By Avi Sommer

As March winds turn to April showers, the temperature begins to rise and the feeling of spring returns. Spring is defined as much by the crack of the bat and the renewal of sports’ greatest rivalries as by its seasonal changes. The new baseball season is here, but this season will not be about the Chicago White Sox defending their World Series title, the Atlanta Braves extending their streak of 14 straight division titles, or the renewal of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

This season will revolve around two numbers, 714 and 755. This is the season that the most hallowed sports record in the entire world may fall. This season Barry Bonds may hit more home runs than Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

Over his career, Bonds hit 708 home runs, the third greatest statistic of all time. He trails the immortal Babe Ruth by only six and Hank Aaron by 47. Demonstrating the importance of this story, ESPN is running a weekly behind-the-scenes documentary of Bonds and the Giants through this season recording his chase of Aaron’s record.

If you thought baseball stole the national headlines in the summer of 1998, then just wait until this summer when you will experience the media ride of your life.

Baseball is truly our national pastime. Major League Baseball’s traditions and records are held in much higher regard than those of the NFL, although football is America’s most popular sport. For example, the significance of baseball’s iron man, Cal Ripken, Jr., eclipses that of football’s Brett Favre. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s chase at Roger Maris’ single season home run record of 61 received amazing media coverage compared to Peyton Manning’s run at Dan Marino’s single season touchdown record.

Finally, Hank Aaron received death threats the season he challenged Ruth’s mark of 714 career home runs. Did Emmitt Smith get threatened when he challenged Walter Peyton’s career rushing record? Baseball records are as close to America’s heart as the Statue of Liberty or “God Bless America”, which is sung at almost every major league ballpark during the seventh inning stretch. Coincidence? I think not.

Despite this reverence, baseball’s records were made to be broken. However, everyone who challenged a significant baseball record has loved and respected the game, until now. When Yankee teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home run mark in 1961, they showed great respect for the game. Mantle went on the disabled list and forfeited his shot at the record in order to be ready to lead the Yankees to another World Series Championship.

The often disrespected and unappreciated Roger Maris hesitated to take a curtain call after he hit his 61st home run because baseball was more important than his accomplishment.

When Aaron challenged the Ruthian record of 714 career home runs, he did it with the greatest respect and humility. Cal Ripken, Jr. practically saved the game of baseball shattering the unbreakable record of 2,130 consecutive games played. That night, Ripken took a lap around Oriole Park at Camden Yards shaking each fan’s hand in the first few rows to thank them for their support and encouragement. Lastly, when McGwire broke Maris’ aforementioned record, he hugged and chatted with Maris’ sons immediately after crossing home plate.

As Barry Bonds approaches Ruth’s and Aaron’s records, he represents the antithesis of all other legends. Bonds is a surly player who thinks he is above the game in every respect. According to the recently released book “The Game of Shadows,” Bonds began using steroids following the 1998 season because he was jealous of the attention McGwire and Sosa received as they chased Maris’ historic record. The book states that “Bonds was astounded and aggrieved by the outpouring of hero worship for McGwire, a hitter whom he regarded as obviously inferior to himself.”

If Bonds wasn’t the best or even simply not regarded as the best, he wasn’t merely angry and jealous, he was detestable and resentful. When Bonds was beaten by teammate Jeff Kent for the Most Valuable Player award in 2000 he wasn’t happy for his teammate, he was overtly disgusted.

Conversely, when Bonds hits one of his moon-shots he arrogantly tosses the bat and watches for a few moments, conceitedly showing up the pitcher and opposing team. Barry Bonds has no respect for the records he is challenging or the game that has done so much for him. He has placed himself in the same class as Pete Rose, a star who thinks he is more important than the game.

Although I am captivated by the most gorgeous swing and the grandest home runs the game has ever seen, I will be praying to the baseball gods that Bonds doesn’t come close to the most hallowed record in all of sports, 755.

Sommer can be reached atasommer@campustimes.org.



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