I can understand why people throw things at Barry Bonds.
No baseball aficionado am I, but even I’ve heard folks over the years say the San Francisco Giants slugger was to nice as Eva Longoria is to butt-ugly. Indeed, Bonds was reputed to be a jerk of such antisocial magnificence that other jerks removed their hats and stood when he passed by.
And that was before two reporters wrote a book, “Game of Shadows,” recently excerpted by Sports Illustrated, that painted Bonds as an egomaniac who used steroids to build himself a new body because he was jealous of the attention paid to players he considered his inferiors. One result of his alleged drug use: the single season home-run record, which he claimed a few years ago. He is now closing in on the all-time record, held by Hank Aaron.
So, although you don’t condone it, you certainly understand the unnamed individual who tossed a syringe – thankfully, sans needle – onto the field in San Diego when Bonds’ team opened its season there recently. The signs that sprang up were similarly self-explanatory: “Hank Hero, Barry Zero” and “Cheaters Never Prosper.”
It all suggests that Bonds is in for an interesting few months, a season of boos reminiscent of the Kobe Bryant Rape Tour a couple of years back. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
For all of that, though, it would be a mistake to believe the issue here is that an arrogant ballplayer crossed the line. No, the issue is that the line itself is being erased.
Bonds, after all, is hardly unique. He’s just the latest manifestation of an ongoing national embarrassment. Meaning the prodigious amount of cheating uncovered in recent years in fields as varied as pop music, education and journalism. To the best of my knowledge, nobody keeps stats on this sort of thing, so maybe people are cheating now with exactly the same frequency they always did, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.
And in any event, was cheating ever as brazen, as thoroughly rationalized or as high profile as it is now? I mean, when people were caught in the wrong back in the day, didn’t they at least have the decency to be embarrassed?
What a difference a generation makes. Caught lip-synching when she was supposed to have been performing live, the “singer” shrugs it off. Caught fabricating when he was supposed to have reporting, the “journalist” writes a book. Caught cutting and pasting the report they were supposed to have written, the “students” – this happened in Piper, Kan., five years ago – complain to mom and dad, who threaten the teacher.
Now there’s this. Caught – allegedly – using steroids to enhance his performance, Barry Bonds trots out onto the field like nothing’s wrong. Just another day at the office. Just another shameless man in a shameless era.
We are witness to a yawning dearth of integrity. And a corresponding death of authenticity.
Think about it: When Hank Aaron smacked the 1974 home run that put him in the record books, it was a tribute to his endurance, his hard work, his strength and even, given the racist death threats he faced, his courage. By contrast, when Bonds overtakes Aaron, what will it be a tribute to? Better living through chemistry?
Hardly the most inspiring testimonial. But hey, the end justifies the means.
Remember that old 60s catch phrase and song title?
“Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing,” we used to say.
Ever hear the new line? “Fake it till you make it.”
Kind of says it all.
So who needs gold and diamonds? We live in a fool’s gold world, a cubic zirconia time, an epoch when some people think it matters more what a thing looks like than what it is.
Barry Bonds looks like a baseball hero. But you don’t have to look too closely to realize he’s anything but.
For the record, some of us know the difference, and some of us think it matters, still.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His e-mail address is: [email protected]