Wednesday, August 8, 2007

500 vs. 756

Not too long ago, Alex Rodriguez was universally reviled by Yankee fans. Things change quickly when you're having one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the sport. Having been there last Saturday to see ARod hit career home run number 500, I can honestly say that the outpouring from the fans was spontaneous, exuberant and genuine.

I didn't see Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run live last night, but based on the footage I've seen today, what a contrast. There was much excitement from the San Francisco fans, to be sure, but the sedate tone to the 11 minute break in the action that followed Bonds' touching home plate said a lot.

Hank Aaron's pre-recorded message struck the wrong note for me. It seemed so meticulously crafted -- so much care given to every word so as to avoid saying too much or too little. It seemed to me as less of genuine outpouring of excitement or respect on Aaron's part and more of an attempt to fulfill his obligation to posterity, lest his well-earned legacy of tremendous grace and class be tarnished.

Bonds' own remarks, too, seemed so by-the-book. I've heard commentators praising Bonds' reaction for being perfect -- the sort of thing you're supposed to respect regardless of your opinion of him. But that's the problem: it was just too perfect, too safe, too self-consciously trying to steer clear of the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

I just think about the reaction that an injury-free Ken Griffey would have received had he been the one to break Aaron's record. My sense is that it would be a lot like the one ARod got on Saturday, times a few thousand. In fact, ARod himself probably will experience that someday.

For me, the enduring image of number 756 will not be that of Bonds standing at home plate, extending his arms skyward, acknowledging his father. Instead, I will remember this photo of Bonds and Dave Roberts embracing as Roberts relieved him in the outfield later in the game. The gargantuan Bonds engulfs his average-sized teammate in an enormous bear hug, reminding us that something just doesn't seem right.

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