SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Bonds wasn’t talking much before the game Saturday, which is only one of the things that separates him from Tony Gwynn. When he was playing, this was the kind of sunny summer day at the ballpark that Gwynn was more than happy to share with anyone.
“One of the great ambassadors of the game,” former teammate Bruce Bochy said. “He’d sit here in the dugout and talk to anybody about baseball.”
Bonds, of course, doesn’t talk to too many people about anything these days, though he was gracious enough to let us know it was a fastball he hit for home run No. 754 on Friday night. (The pitcher said it was a changeup.) And if he’s an ambassador for anything, the argument might be made that it would be better living through modern chemistry.
Gwynn never had that problem. While no one disputes he grew bigger the longer he played baseball, his kind of big was the kind caused by too many clubhouse spreads that simply made it a bit tougher to get to second base on a ball hit to the gap.
Gwynn will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, sharing the stage with another player who embodies just about everything that is good about the sport of baseball. Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 straight games over the years, and never once did anyone suggest he took anything stronger than coffee before taking the field.
Bud Selig will be at Cooperstown to watch, and by all rights it should be a grand day for the grand old game.
Gwynn and Ripken will give speeches that likely will draw a tear and remind people why they love the game of baseball so much. They will surely take the high road, enjoy their final baseball moment in the sun, and talk about all that is good about the game.
Here’s hoping Bonds doesn’t ruin it all.
Just when Bonds’ timing at the plate seems to be getting better, the timing of his home run chase couldn’t be worse. Selig might welcome getting out of an awkward moment by being at Cooperstown, but the attention on every move Bonds makes threatens to overshadow the Hall of Fame induction of two of the classier players the game has known.
Both deserve better on a day they will be surrounded by family and friends. Ripken went so far as to invite 83-year-old Ernie Tyler, the longtime umpire’s attendant for the Baltimore Orioles, to be his special guest.
Here in San Francisco, meanwhile, Bonds will be cheered in the only ballpark he has a chance of being cheered in. Fans lined up early for Saturday’s game, eager to be on hand to possibly witness a piece of history and equally eager to show that no matter how tainted their star is, he still remains their star.
He went into the game against the Florida Marlins one swing away from tying what is arguably the greatest record in sports. One more good swing and he’ll be the all-time home run hitter for good, or at least until Alex Rodriguez plays long enough to pass him.
It’s making for good theater, just as Ripken’s relentless pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man record did a decade ago.
Unlike Ripken’s mark, though, there is nothing noble about this chase.
Bonds’ enlarged body will fill television screens all weekend as he tries for the final two home runs that will put him past Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank had the sense to stay away, but there is still a sizable portion of the population that will cheer Bonds when he does the inevitable.
If he does it early enough, Greg Anderson likely will be among them. The television is turned off at 8:45 p.m. at the prison where Bonds’ personal trainer has been since November for refusing to rat out pal to a federal grand jury investigating whether Bonds lied when he said he never knowingly took steroids.
Just how Bonds feels about his friend being in prison because of him is hard to say because Bonds won’t say. Bonds doesn’t say much about anything that has to do with steroids, other than to say he doesn’t stay up at night worrying that he will be indicted.
That’s certainly his right, and it could be argued that it’s better for everyone if Bonds doesn’t say anything at all. He certainly did nothing to improve his churlish reputation when he called Bob Costas “that little midget man who absolutely knows (nothing) about baseball.”
Whether Bonds used the “clear” to hit home runs at a pace no aging player had ever come close to will be debated for years to come. So, too, will the legitimacy of the record he ends up holding as baseball’s all-time home run king.
There’s nothing to debate about Gwynn and Ripken. They played the game well, and represented it even better.
They deserve their day without the shadows.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org