As anyone who saw it knows, there was no doubt about it: As soon as he hit it, I thought, “That’s going a long way.” Bonds is one of the few hitters who can clear the center field wall at spacious Pacific Bell Park, and he knocked it a few rows deep, where it skimmed off some fans’ hands a few rows further back.
For those of us who have been following the Giants for years, the elation was accompanied with a great release: We’ve been waiting for this for a long time for him to pass Hank Aaron‘s 33-year-old record. It’s seemed inevitable since Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001 (putting him at 567 at the age of 36), winning his first of four consecutive Most Valuable Player awards that year. When I moved out here in 1999, Bonds had only 411 home runs – a large total, and he was already a sure Hall-of-Famer – but at that point I don’t think anyone really expected that the 33-year-old would break the record. Ken Griffey Jr., who at age 29 had 350 home runs, was considered the best bet to break the record, but injuries derailed his career in his early 30s, and now the big question is whether he’ll pass Willie Mays‘ 660 for 4th on the all-time list (and whether he’ll do it before Alex Rodriguez – the youngest player to reach 500 home runs – catches him).
Regarding whether Bonds “cheated”: I think performance-enhancing drugs have been in widespread use in the Major Leagues since at least the 1950s, but they were not outside of baseball’s rules until very recently. (Many of them are illegal under US law, but until and unless Bonds is taken to court over their use, I think that’s a non-issue.) I also have yet to see evidence that anything Bonds might have taken gave him a leg up over other players, since muscle mass is only one of many components that go into a great home run hitter. Ultimately, I think we can attribute Bonds’ record primarily to his fanatic approach to conditioning, and his superhuman eyesight and hand-eye coordination. The fact that he’s still outperforming most current players (even the ones who are under 40) today, after PED testing has gone into effect, is evidence of this.
I was pleasantly surprised that Hank Aaron recorded a congratulating message to Bonds which was played on the big screen during the game’s intermission. I personally find Aaron to be a bit of a cipher – not unlike Bonds, really – but this was neat to see.
I was equally surprised and glad not to see Commissioner Bud Selig at the festivities. Selig has the uncanny ability to suck the joy out of the most momentous baseball event, as he did when Bonds tied the record over the weekend. I think Joe Sheehan had it exactly right when he said that Selig is “an old man determined to protect the interests of other old men, even if it means degrading the game of baseball.” Selig is the Ford Frick of his era.
Ultimately, the game’s 20-minute time out was terrific to watch: Bonds was as happy as I’ve ever seen him, hugging his family, friends, and his godfather Mays. He gave a short speech in which he thanked the Nationals for their understanding (I’m sure no National would have wanted to be anywhere else, since only two teams got to see this moment in person; even Bacisk was good-natured about it after the game), and choked up when he thanked his father Bobby, who passed away a few years ago.
Bonds came out for a curtain call in the top of the next inning, jogging to left field and waving to fans with his glove, before being given the rest of the night off.
But everyone got a show that was a long time coming, and the payoff was worth it.
Congratulations, Mr. Bonds!