Scripting the history* of the game

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It’s appropriate Barry Bonds arrives in Los Angeles this week on his morose tour toward baseball immortality, as the slugger’s uninspired chase of Hank Aaron – Bond’s tally of 754 homers is one shy of Hammerin’ Hank – is being scripted like a Hollywood production.

Bonds and his handlers know breaking baseball’s sacred milestone away from friendly hometown crowds of San Francisco would be catastrophic. What should be a joyous celebration of achievement – as envisioned by every Little Leaguer swinging alone in their backyard – will degrade into a humiliating spectacle if it occurs on the road.

We shudder to think what a stadium-full of belligerent fans would say, or do, when given the chance to heckle Bonds, a caustic superstar who’s made few friends with his belligerence and outright derision – he called sports broadcaster Bob Costas a “little midget man” last week – while under the steroid spotlight.

Hence the script. An attempt to control the magic moment of 756, whenever it happens, so it comes before a welcoming audience, which will fete Bonds as a conquering hero, not the drug-addled disgrace he’s considered in the minds of many. The cinematography of this effort is disheartening.

The final legs of Aaron’s record-breaking effort were just as controversial as Bonds, for less personal reasons. His sensational overtaking of Babe Ruth’s homerun record exposed deep fissures in our society’s attitudes toward race, while Aaron redefined the phrase “grace under pressure,” a description certainly lost on Bonds.

We should be calling upon Bonds and others to let history happen, instead of trying to orchestrate its outcome to avoid an ugly reaction. Ignoring the controversy surrounding his achievement – by steering it away from criticism – gives “the chase for 756” all the authenticity of a cut-rate sitcom. One taped before a live studio audience to boot, replete with a canned applause track.

Bonds would recoup long-lost respect by breaking Aaron’s record wherever and whenever he can, instead of when and where it’s most politically and historically convenient.

Aaron didn’t have the opportunity to select his moment to ensure a maximum positive response. It has made the image of well-wishers running the bases with him so unforgettable, as a frozen, spontaneous gesture.

It appears no such iconic memories will accompany Bonds’ feat. While a friendly crowd might be the preferred jury for Bonds’ much-awaited moment, history will level a much harsher judgment of his lasting legacy for it.

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