Lost in the hoopla and/or outrage over Barry Bonds hitting his 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth into second place on the all-time home run list is what that hoopla and/or outrage says about how far we've come as a nation.
In 1935 when Babe Ruth, then of the Boston Braves, hit his 714th home run, African Americans weren't even allowed to play baseball with white people. They had their own league, the Negro League.
Then in 1973, Henry "Hank" Aaron began closing in on The Babe's precious record. As the chase for 714 and beyond began heating up, so did the pens and pencils of thousands of racists across America. Aaron received hate mail and death threats, sent to try to intimidate him, so perhaps he would quit before overtaking Ruth. Here is a sampling of those racist letters, courtesy of ESPN.com:
"Dear Nigger Henry,You are (not) going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. ... Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. . My gun is watching your every black move."
"Dear Henry Aaron, How about some sickle cell anemia, Hank?"
Instead of being intimidated, Aaron was motivated and on April 8, 1974, in front of 53,775 Atlanta Braves fans, he hit 715 and took over first place on the all-time home run list.
Today it's 2006 and again it seems that nobody wanted Barry Bonds to hit more homers than Babe Ruth. Bonds has been mercilessly booed and heckled in every visiting ballpark he's played in. He's been vilified and asked to retire and I'm sure he's received his fair share of death threats and hate mail. But what makes this different than 32 years ago, is that the hatred does not come from Bonds being a black man. It comes from Bonds being a cheating bastard.
Bonds used performance enhancing drugs. Its as obvious as the number 25 on the back of his jersey. Bonds is also — for lack of a better word — a prick. He's nasty to his fans, he's nasty to the press and as reported by the best-selling book Game of Shadows, he wasn't that great to his teammates, family or friends either.
Nobody wanted Bonds to hit his 715th career home run yesterday and nobody wants him to play long enough to approach Aaron's 755. But what's great about this is that people don't want him to do it, NOT because he's black, they don't want him to do it because he's an asshole.
We've come a long way as a nation, and for that, we should be proud.