This week we have been witnesses to three players making history: Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants hit home run number 755; Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez of the New York Yankees hit home run number 500, and pitcher Tom Glavine of the (my beloved) New York Mets notched his career win number 300. All impressive Hall of Fame achievements, right? Shouldn’t we be honored to have seen baseball history in the making?
I’m not so sure about that.
First of all, as a Met fan I am not so giddy about Tom Glavine getting his 300th win. Mostly this is due to the fact that the majority of those wins came when he was wearing another uniform, and it wasn’t just any uniform, folks: he was an Atlanta Brave. Now, many of you non-Met fans are probably saying this is crazy, but I have trouble with the Mets celebrating the achievement of a guy who used to beat them while pitching for an opposing team in the same division (by the way, the only more despised opponent is the Yankees).
I know that many of his current teammates celebrated with him, but whom do the guys on ESPN call when they want some perspective on this accomplishment? Glavine’s former Braves teammate and bud John Smoltz, that’s who. Gets me thinking that Glavine is still in his heart of hearts a Brave and wishes he won this game down in Atlanta and not on some sultry night in Chicago wearing a Mets uniform. Still, by all accounts Glavine is one of baseball’s “good guys” so I can tip my (Mets) cap to him if ever so slightly.
Not even considering the steroid factor in any way, baseball fans (besides those McCovey Cove zealots in San Fran) have not embraced Bonds in his quest for the Everest of baseball records. Think how McGwire and Sosa were seen as baseball’s darlings as they raced for the single season home run record. That good feeling was akin to watching Cal Ripken ride around on a horse in Baltimore when he had his farewell ceremony. But Bonds seems to have always been not the straw that stirs the drink but more the one that blows bubbles into it. Even if steroids were not an issue (and believe me, they are no matter how you want to look at the matter), I’d say Bonds is not liked and that has all to do with him reaping what he has sown.
A-Rod is another sour pill to be sure. He talks a good talk but struggles with his walk. He came over to the Yankees expecting a ring and all the associated bling, but things haven’t turned out the way he planned. Yankees fans will always like Derek Jeter better (hey, they even like a guy like Robinson Cano better) and feel like A-Rod has waltzed in as a golden boy, anointed by George Steinbrenner to be the next B-Ruth. Unfortunately, A-Rod is right-handed and even though he hits all these homers and knocks in all these runs, all Steingrubber’s men really can’t put him back together again after stories about cheating on his wife and ego clashes with Derek.
Despite all the things noted above, the main problem I have with these achievements is that they have not occurred in the consistency of service to one team. Bonds and A-Rod have bounced around a bit, while Glavine only took the Mets’ offer because he couldn’t get the same from Atlanta. This is a bit of pure mathematics that has nothing to do with baseball statistics and everything to do with dollars and cents.
Yes, I know this is the world of free agency and that Catfish Hunter paved the way for the poor baseball players, freeing them from the oppression of working for the baseball owners who made Simon Legree look like Little Orphan Annie. Still, no matter how we slice it, the piece of the American Pie is a lot bigger for these ballplayers, even the ones who make less like David Wright and Jose Reyes. I mean, wouldn’t you rather work seven months a year (hopefully eight if you make the playoffs) playing a game you love rather than doing something else?
In the end, when I think about these records the feeling I get is nothing close to warm and fuzzy but more like moist and fetid. These guys followed the bucks and they didn’t care about the fans, the most important people in the baseball kingdoms run by these baseball kings and queens. If anyone has “serf” status it is the fans, since we have to work the land and still pay for it (whatever happened to the $1.50 general admission seats of my youth?). The players are less than knights in shining armor to be sure, but they have been touched by the sword and certainly live a charmed life at home and on the road.
It doesn’t help that Bonds plays for the Giants (who left New York for sunny California and put a hole in so many hearts), A-Rod saunters around for the Yankees (a team that believes it’s royalty as much as its owner thinks he’s King George), and Glavine pitches for the Mets (working class scrubs to be sure but still hated because the team is in New York).
There is also the truth that loyalty is a forgotten notion and that really hurts. While I hope Wright and Reyes play their whole careers in Queens, I am not certain of it. Jeter (no matter how much I hate his team) is probably the last stand-up baseball guy; the last future Hall of Famer who played his whole career with one team. There’s a reason Lou Gehrig said he was the luckiest man on earth (even when he was dying), and the fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium that day intimately knew why because they were fortunate too since Gehrig played every inning of his career as a Yankee.
We will never see the likes of those kinds of days again. Free agency, steroids, and greed have seen to that. So these records mean nothing more than numbers in the book when they should mean a whole lot more. For that, every baseball fan should be more than angry because as we are witnesses to baseball history we can also testify to the fact that it has been compromised probably beyond repair, and that’s more than a damned shame, it’s a disgrace.