Barry Bonds was the best baseball player we've ever seen. We hold this truth to be self-evident. The closest thing to a hitting god that evoked fear in opposing arms and disbelief in a homer-hungry era then more interested in seeing sluggers sock some dingers than the terrifying truth. Bonds truly began to peak around the time of the first Matrix movie and he was The One. He's still the One. A hitting machine of 1s and 0s seemingly created in a lab. We'd start to obsess over how much of him was made in a lab years later but each homer in that unbelievable stretch was a tape-measure ticker-tape parade.
Eventually the bill came due and the grappling began. An awkward and intentionally fraught moral two-step out of the box. Those who fancy themselves the game's custodians tasked with recognizing the past while refusing to live in the present exacting their perceived justice. If the baseball media is our avatars then they reflect a collective unwillingness to grapple with prior errors. Or to recognize how complicit everyone was in the heyday of PEDs. Or to dig deeper and ask what about Bonds' personality truly makes Americans uncomfortable?
Off the ballot and a ghost at Cooperstown, he'll remain a haunting giant relegated to the shadows. But that's not where he belongs. He remains at the center of the picture, defiantly digging his cleats in dirt with a confident gaze on the mound. A museum is for things, not people. It's a celebration of the tangible, which only makes up a small sliver of our sensory spectrum. And it's in this realm that Bonds still delights and mystifies and exhilarates.
There's no use going into his numbers because they are so brain-bursting that even a whiff of debate stinks of performance. Why spill ink longer than to say: he was the best to ever swing a bat. This isn't about what he did on the field, though, a painfully obvious point and yet the whole ball game. Deep down, we all knew the voters would write this chapter in Bonds' story, completely indifferent and disconnected from what the public would want.
For those disappointed that Bonds couldn't navigate the politics adroitly enough to get an invite to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it might be worth asking a self-probing and crucial question. Is this hallowed institution serving your needs? Because if the answer is no, then there's nothing stopping one from shedding any emotional connection to its existence. Hard as that may be, there could be comfort in taking agency and revisiting the a la carte option for baseball fandom.
It may sound extreme but it's really not. Why is someone who loves baseball beholden to care deeply about a very select group that controls who and who does not reach the big museum? Just because it is important to some does not mean it has to be important to everyone. Especially if the entire relationship revolves around anger.
Tomorrow we'll wake up and still know that Bonds was Babe Ruth but better. That he perfected the imperfect-able. Nothing will have changed. His electricity still buzzes through bodies. We can go to those memories any time we want without traveling to Upstate New York.
Nothing dulls that visceral reality. And why would someone want to do that anyway?
Baseball's beauty is that it can spark childlike wonder. That there are those perfect moments we can enjoy even in aged cynicism. Because there's an understanding that they exist in a a complicated and flawed ecosystem. Barry Bonds was that perfect moment at home plate. He did fairytale things but wasn't the right protagonist. It was still a hell of a story.