Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My home run kings

So Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's long-standing home run record last night. I'm going to keep the asterisk next to Bonds's 756--that number is not as impressive as Aaron's 755, and is only meaningful in an era when one thing we hate way more than cheating is losing.

I grew up in a different time--when Americans ridiculed the Communist Bloc Olympics teams for obviously using steroids. Americans whined about how unfair it was that our clean-cut American boys and girls, all amateurs in the true spirit of the Olympics, were competing against souped-up Communists paid by the state to perform. This was the era parodied by the Zucker Brothers in a Top Secret! scene wherein muscular men in drag posed as Communist bloc Olympic women athletes. I still get a laugh from older listeners when I talk about an incident when I had to feed a baby Saw-whet Owl some exceptionally large mice. I say they were huge--they looked more like rats than mice, like "the Russian shot-put team of mice."

Kids today wouldn't get it. The asterisk next to Bonds's 756 will remain there for those of us who remember when as a society we almost uniformly disapproved of those who cheated in sports by using steroids, associating such cheating with totalitarian regimes who used athletics to "prove" the superiority of their system.

I find it endlessly fascinating that even as more and more we resemble the totalitarian Russia of the 50s--in our red tape and bureaucracy with regard to health care, in our government spying on our citizens, in our citizenry's apathy and sense of helplessness about making a difference--we've also become like them in the use of steroids in sports.

I'm keeping the asterisk next to Bonds's name, and will never forget that Hank Aaron was the one who scored the most home runs during the time that America really was a Democracy.

But truth to tell, my personal Home Run King will always be Ernie Banks. Why? My feelings about the Chicago Cubs were summed up in this essay, written right after the Cubs lost to the Marlins in 2003.