Sports TV: Coverage of Bonds -- feel the bloat
By JOHN ADAMS
KNOXVILLE (TENN.) NEWS-SENTINEL
BARRY BONDS DIDN'T play Monday night, so I wasn't glued to my computer following his historic pitch-by-pitch pursuit of Babe Ruth. With the free time, I elected to watch one of the several hundred movies on General Custer.
Don't worry. I won't tell you how it ended.
But I can't resist quoting actor Robert Shaw, who played Custer. A soldier under Custer's command asked the general why he was so intent on his cavalry beating all the other troops to Little Bighorn.
"First is first, and second is nobody
," Custer replied.
Any self-respecting coach would back him up on that. So would anyone who ever lost a Super Bowl.
But in a sports nation that often ignores and sometimes ridicules runners-up, Bonds has become a huge exception. ESPN has seen to that. It airs a Bonds reality show and has a Web site chockfull of Bonds headlines. The biggest reads: "Chasing Ruth."
This just in: Hank Aaron is baseball's all-time home run leader.
You couldn't tell it by ESPN, whose baseball coverage centers on Barry and the Babe. Ruth hit 714 home runs. Bonds has 713 homers entering today's game against the Cubs, so it's just a matter of time before he moves past Ruth into second on baseball's all-time list.
And when Bonds hits No. 715, he still will be 40 behind Aaron.
Since when has second place been so important in baseball? In any sport? Who has baseball's second-longest hitting streak? Who's billed as "the world's second-fastest man?" When did "Go for the silver" become an Olympic rallying cry?
All this second-rate hype is even less tolerable because of the extenuating circumstances. It's more about cheating than hitting. And you don't need a grand-jury insider to tell you that. Andy Van Slyke, a former teammate of Bonds' with the Pirates, was asked about steroid detection on Bob Costas' HBO show. "Trust your eyes," Van Slyke said.
Barry didn't become BARRY by lifting weights and eating well. You know that by now, just as you know the homer craze of the late '90s was chemically induced. Mark McGwire was a fraud. So was Sammy Sosa. But they're both out of the game.
Sunday in Philadelphia, Bonds hit a homer off the upper-deck facade in right field. "Unbelievable," you might say. That's the problem. You can't trust what Bonds does. An upper-deck homer isn't a supernatural feat. It's just more evidence of the big lie.
Bonds is still benefiting from steroid use, and baseball is still suffering from it.
The game is built on numbers. When the numbers lie, the foundation is shaken.
Roger Maris is part of that foundation. Few players have received so little praise for accomplishing so much. Many fans resented his breaking Ruth's single-season record in 1961; baseball Commissioner Ford Frick rewarded him with an asterisk in the record book, noting that Maris' 61 home runs came in a 162-game season, compared with Ruth's 60 home runs in a 154-game season.
The next 37 years obliterated the asterisk and magnified Maris' achievement. No natural hitter surpassed him.
Then, in one farce of a season, McGwire hit 70 homers and Sosa hit 66. A year later, in 1999, McGwire hit 64 and Sosa hit 63. Two years later, Bonds hit 73.
Imagine that. In the latter years of their careers, all three suddenly became superhuman sluggers. Unbelievable, huh?