An open letter to Barry Bonds
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 16:01
Dear Barry Bonds,
Watching Lance Armstrong make his confession to Oprah Winfrey last week has made us rethink your standing in the American sports culture. Bear with us Mr. Bonds, but the last week has given us all an interesting perspective on who our heroes are.
Lance Armstrong is a cancer survivor. But to us he was so much more than that because he beat cancer then became a champion. As a champion he raised money to fight cancer and gave us all a new outlook on what overcoming obstacles really meant.
In Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, he said fighting to win at all costs was an extension of how he beat cancer. Armstrong was raised by a single mother.
Lance and his mother always felt like their backs were up against the wall, he said. She was, and still is, Armstrong said, a fighter.
That fighting spirit served him well when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. For whatever reason, Armstrong said fighting to be a survivor became fighting to be a winner at all costs.
He had taken drugs before that, “but I wasn’t a bully,” Armstrong said about how he began to aggressively defend himself.
“I took that ruthless win-at-all-costs attitude into cycling, which was bad”, Lance said.
Barry, You were also essentially raised by a single mother early in your life. Eleven days after you were born your father, Bobby Bonds, was shipped across the country to North Carolina to start his professional baseball career in the minors.
As you well know, North Carolina wasn’t the best place for a black man in the early 1960’s, athlete or not. But despite the threats and the racist remarks your dad hit homeruns and stole bases any ways.
Before long he was back in California, playing for the big league club in San Francisco.
Similarly, before long, Lance Armstrong was out of treatment, out of the hospital and preparing to become the first American to win the Tour de France since Greg LeMond in 1986. But Armstrong did much more than LeMond or any cyclist ever had. He won cycling’s biggest event seven times in a row.
And of course he did it all as a cancer survivor. Soon every other person in the world, it seemed, was wearing a Livestrong bracelet and showering praise on Lance Armstrong for making a difference. How could there be a better story than that?
Well again, let me apologize. Most of us are unaware of how the pain of Bobby Bonds became the motivation of Barry Bonds.
Once your father finally made the big time, he latched onto a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest players ever, Willie Mays. Mays was an aging superstar who had become disillusioned with the spotlight, with the fans and with management.
His advice to your father was to never trust anyone and always, always look out for number one. Eventually dad started having a few beers in the clubhouse after the game, then moving to a bar near Candlestick Park. And eventually the Giants no longer wanted to deal with Bobby’s routine and traded him to the New York Yankees in 1974.
Although your father continued to be a 30/30 man seven more times, he couldn’t escape his demons and was traded seven times in seven years. Dad became further and further estranged from his family, and like Mays, came to distrust the media and those who ran the game.
Lance Armstrong said doping and using EPO and whatever other drugs he used to win was as natural as putting air in the tires or putting water in the bottles. There was a similar time in baseball where being America’s hero was as natural as using steroids and human growth hormone.
You watched in disgust as the nation was captivated by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battling it out to be the first hitter to pass the single-season homerun record once set by Babe Ruth. As each day in August passed, the crowds at the ballparks and the viewers on television surged to see who would make history first.
But as baseball writer Howard Bryan said in Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball”: “The bottom line with Barry is he watched Sosa and he watched McGwire and he saw the adulation they got in 1998. He saw them getting credit for rebuilding the game coming out of the strike when he knew he was twice the player of any one of them, and when he decided to balance the scales, we really saw something remarkable.”
On August 23, 1998 you were the first player in the history of the game to pass 400 homeruns and 400 stolen bases. But Sosa and McGwire were still getting front page headlines. Your accomplishment got little attention, and most people outside of San Francisco didn’t care.
We just didn’t get it yet. Your career at the end of 1998 included 1,917 hits, 411 homeruns, 1,216 RBIs, 445 stolen bases and an average of .290. You were clearly on your way to Cooperstown, if not already there.
But what happened next? Writers and reporters eventually moved away from covering Barry Bonds as one of the greatest players ever to investigating Barry Bonds as a clear and obvious cheater.
There was no way an athlete approaching his 40’s could be setting career marks in homeruns. At that age guys are supposed to slow down.
And Mr. Bonds you weren’t exactly very helpful in forming a positive story line. Almost everything you ever said or did was combative.
We fought to out you as a cheater and a liar with the same zeal that we fought to defend Lance Armstrong. Is it a racial thing? Does it have something to do with Armstrong participating in a sport most of us don’t care about while you became the face of America’s pastime?