Picking Splinters The Danger of Bonds and 71 – Broken Record, Broken Dreams

On Sunday, Barry Bonds hit his 61st, 62nd and 63rd home runs of the season, putting him back ahead of the pace to beat Mark cGwire’s record of 70 home runs in a season. And should Bonds pull off this spectacular feat, it may just be the worst thing that could happen to the game.

As Bonds nears the titanic mark there does not seem to be the same feeling of hysteria as when McGwire closed in on the then-record of 61. Today, people still comment on how impressive Bonds has been this season, or remark about his prowess whenever they see or hear that he hit another home run. But, something is missing. There is nothing magical about this year’s run at the record. There is nothing violently upsetting about the fact that Bonds might break it either. It’s just sort of . there.

Why is this so?

When Maris broke the record there was a wide range of emotions surrounding the home run chase. He received support from many, but he also received a good deal of death threats as well. When Maris edged closer to the record with each home run, a chorus of boos was just as likely to greet him as a standing ovation. While the emotions varied, they were still abundantly present.

With Bonds there are no extremes. Occasionally there will be a mention of the “race factor” by the media as they try to spark a story on their own, but race-related angst has never really come to the forefront of the home run race. On the other side of things, I have encountered only one person who is really “pro-Bonds” and isn’t a Giants fan. When McGwire made his run at the record most of my friends – none of whom are Cardinals fans – were following his every move. They were caught up in the race, almost taking a sense of satisfaction when he would hit a home run and weeping openly when he finally broke the record. With Bonds, that connection does not seem to exist.

And why doesn’t it? Sixty-one home runs was an amazing feat, McGwire’s 70 was a miraculous achievement in a magical season. So why not 71? Why do people seem to think that Bonds’ run isn’t of the same magnitude of Maris’ or McGwire’s seasons?

The record of 61 had stood for 37 years, and Babe Ruth’s record of 60 for 34 years. And in those 37 years between Maris and cGwire, no one even came close to the record, leading many to believe Maris’s mark to be untouchable. But here it is, a mere three seasons after McGwire raised the bar to 70 and even that gigantic total is in danger of falling.

Part of what is special about baseball is its history. Names of the past like Ruth, Cobb, Williams, Mantle, Mays and Aaron cast our minds back to days of old to remember the marks that these players made on the game. The game thrives on these legends and because of this baseball can still claim to be the national pastime. We all thought that McGwire’s achievement would go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest accomplishments in all of sports. But three years is not history.

What if records like 70 home runs fall as routinely as every three years? There is nothing magical about the expected, the anticipated. For those things we have another word – trite.

That’s what Ruth’s, Maris’s and cGwire’s record-breaking seasons will become if Bonds hits 71.

Barry Bonds is an amazing player, of that there is no argument. But baseball is not the same game that it was 30 years ago. Expansion has watered down the pitching of most teams. The leading ERA in the American League is over 3.00 for the first time in ages and on top of all that, many of the new ballparks are more hitter-friendly than the older stadiums.

In the minds of critics and even just regular fans, all of these facts turn into excuses, lessening the impact of the accomplishment and the meaning of the record.

And then people start tossing around things like: “Bonds only hit 71 because the pitching is awful.”He gets to play in Colorado more frequently because of the unbalanced schedule this year.”And the short right field fence in Pac Bell Ballpark in San Francisco helps him too.”

Now, all of the sudden, what was once the most cherished record in all of sports becomes little more than a conversation topic for cynical fans, bitter about all the baseball history and mysticism swatted away by 71 swings of a bat.

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