time awaits for perusing minutiae such as violations in table tennis or equestrian horses.

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Come to this under-construction room that awaits the outcome of a momentous court case that began yesterday in San Francisco.

There, the US government began attempting to prove that the baseball icon Barry Bonds, whose before-and-after photos of physical growth during a 21-year career could cause REM nightmares if viewed protractedly, perjured himself before a grand jury in December 2003 when he claimed non-use of performance-enhancing drugs.

A team of lawyers representing Bonds will try to fling doubt.

As we lonely sorts in museum staff prepare to enhance our exhibit after a verdict sometime within a month, and with Bonds retired at 46, his legacy relative to the doping issue will meet one landmark. As a bonus, a perjury trial might just illuminate one of the weirdest episodes in doping history.

It is not only that Bonds, in his original testimony, extolled the benefits of flaxseed oil, altruistically acquainting people with the existence of flaxseed oil.

It is not only that a lawyer leaked that testimony to The San Francisco Chronicle and wound up banished from the profession, or that the batter's trainer went imprisoned for declining to testify.

It is not only that this abetted the unravelling of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, the outlet of the discredited Sydney Games five-gold-medal-winner Jones, among others.

No, this is the case of a man who may or may not have doped — public opinion tilts toward "may" — over an individual baseball record of limited relevance to his actual sport.

He hit 762 "home runs," breaking the career record of the tardily cherished Hank Aaron, who hit 755 and, in 1974, broke the record of the long-cherished Babe Ruth, who hit 714.

For all of that, Bonds played in a World Series … once.

In that year - 2002 - he hit 46. In 2001, he hit more than anybody ever hit in one season - 73 - and his team finished second. On the Friday night he hit his 71st in the first inning to surpass the previous record of 70, his teammates streamed from the dugout as if having won something. At the moment they trailed 5-1.

Eight innings later, they had lost and had won nothing more than some time off during the, you know, play-offs. Yet a post-game ceremony persisted for this home run bit.

What makes this particularly strange? Home runs, those captivating occasions when the ball flies out of the field and over the wall, have little to do with victory and defeat.

As Mark Whicker, the American sportswriter, once wrote of home runs: "If they meant anything, the teams that hit the most would win."

Instead, in the past 35 seasons, only four teams that led their league in home runs became World Series champions. Before 2008, that number stood at two. Only 13 out of 35 teams that led the National League in home runs even so much as qualified for the play-offs, with only eight such teams in the American League. The record set by Bonds trumped that of the drug-implicated Mark McGwire, whose St Louis team that enjoyed his 70 home runs in 1998 also croaked before the play-offs.

Pitching, for one art, matters considerably more even if it's less glamorous.

Yet because home runs do look pretty, and confer masculinity, and cause chatter, they can enthral to the point that there exists an abhorrent - and televised - home run competition during the three-day respite each July. So we have a man going to trial for allegedly lying to protect the alleged legitimacy of his superfluous record.

Hints of advancement do exist. Scant attention has greeted the home run exploits of a player who is sure to surpass the 762 hit by Bonds.

He is Alex Rodriguez, standing on 613 at age 35, and with even marginal players reporting early last decade that drugs helped baseballs jump off their bats, Rodriguez denied similar chemical help.

And as our virtual museum continues expanding, those denials preceded the leaking of his two positive tests from pre-denial 2003, after which Rodriguez confessed he took banned substances only in a three-season, 156-home run swatch between 2001 and 2003. Some people believed him.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae