Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Abracadabra: Bonds Vanished
An autumn night in Astoria. Years ago, now. An indoor bar beyond a beer garden. A television screen showing a baseball game. I watch, because I love baseball. Ryan Braun hits a game winning home run. There’s no mystery attached. That’s what he does. And this is the essence. A pennant race, a pitcher of beer on the bar slab. He circles the bases. Barry Bonds wasn’t signed by anybody, throughout the winter, spring, summer, and early fall. I considered the season more enjoyable without his participation, hardly an obsessive thought, just a pleasing detail. Bonds, a distraction from the essence.
Similar to instances of collusion occurring in the eighties, the disinclination toward Bonds was public knowledge. A capable ballplayer was being denied an opportunity due to circumstances beyond performance. Bonds had aged, but his offensive skills remained extraordinary. It was I, Bonds. It was I. They said you couldn’t play. And I agreed.
Why was Bonds disposable? He was too damn good, and an inconvenience, pursued by the government, convicted in the public eye by obviousness. He was a magician who had been exposed, but wouldn’t leave the stage. And his sorcery seemed strengthened, not diminished, by the cauldron choking everyone else. Bonds, so good, so great. Bonds was so good that nobody would have been surprised to discover Pujols was just a disguise created by Bonds. Yes, there we would be, at the Awards dinner in Manhattan, the commissioner staring incredulous while Bonds tore open the mask, Millhauser style, and proclaimed the runner-up wasn’t real, he just wanted to take a few swings right-handed. But was Bonds real? He was real when he glided around left field like an elegant two-legged tank. That’s what they said, anyway. They said there were two versions of Barry Bonds, the beautiful yet flawed, and then the masterfully damned. We heard stories about Bonds. We pictured conversing with him. His mustache would be thin, his suit would be bright. We’d sit in the empty upper deck at Candlestick Park, and the air would have that electric feel, like before a big rain. We would try advising him. Keep your numbers clean, Bonds. We want your numbers to be clean.
One may argue Bonds was owed nothingness, a blank season, a void where walking isn’t counted. This man will be on trial, they shouted. This man will disrupt the team. Yes, said the defense lawyers among the mob, yes, because nobody with legal entanglements has ever participated in a professional sports season? Oh, the other side hated that response, the sarcasm burned. No, their rebuttal followed, no. For it seemed obvious that the grand sorcerer was a special case. They dreamt themselves judges, and their Bonds preferred exiting an exception. How else could this drama be interpreted?
Maybe he watched a playoff series. Maybe he watched Manny Ramirez make another Chicago Cubs season romantic. Maybe he watched Ryan Braun and the Brewers fail to advance. Their failure was bittersweet, because they were a good story. Braun, then, was a good story too. Like Manny. Unlike Bonds. They hadn’t been caught. They didn’t need our counsel in empty upper decks.
Baseball statistics are different. Isn’t that magic? And when is magic ever pure? Just this time, for this game? For our convenience? I said these words without speaking, years ago. I said, Barry Bonds, I’m glad you didn’t get to do what you love. Barry Bonds, even though you were capable, you pierced the illusion. That night in Astoria, I returned to the table with a pitcher of beer, and I said Ryan Braun was a great player. If they thought my words misled, they could check the numbers. Abracadabra.
Previous entry: TGS LA: Would Dodgers steal Tanaka from the desperate Yankees?