A few months ago, as it became obvious that Barry Bonds was going to break Hank Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs, I sent Mr. Bonds a letter at the San Francisco Giants and to his agent. I had promised to keep the contents of that letter confidential if Mr. Bonds were to take my advice. However, this morning it is obvious that he has not taken my advice so I’d like to share with you what I suggested.
Barry Bonds should retire. Now. Today. He has hit 754 home runs—one shy of tying Hank Aaron’s record.
He should walk to the podium and make the following announcement:
“As of today, I am officially retiring from the game of baseball. The game has been extraordinarily good to me and yet there is much controversy surrounding my breaking Hank Aaron’s record. I continue to submit to the fans, the public and Major League Baseball that I have done nothing wrong. However, the game is bigger than I am, and, given that there is so much suspicion, out of respect for the game and Hank Aaron, I am retiring.”
Can you even imagine the reaction? He would go from goat to hero instantly. He would silence every critic he has. The stunning and immediate silence would fall so quickly it would sound like a plunger being pulled from the toilet. Only to be followed by a standing ovation. The cascading “booos” would turn to chants of “Barry! Barry! Barry!” He would throw out first balls at World Series. He could be commissioner. He would be front page news on every newspaper in the English speaking world for weeks.
Now, certainly, the most cynical would say that it was a tacit admission of guilt. Who cares? He would still be doing the right thing. And, the beauty of it is that he’d never have to admit he was guilty.
Think about the future. Once he hits 756 and beyond, whenever the debate arises over the greatest home run hitter many will immediately dismiss Mr. Bonds record because of their belief that it is tainted. The world would argue AGAINST Barry Bonds. However, if he stops at 754, then any conversation would begin with Hank Aaron as the greatest home run hitter in history. Yet, participants in the discussion will quickly note that Barry COULD HAVE hit two more home runs if he’d WANTED to and so Barry is the greatest. At 754, the world argues FOR Barry Bonds.
At 754, Barry Bonds would be revered. At 756, the movie of his life ends in scandal and tragedy. At 754 the movie of his life ends in celebration at a press conference surrounded by an adoring and forgiving public.
At 754 Barry Bonds is honored for his integrity and character. At 756 he is a cheater who became rich and the hands of a sport and a public whom he holds in contempt.
Any of the rewards that Barry Bonds envisions coming his way as the Home Run King will actually disappear in a puff of smoke the minute he breaks the record. But at 754 he receives every reward….doubled. There is more money at 754. Does he NEED more money? Probably not. But does he WANT more money? Why else would he still be playing? Does he want to be honored? As Home Run King there is no honor. In second place, there is honor the likes of which he can only imagine.
“The right thing is always the right thing,” my kids are tired of hearing me say. Think back to the 2002 Winter Olympics when the Russian figure skating pair—names I couldn’t tell a Abu Ghraib interrogator– won the gold medal in scandal. Most believed the Canadian couple—Pelletier and Sale (names I still know by memory, but spelling I had to verify) should have won, but a scandal arose with the French Judge and the Russians took gold. Had the Russian pair immediately acknowledged what everyone knew—that they had been out performed—and given the gold medal to the Canadians, it would be THEIR names that would be remembered. The Russian pair would have become the victims and they would have been lauded for their honesty, integrity and sportsmanship—qualities demonstrated far too infrequently in professional sports today.
And the timing couldn’t be better because at this point is that the Giants are out of playoff contention. While Barry Bonds has been playing well this season his team is not so he wouldn’t be leaving his team in a bind or bailing out on his teammates or his owner when they needed him for a playoff push.
The United States is a forgiving nation. We love our heroes and we want our heroes to be heroes. Many columnists and talk radio hosts have made this very comment; that if Barry would just admit his use of steroids, apologize and move on, then the fans and public would forgive him. Stopping at 754 is an even better idea. It humbles himself and his accomplishments to the public and the game. He wouldn’t even need forgiveness. He wouldn’t live in the “forgiven neutrality” of a Jason Giambi. He would be exalted.
Of course, as we know now, Barry has eschewed the Right Thing for selfish reasons—Barry plays on. In the end he will find dissatisfaction and loneliness. The rewards he so desperately longs for will remain just out of his grasp.
Too bad, Barry Bonds. You could have been King. All you needed to do was stop short of being King*.