Notes on Pop Culture: *757 and counting...

Posted by Michael Borshuk On 11:18 AM

OK, I admit it: two things that I am boyishly sentimental about are dogs and baseball. (And dogs and baseball in tandem, especially. This past Opening Day, my first since my beloved golden retriever Mingus passed away, saw me watching the game with the dog's ashes. I balanced a miniature Tiger cap on top of the urn.) I find myself perennially unable to suspend that adolescent sense of hopefulness and wonder about either topic. There is no such thing as a bad dog. And every spring marks the beginning of another championship run. As well, my disappointment is disproportionate at news of a dog being hit by a car, or reports of a Tigers loss. When the team fired my boyhood idol, Alan Trammell, as manager a few years ago, I nearly renounced my fandom forever. (Fortunately, though, the Tigers responded with a near-championship season and assuaged my bitterness substantially.)

...all of which is a roundabout way of getting to the fact that I can't decide how I feel about Barry Bonds's deposing of Henry Aaron as baseball's all-time home run king. Now, let me say up front, I'm not one of those pious Bonds-haters predisposed to churlish attacks on his character because he doesn't make a show of hitting taters for hospital-bound children. (And I would like to remind this finger-waving faction that the ol' Bambino, Babe Ruth, the ostensible paradigm of big-hearted American sports heroism, once missed part of a season because he contracted syphillis. Now that's a round-tripper I imagine the Sultan of Swat wished he could undo...) Indeed, I have defended Barry Bonds for several years now. So what if he's inarticulate and surly in post-game interviews, I'd say, the man is the most dynamic player in the game! Even before his ostentatious muscle-up in his 21st century seasons, he'd already amassed Hall of Fame credentials and commanded my vote as the finest player of his generation.

And yet.

While I delighted in the narrative rush of Bonds's pursuit of Aaron, now that the chase is over I feel undeniably empty inside. Maybe I thought that something more dramatic would occur en route to the record. In the wake of Bonds's alleged steroid use, I wondered if at the eleventh hour, with 754 homers under his belt, he might retire to preserve the sanctity of the record and restore his honor for the pious crowds. Or what if somebody tried to assassinate Barry to keep an alleged cheater from usurping ever-honorable Hammerin' Hank? (I didn't wish for this outcome, I must clarify. I'm a pseudo-Buddhist.)

Instead we got only an anti-climactic longball launched into the San Francisco night. And then--and here's where the boyish, sentimental me felt his heart drop--a pre-recorded message from Hank Aaron, projected on the ballpark scoreboard, in which he congratulated Barry and expressed his hope that Bonds inspired America's youth to pursue their dreams just as Hank hoped he had as the homer king for all those years. Oh, Henry Aaron. He who challenged threatening racists determined to take him off his game; who stayed healthy and strong through diet and conditioning; who had the mental fortitude to pursue the most hallowed record in American sport.

And I guess what all this verbosity amounts to is this: while I enjoy watching Barry Bonds, and I defend him to a degree, I do not find in him that level of inspiration that the child in me looks to baseball for. Henry Aaron--unlike syphillitic George Herman Ruth--always seemed to me one of the great dignified heroes of the game.

And for the life of me, I just can't imagine Barry Bonds offering such a model of eloquence and grace when his record gets shattered on some far-off summer night.

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MICHAEL BORSHUK is Associate Professor of African American Literature at Texas Tech University. He is the author of SWINGING THE VERNACULAR: JAZZ AND AFRICAN AMERICAN MODERNIST LITERATURE (Routledge, 2006), and numerous essays, reviews, and encyclopedia entries on African American literature, American modernism, and music. For ten years, from 1999 to 2009, he wrote on jazz regularly for CODA MAGAZINE. His fiction has appeared in ANTIGONISH REVIEW, DALHOUSIE REVIEW, ELYSIAN FIELDS QUARTERLY, SHORT STORY, and 34TH PARALLEL.

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