Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Let's Throw Bonds a Retirement Party (Before He Changes His Mind)

February 26, 2006
Sports of The Times
Let's Throw Bonds a Retirement Party (Before He Changes His Mind)
By GEORGE VECSEY

OH, boo-hoo. One of these years, Barry Bonds promises us, we are not going to have him to kick around anymore. My response is, the sooner the better.

Bone-on-bone friction in his knee is probably not the only pain Bonds is feeling these days. As obtuse as he has always been, Bonds must know that he can never regain public trust because his personal trainer was caught scurrying to the notorious Balco laboratory.

As he tries to pass the home-run totals of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, Bonds is still trying to manipulate the world around him. The latest farce is that Bonds wants reporters to sign a waiver for every one-on-one interview (not that he grants many) to satisfy the legal demands of a reality show he is doing for ESPN, on company time.

Bonds is caught in a modest renaissance of morality. Despite the rather corrupt attitude of some fans — we pay our big bucks to see home runs, and we don't care how they are hit — there are still rules. Athletes may wriggle around in Nixonian self-pity, but deep down, the public knows.

I have no real problem with pitchers who doctor the ball or hockey players who sneak an oversized stick onto the power play. That's up to the officials to catch. Just like the Olympics, I am into degree of difficulty. Go after the big stuff.

In recent days, we have seen examples of weasels getting theirs. Nascar whacked Jimmie Johnson's crew chief for a week because he had blatantly messed with the car's specs. After Johnson won the Daytona 500, he suggested to David Letterman that he didn't want to know what his crew chief was doing.

The next day, Nascar added three weeks to the original suspension. The message was: Don't make fun of us, son. Nascar has come too far to avoid poking its nose into every manned missile hawking the corporate products.

Likewise, I endorse the midnight raid staged when a barred coach, Walter Mayer, was seen nosing around the Austrian Olympic cross-country and biathlon teams. You have to keep an eye on these Austrian skiers: Four years ago, they left behind a junkie's detritus in a house they had shared in Utah.

The recent drug tests came up negative, but there was plenty of suspicious stuff in their den in Italy. Too bad some Austrian competitors missed their beauty rest. That's what they get for harboring a known rogue.

The wink-wink, nudge-nudge drug mentality of cycling stopped being funny in the late 1980's when at least 18 young men from Europe essentially fell off their bikes, quite dead, from using erythropoietin, the blood-thickening drug known as EPO. Some of the revisionism by the Tour de France is cynical — leaking old, inadequate but interesting tests the moment Lance Armstrong retired — but, at the very least, cycling has toughened its testing, a generation or two overdue. Tyler Hamilton, apparently in serious denial, is paying a two-year price for the vigilance. Tough.

Baseball was forced to face reality because of the sloppiness, arrogance, mood swings and body alterations of a generation of sluggers. Bonds made a permanent fool of himself, in grand jury testimony, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, by saying that his trainer had assured him that the creams he had given him contained only flaxseed oil. Bonds is way too much of a control freak to get away with that silliness.

Bonds recently whimpered to USA Today that he was contemplating retirement after this season because baseball just wasn't fun anymore. The Giants are trying to get permission for Bonds to be a full-time designated hitter in spring training because he cannot run. But he's too stubborn to go play in the American League, probably because it would mess with his reality show.

Barry has 708 home runs, behind Ruth's 714 and Aaron's record 755. Major League Baseball is surely hoping Bonds goes away before he breaks the record of the dignified Aaron, but why wait that long?

It isn't fun for Barry? It wasn't fun for Aaron, receiving hate mail for passing the Babe. It wasn't fun for Mickey Mantle, gasping every time his knee buckled. It wasn't fun for Roger Maris, knowing traditionalists were rooting against him. It wasn't fun for Jackie Robinson when fans and opponents shouted vile things at him. It wasn't fun for Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston and Buck O'Neil to watch mediocrities play in the all-white major leagues. It wasn't fun for the Babe, feeling his body falling apart, sensing the Yankees would never let him manage. It wasn't fun for Lou Gehrig, dying young.

It isn't fun for a lot of us, watching a miserable, bulked-up egomaniac whine. Barry Bonds wants fun? He could retire in spring training, leaving Aaron and Ruth at the top of the list. I'd sign a waiver to cover that.

E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com

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