And so it has come to pass. Barry Bonds has finally hit his 756th home run and taken his place (like it or not) at the head of a long and illustrious line of home run hitters. We've seen this coming for the past two or three years, but the soundtrack of Barry's march towards destiny has been driven by a steady drumbeat of hand-wringing and head-scratching.
Without question, the major league home run mark is the most hallowed record in all of sports. And so, the cynics say, how can we stomach the idea of a man like Barry Bonds standing atop that mountain? Can we applaud a man who is by all accounts a jerk and by most accounts a cheater?
Additionally, there are those who mourn for the man Bonds is surpassing. Hank Aaron, they say, is a more deserving record holder. The president of this club is baseball's commissioner, Bud Selig. Selig showed up in San Diego for the tying home run, but did so with a teenager's attitude: "you can make me go, but you can't make me like it." He couldn't even bring himself to applaud, nor could he make the trip up the coast to San Francisco for #756. (For the record, Aaron has always been one of my favorite players; some might remember a debate I had with noted Bonds defender John Perricone of Only Baseball Matters. We argued about who was the greatest hitter of all time, and I chose Aaron.)
In many ways this story comes down to Bonds vs Aaron, as if a choice must be made. What happened on Tuesday night did nothing to diminish Aaron, though some would have us believe otherwise. If only there weren't any of those external factors getting in the way. If only things were simple the way they were back in 1974. Here's what SI's Tom Verducci wrote recently in anticipation of 756:
The home run record isn't supposed to be this complicated. Even when Barry Bonds holds the record, Hank Aaron can still be the people's home run king -- and 755 can still be the number in which we believe.
That sounds nice, but things were still pretty complicated for Aaron. In addition to the death threats and hate mail, Aaron had to listen as detractors claimed he simply wasn't as good as Babe Ruth, regardless of what color he was or how many home runs he had hit.
But this is what we do. We romanticize the past to the point that the present can't possibly compete. The sun used to shine brighter, music used to mean something, and our baseball players used to be as pure as the driven snow.
It's probably too much to ask for people just to appreciate the record for what it is, so instead I'll just look forward to 2014 when Alex Rodriguez hits #779 and fans look back at the good old days of 2007.