In astronomy, you have the asteroid belt. The science of baseball has an asterisk belt. Baseball's belt is populated by inflated bodies orbiting near Jovian home-run immortals: Aaron, Ruth, and Mays. The largest asterisk, of course, belongs to Barry Bonds*. During the recent weekend, the dubious luminary of the San Francisco Giants became the greatest local baseball draw since Rafael Palmeiro* came to Safeco Field last July to register his 3,000th career hit in front of appreciative Mariners fans. Ordinarily, the Palmeiro* accomplishment*, along with the feats* of Sammy Sosa* and Mark McGwire*, would be sufficient to earn unchallenged entry into that heavenly destination in Cooperstown, N.Y. Pending proof of steroid use, however, Bonds* et al. might be spending record-book eternity consigned to a purgatory of punctuated shame.
During the M's Friday-Sunday three-game sweep of the Giants, June 16-18, the controversy enveloping Bonds was scarcely acknowledged by deferential TV and radio announcers. In the third inning of the first game, without even citing Bloated Barry's alleged transgressions, M's lead announcer Dave Niehaus and color man (if gray is a color) Dave Valle mused briefly and inconclusively about how historians might assess the left-fielder.
Not facing up to inconvenient truth has become patently American. For example, many would just as soon move on than, say, question whether recent presidential elections were stolen or WMD existed or Major League Baseball players unfairly inflated their bodies and stats.
I witnessed this process of mass delusion in May, when I sat in the right-field bleachers of San Francisco's AT&T Park. My son and his buddies were overheard by one of Bonds' myriad adoring Bay Area apologists questioning the integrity of Bonds' home-run total, which had reached 713*. Ironically, Bonds had been on the field before the game to help fete a consensus greatest-ever player (and, pathetically, Bonds' nominal godfather), Willie Mays, whose natural-skills heroics were being recalled on his 70th birthday. In any case, the guy in the bleachers insisted that the doubters lay off Bonds, which only emboldened my son and his friends to amplify the razz.
In Seattle, the locals dutifully booed Bonds. Some fans even Bronx-cheered while witnessing the luminary's 718th* homer Friday night. Later, Buff Barry also took a called third strike in the ninth to give the M's the victory. Reactions seemed to contradict any notion that Bonds would be a good pickup to play DH here next year. Surely there couldn't have been anyone older than 3 at Safeco who hadn't heard that Bonds and others face serious allegations that they took performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds is being investigated at the behest of big-league baseball by George Mitchell, the former U.S. Senate majority leader. Many believe that, when the truth is known about the steroid era, a generation of baseball players will be tainted.
But the Bonds charade proceeds through major-league cities as the arthritic star limps and grimaces toward eclipsing Hank Aaron's 755-home-run record. During interviews, Bonds insists that he's become oblivious to adverse fan reactions. Maybe he's figured out how to filter the jeers and just hear the cheers, of which there actually were some from the season-best weekend crowds. In a more discerning America, cheering would be reserved for efforts such as Saturday's into-the-crowd catches by Federal Way native Travis Ishikawa, the Giants' first-baseman. Also worthy of applause was Bonds whiffing in the sixth Sunday on a Jamie Moyer molasses fastball.
Seattle team officials, meanwhile, may not have cheered Bonds but they sure couldn't complain. After all, he might be an astronomical fraud, but he sure sells a ****load of tickets.