Mike Bacsik's baleful anniversary
Next Thursday (Aug. 7) marks the one year anniversary of Barry Bonds breaking (or not, depending on your feelings about the role flaxseed oil may have played in the matter) Hank Aaron's career home run mark. As this space hath opined, it's a pretty damn baleful sign of the times that an event of that magnitude would inspire such skepticism and squirrely feelings (outside of San Francisco) as it approached and arrived, and ultimately be regarded with widespread ambivalence. The tenth anniversary of The Great Home Run Chase dwells in the same fish-scented barrel.
While Bonds now finds himself with his schnozz pressed against baseball's window while legal beagles nip at his spikes, another player in that milestone event seems headed for a disappointing measure of indifference: Mike Bacsik, the journeyman lefty for the Washington Nationals who served up the now asterisk-adorned ball that Bonds deposited over the wall at AT&T Park.
It's a peculiar perk of our celebrity-crazed culture that those on the dirty end of the history stick often become more than just footnotes. They gain their own measure of lasting fame -- lucrative fame at that. Consider Ralph Branca, who has spent many of the last 57 years roaming the land with Bobby Thomson to commemorate the "Shot Heard Round the World" he surrendered.
Branca was wise enough, and strong enough, to swallow his pride and embrace the role of gracious loser, something not everyone in his position easily does. Eric Show, for example, petulantly sat on the mound after giving up Pete Rose's career record-setting 4,192nd hit in 1985 and grumped, "Don't get me wrong. I'm certainly not putting down Pete. It's a fantastic accomplishment. But in the eternal scheme of things, how much does this matter? I don't like to say this, but I don't care."
Bacsik cared and realized the potential value in his moment. He tipped his cap to Bonds and later joked, "I dreamed about this as a kid. Unfortunately, when I dreamed about it, I was the one hitting the homer." The Branca Highway beckoned, but the steroid and legal storm clouds over Bonds darkened it considerably. Bacsik, 30, is now toiling in Triple A, his career in doubt and interest in him drying up, as this New York Times story by Rainer Sabin points out.
I'm not suggesting a cascade of tears is in order. The man won't starve in the street. He's done some broadcasting work and the cap he wore his fateful night is sitting pretty in the Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, Bacsik is beginning to look like a casualty of the steroid era. He's in an immortal pantheon, but not on a par with Branca or Al Downing (Aaron's 715th). He may even end up somewhere behind Show, Chan Ho Park (Bonds' single-season record 71st), Steve Trachsel (Mark McGwire's 62nd) and Tracy Stallard (Roger Maris' 61st).
That's unfortunate for Bacsik in this day and age because to figure so prominently in an event that could have been perpetually hyped and celebrated like Aaron's or Thomson's blasts would have set him up more handsomely than it appears it will.
Hey, maybe he will yet achieve a lasting fame and reward for being the guy who coughed up Bonds' big tater, but I'm interested to see how much he's making off his autograph and place in history five, 10 or 50 years from now.