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Vin Scully has seen and heard it all in baseball, and has lent his wonderful voice and skills as perhaps the game's greatest announcer ever to reporting it. Scully provided the play-by-play when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home-run record thirty-two years ago this month as Dodger pitcher Al Downing left a slider over the plate in Atlanta for number 715. He delights in that experience, but dreads the thought of calling the homer that will break Aaron's record of 755 lifetime home runs:
In 1974, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record in a game against the Dodgers, Scully called it. But at the start of a season in which Barry Bonds could pass Ruth and then Aaron for perhaps the most cherished mark in American sports, the Dodgers' Hall of Fame announcer wants no part of that history.
"I would just as soon it not happen against the Dodgers," Scully said. "With Aaron, it was a privilege to be there when he did it. It was just a great moment. With Bonds, no matter what happens now, it will be an awkward moment. That's the best word I can think of now. If I had my druthers, I would rather have that awkward moment happen to somebody else."
Scully's ambivalence mirrors that of fans, current and former players and sports executives across the country. No sport treasures its statistics and fusses over its milestones like baseball, and yet no one is sure of the proper way to celebrate the accomplishments of Bonds, a supremely talented player widely perceived as a cheater, the most valuable player of his league a record seven times and the biggest name in a federal investigation into steroid use.
The record book, for now: Aaron, 755 home runs; Ruth, 714; Bonds, 708.
Normally, Vin Scully likes to remain positive when talking about baseball. He rarely criticizes anyone and is one of the few remaining announcers that rejects "homerism", where the on-air commentary slants precipitously towards the home team. He ladles compliments as quickly to visiting players as he does to those wearing Dodger Blue, and refrains from criticizing even obviously boneheaded plays as much as possible.
That's what makes this interview extraordinary. Even to use the understatement of "awkward" shows the disdain Scully feels about Bonds and his chemically-enhanced performance in pursuit of Aaron. Scully has made a career out of announcing some of the most dramatic and historical moments in baseball, and for him to wish that history could be broken on someone else's watch demonstrates the overall mood towards Bonds this season.
What can baseball do about this? Not much, especially for a game that relies on its statistics so heavily. Disallowing Bonds' home runs would mean that ERAs would have to be recalculated, along with runs scored for the people hitting ahead of him, and so on. Bud Selig could drag out the dreaded asterisk again, but the connotation has gathered so much injustice in the way it was applied to Roger Maris and his pursuit of Babe Ruth that it will do more harm than good.
It's better to leave Bonds' mark alone, once he makes it, and consider it a testimony to the Lords of Baseball as well as the players' union, and their unwillingness to do anything about steroids until it warped the game. They didn't want to take any action to stop it then, and really have only started to address it now. For those who know the game, we will always consider Henry Aaron the true home-run king. That will lead to the "awkward" moment that Vin Scully dreads, and like him, I'd take a pass on being a part of it.
UPDATE: One or two comments wonder why I don't mention Mark McGwire, who admittedly took androstenedione supplements while breaking Roger Maris' record. For one thing, Mark's not playing baseball any more. Also, you'll note that Mark doesn't own that record any more; Barry Bonds does. And since the comment wonders why I didn't reject McGwire during his record-breaking season, I should remind everyone that this blog started in 2003, after McGwire retired.
For the record, though, I'd say that most of the hitting records of this era are tainted thanks to baseball's complicity in juicing. No one can pretend that both the players and the owners disliked the fan response from the explosion of power over the last twenty years. Players like Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, McGwire and Bonds have cast a pall over all of the accomplishments of this generation. While some rightly point out the greenies and amphetamines that earlier players in professional sports took to give them an energy edge as a similar corruption of the game, steroids in baseball target the one specific act of home runs and power batting. For those who think that only bat speed plays a part in dingers, take a look at the fastest bats in that generation -- Brett Butler, Tony Gwynn -- and see how many homers they hit.
Hammerin' Hank did it the old-fashioned way, and he did it against integrated teams and unfettered competition, unlike Babe Ruth. For that matter, so did Roger Maris. Others may come along and break their marks without chemically enhancing their strength to do so, but until then, those men deserve to own those records.Sphere It View blog reactions
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