|Schmidt: Even as Bonds draws near, Aaron's reign will never really end|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 05 July 2007 06:51|
By MIKE SCHMIDT
For The Associated Press
This Barry Bonds thing has got me confused.
I can't make a decision. I get several interview requests each week and questions everywhere I go.
``What do you think about Barry Bonds?''
I'm sure all of the guys in the 500 Club are going through the same thing. Most of the older hard-liners believe he cheated, broke the law, is beating the system, and want nothing to do with him. Apparently Hank Aaron is in that group.
Those guys feel the same way about Pete Rose, too.
The current generation, however, seems to be a little more tolerant. They're willing to accept his achievements as a product of a commitment to fitness, unique hand-eye ability, size and strength, longevity, and whatever is - or was - accepted as normal 10 years ago.
The controversial issue is whether he added size and strength with illegal supplemental help, allowing him not only to do extraordinary things as a hitter, but allowing him to extend his years to the point of challenging the game's most coveted record.
I've gone on record saying if I had played in the 1990s I would have found it hard not to fall to the same temptation, especially when there was no testing and a lax attitude by those in charge. Back then, the game and its players were thriving on the power surge.
Knowing the repercussions as I know them now would have made that decision easy. But being a young player trying to make my mark, be the best I could be, make the most money I could make, get to the top, I'm not sure I would have said no. More power to those that did, and most think Barry was not one of them.
So fans, and some current and former major leaguers, find it hard to give Bonds the respect that should follow this achievement. It is directly related to the issue above, but there are other reasons.
There is the picture painted by the media, and supported through reading Bonds' quotes, that he has a surly ``I'm Barry Bonds'' attitude and has a different set of rules that those around him must accept.
Quite simply, he appears to have a very arrogant and self-centered existence and, as he approaches the record, he revels in his celebrity with little concern for his image. It seems there is little that would, or could, endear him to all of us in his actions.
Hey, who am I to talk? I was a little self-centered in my day as well. A certain amount of it, I'm sure, comes with the territory.
In general, the perception that today's players have risen to a level of stardom where they have lost touch with the real world seems strong. Television does it. These guys see themselves as rock stars, as entertainers. Maybe they are.
Big Papi is a household name. He's on TV more in one month than Hank Aaron was in his career. These are the times we are in, true. But it creates resentment and jealousy from players of the past who played in relative obscurity.
I see ESPN is televising the arrival of the players at the All-Star game this year. Wow! We can see Manny getting out of his limo! Maybe he'll wink at the camera. Somebody must be watching this stuff.
Oh yes, we get to see the Home Run Derby, where 10 players get to blast golf balls over the fence 340 feet away with maple bats while their peers sit around and act interested. I'm sorry, excuse me, just the old chip on the shoulder. If only they had the money and interest for this stuff when I played.
I had a long paragraph written on the differences in today's game compared to Aaron's era, but I'll not push that issue. But I must ask: Do you think most fans believe the Home Run King should come from that era, when it was much tougher?
Not my era, mind you. Aaron's era. That's the hard thing to accept, that records set pre-1990 are falling like crazy. I was seventh on the all-time home run list just over 15 years ago, now I'm 12th.
Aaron played his entire career when men were fighting for their livelihood on the field. There were no guaranteed contracts and pitchers knocked you on your ass if you overswung at an outside pitch. There were no elbow pads to ease the fear of inside pitches. The game policed itself, and only the strong survived.
Today's players are a happy family, many once were teammates. They understand there is a gigantic pie and plenty to go around. Before free agency started after the 1976 season, players were tied to organizations and forced to be loyal to towns and their fans.
Even through the '80s, many players played for only one organization, which bred a more natural competitive environment. Today's game is competitive, of course, but not nearly as tough as it was back then. Not so much when I played, but Aaron's era and before, when you earned your pay year to year. Every year was a free agent year for them. You don't think hitting was tougher?
It doesn't sound as if I respect today's guys after reading that, does it? Well, I do, but those are facts. Any current player, even Barry, would agree with me.
I don't blame the players. They play in the environment they are given, the environment that today's game has adopted over time. No one forced ownership to pay $20 million a year for a player or build mini-stadiums that eventually would destroy the continuity of the record books. Wealthy, egocentric businessmen and television revenue support this stuff. Don't blame the players, they're just taking advantage of it.
Having said all of the above, the only issue is: Bonds or Aaron? Who deserves the throne until A-Rod or Ryan Howard arrives? When they do the baseball climate will be more ready for a change, and much more comfortable with the modern game. It will be their game, we will be long gone from it.
When making the Bonds-Aaron comparison, one thing everyone can agree upon, and it is central to the discussion, is that it became much easier to hit a home run after 1990.
Harder balls, maple bats, small parks, small strike zones, fewer inside pitches, elbow pads, and yes, bigger biceps, all combined to increase home run totals and thus lessen the appreciation of Barry Bonds' achievements.
As pointed out in my book, ``Clearing the Bases,'' after the building of Camden Yards in Baltimore and the many new stadiums that followed, ending with Citizens Bank in Philly, the difference is close to 10 home runs a year per player.
Barry would need to reach over 900. That's where Hank would be if he played the same number of games in the same environment in which Barry plays today. In its simplest form, over 100 of the balls Hank hit to outfield warning tracks during his career would be home runs today. This is not Barry's fault. Barry understands that comparison, but what can he do - ask baseball to make Hank's mark 925?
Leave the steroid issue out of this. Maybe your eyes tell you one thing, but Barry has never failed a drug test. It's been guilt by association. He's had a long, amazingly productive career, a career that most likely will never be matched. He has been a five-tool player most of his career, combining speed, defense, hitting for average and power. I lost count of his MVP awards.
I say appreciate it for what it is, the greatest career that spans two highly different generations. I say he is the greatest left-handed hitter of all-time, maybe the greatest player - surely of our generation. And I'll bet that he is not that bad of a guy if you got to know him. Remember also, the guy coming after him, A-Rod, will have done it all in the modern game. In fact, he might prove the number 900 is correct.
As for Hammerin' Hank, he is the greatest right-handed hitter of all-time and that's saying something. Of course I'm biased. But facing 70 percent right-handed pitching, well, ask Barry how he'd like to face a lefty seven out of 10 games.
Hank's reign will never really end. He's the old-school King and will, by my generation, have set the standard in baseball's golden era.
I know he's up there in years, but I'm sure he could board a private jet, with Bud Selig, and stop by to shake Barry's hand on the big day. It would be the thing to do.
The experts on ESPN will be everywhere. Barry Bonds the person will be Barry Bonds the commodity, and everyone will see headlines, TV ratings, dollar signs and Barry's lovable smile.
He'll have more friends than he ever dreamed. Every network will create space, no major league licensee will boycott it, media and fans will treat it as a historical happening. By the end of all this, Barry might even win you over.
Let's just hope this one has a happy ending. Baseball needs one.