Posted: Thursday February 24, 2005 1:56PM; Updated: Thursday February 24, 2005 2:38PM
Barry Bonds contends he is being victimized because he is moving in on passing Babe Ruth's record of 714 homers.
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Anyone who paid close attention Tuesday to Barry Bonds' annual 15-rounder with evil media types was treated to the kind of spin doctoring heretofore left to professionals like Karl Rove and James Carville. Instead of addressing the issue du jour -- his alleged steroid use -- Bonds tried to position himself as a modern-day Henry Aaron. Just as Aaron was a victim of small-minded, malicious, racist people who viewed his pursuit of Babe Ruth's all-time home run record as a sacrilegious assault on a cherished white player and his accomplishments, so too is Bonds being victimized as he threatens to pass Ruth's total of 714 dingers. At least that's what he thinks. Or, better yet, what he would like fans to think.
And you know what? It stinks. By trying to make this about race and not about whether he inflated his numbers (not to mention his muscles and his Mount Rushmore-ready head) with illegal drugs, Bonds is insulting Aaron's legacy and attempting to quiet critics easily scared by any discussion of race. Yes, Bonds is a black man, and Ruth was white -- despite some circumstantial evidence that indicates he may have had an African-American ancestor or two. And even in 21st century America, that is troubling to a certain segment of society. When Bonds says, "Blacks, we go through a little more," he's right. In a nation where real racial equality remains largely a myth, there are still people out there who choose their sporting heroes (or targets) based on skin color.
But to try to co-opt the same racial issues Aaron faced is disingenuous at best and flat insulting at worst. Even if there are those who dislike Bonds because he is black, he hasn't faced anything like what Aaron went through -- at any point during his baseball career, or for that matter, his life. Aaron was born in Mobile, Ala., in '34, when the idea of civil rights for blacks was as ridiculous as an Atlanta Hawks playoff run. He had to break into baseball in the Negro Leagues (with the Indianapolis Clowns) but was eventually signed by the Braves when they were still in Boston. One of his rewards for a great debut with the club's Eau Claire minor-league outpost was a trip to Jacksonville to help integrate the South Atlantic League. He was greeted by a non-stop flow of racial epithets, hateful taunts and flat-out threats. One writer said, "Hank Aaron led the league in everything but hotel accommodations."
He reached Milwaukee (the Braves moved there in '53) and began his outstanding career that spanned 23 seasons. But no matter how remarkably he played, or how many All-Star appearances he made, Aaron was still a black man at a time when America was grappling (and often losing) with race. By '74, when he was on the cusp of breaking Ruth's mark, Aaron was receiving upward of 3,000 letters a day, most of which were hateful, cowardly missives from all over the nation, with believe it or not, a majority coming from northern "blue" states. Two examples from the smallest minds: