Monday, March 13, 2006

Boo Barry: Stealing Milwaukee's Heart and Soul

Let's be honest with ourselves, for just a moment: if you're a sports fan that craves championships, Milwaukee isn't your town.

Recent college graduates weren't born when Harvey's Wallbangers made the World Series in 1982. The Brewers haven't even had a winning season in 13 years. The Bucks last won the NBA World Championship in 1971, despite a finals appearance from Kareem and Co. three years later. Marquette's national championship came 15 years before Indian tribes figured out they were offended by the word "Warriors," and it has been another 15 years since then. The Packers' 1996 Super Bowl victory counts as a partial victory, but everyone has to admit the franchise loses a little of its down home charm if it's considered a "Milwaukee" team.

Despite this bleary record of athletic accomplishment, Wisconsin sports fans remain a loyal and perenially optimistic bunch. Brewer fever has hit once again, simply because the team managed a record last year that landed them 19 games behind their division leader. The Bucks have a legitimate shot to sneak into the playoffs. And despite the Packers' nosedive, it's almost certain that there are still plenty of people naming their dogs things like "Fuzzy," "Lambeau," and "Cleditus."

When one looks at the pantheon of sports accomplishment, however, Milwaukee holds something that no other city has.

755.

That's right. Milwaukee has the Home Run King. Choke on it, New York. Pucker up, Chicago.

Sure, Hank Aaron played a chunk of his career in Atlanta after the Braves moved, but all total, he spent 65% of his career in Milwaukee. He brought Milwaukee a 1957 World Series Championship. More importantly, he owns an Arby's in Germantown. Plus, it was as a pot-bellied Milwaukee Brewer in 1976 that The Hammer hit the home run that has graced the record books for over 30 years.

But now, like a freight train moving at a mile an hour, the slow motion scandal everyone has feared is approaching. Soon, Barry Bonds will pass Babe Ruth in all time home runs, and will likely catch Aaron. And with that record, he will not only steal the most honored record in sports history, he will walk off with the heart and soul of Milwaukee's sports tradition.

Milwaukee fans are used to injustice, and we forgive nearly everything. We spent our tax money on a new stadium after the team threatened to move, only to see the additional revenue from the stadium go to line the pockets of ownership. We took it when Gary Sheffield purposely tanked plays in the field to try to get traded, only to go on to a Hall of Fame level career elsewhere. We watched in horror for a decade as Sal Bando euthanized the organization with Kevorkian-like precision. We had to grimace while "Crap Iron" (Phil Garner) managed the Astros to the World Series last year. We even let our children play in the same streets on which John Jaha was allowed to drive. And yet we always return, always hoping, always optimistic.

Yet when Barry Bonds, through the aid of steroids, overtakes Hank Aaron as the all time home run leader, he will take with him a central piece of Milwaukee's cultural identity. The Sports Illustrated article published last week that copiously detailed Bonds' steroid use virtually guarantees that some action will be taken against Bonds to prevent his further hijacking of the record books. Even if only some of it is true, it's more than enough to cast Bonds into the pit of "permanently scorned athletes" where he belongs. Hell, we went to war with Saddam with less evidence.

Aaron has actually commented on the theft of his record, when he said:

"I think if Barry doesn't do it (next) year, I think there's a good chance he'll do it (the following) year," said Aaron, looking ahead to 2007, though Bonds' contract is through 2006. "Records are made to be broken, and I want you to understand that. Barry has been a tremendously gifted player. We can't sit here and accuse him of anything. He hasn't been found guilty of nothing. We talk about it and talk about it, and that's all I can say."
This quote is emblematic of why the ouright theft of this record is so horrifying. Throughout his playing career and into retirement, Hank Aaron has exuded class and exemplified professionalism. From his early days in Alabama when he swung the bat cross-handed until he broke Ruth's record amid racist death threats, Aaron has always been a rock solid example of integrity in the public eye. Even now, when he knows full well that Bonds is going to mug him at gunpoint, he takes the high road.

In stark contrast, Bonds continues to lower the bar for public (and private) behavior by an athlete. The Sports Illustrated article details Bonds' abuse of women, philandering, tax evasion, lying to investigators, and of course, the rampant use of steroids. In fact, Bonds has said that all the criticism he has gotten lately is a racist plot, since Mark McGwire hasn't been subjected to the same scrutiny. Apparently he's unaware that the man he's about to permanently damage, Hank Aaron, is in fact, black.

To take Bonds' word that he never knew he was using steroids is to ask people to believe the unbelievable. At the age when other athletes' bodies are breaking down, Bonds' numbers took off at record levels. For instance:

Aaron never hit more than 47 home runs (he hit over 40 eight times in 23 years). Bonds only hit 40 HRs three times before age 35, and has averaged 51.6 HR per year since turning 35.

Bonds averaged 15.7 AB per HR before age 35, and 8.2 AB per HR after age 35.

Aaron averaged 17.4 AB per HR before age 35 and improved to 14.2 AB per HR after 35 (The all-time record for a career is Mark McGwire at 10.61 AB per HR.)

Bonds averaged 31.8 HR per year before age 35 (14 years) and 51.6 HR per year after age 35 (not counting last season, when he played only 14 games). Aaron averaged 34 HR per year before he age 35, and dropped to 30.6 HR per year after age 35.

For Aaron, 32.5% of his total HRs came after age 35 (7 years) For Bonds, 37.1% of his total HRs came after age 35 (and counting).

For Milwaukee fans, we simply cannot allow this injustice to stand. On Wednesday, May 3rd, Barry Bonds will step into the batter's box at Miller Park. I demand that when this occurs, Bud Selig requires Bonds to wear a ski mask when playing, as a symbol for the record-jacking Bonds is about to do to our city. I would hope that Milwaukee fans would have enough class to heap as much abuse on Bonds as possible. The fans that don't have strong feelings about this are the same people that wouldn't mind having Michael Jackson come into their home to babysit their kids.

If anyone knows Milwaukee sports history, it is Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball. It has been rumored that he is looking at taking action against Bonds in light of the recent Sports Illustrated article. Bonds apologists cry that Selig shouldn't take action against just Bonds, since steroids were rampant in the 1990s and the league had no rule against them. Steroids, however, were illegal at the time, and are about to tarnish the most prestigious record in all of pro sports. While Bonds' records to this point will have to stand in order to maintain the continuity of the record books, there's no reason Selig couldn't pull the plug on Bonds' career before this travesty takes place.

My Dad boasts with pride of his days as a kid growing up in Milwaukee, when he and friends would sneak into County Stadium, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man that would one day become the greatest home run hitter of all time. What Barry Bonds doesn't realize is that when he steps into the batter's box, he's not facing a pitcher. He's facing Babe Ruth. He's facing Hank Aaron. And he's facing my Dad's childhood. And that I take personally.


SIDE NOTE: I started writing this a couple weeks before the Sports Illustrated article came out. So now I'm kicking myself that I didn't post it earlier, because it would have made me look like a genius if I essentially predicted what was in the article. Damn you, procrastination!