The Mortality of Baseball Players

All Baseball Players Are Mortal — Even Barry Bonds ‘Steroids, Steroids,’ The Hateful Chorus Chants

by Burton S. Blumert

Memo to Editor Rockwell and other baseball fans:

Let me shift your attention for a moment from the Red Sox vs. the Yankees, the finest teams money can buy, to the Left Coast and the incomparable Barry Bonds.

I know you read all about Bonds’ heroics in Box Scores the following morning, but the media bias dulls his accomplishments.

Let me bring you up to date.

For the first 20 games of the 2004 Season Bonds:

  • Leads the league in batting: .500
  • Leads the league in HR: 9
  • Leads the league in Bases on Balls: 30 (this statistic is ominous)

These astonishing numbers are consistent with Barry’s shattering of records the past three seasons. Here are those highlights:

  • In 2001 Bonds hit 73 Home Runs (a record that will NEVER be broken)
  • He won the League’s Most Valuable Player Award (MVP)
  • In 2002 Barry won the Batting Title by hitting a glittering .370
  • During the World Series, he batted .471, hit 4 HR and was walked 13 times.
  • Bonds’ performance during the 2002 playoffs dispelled any theories about his "choking" in big games.
  • He won the MVP.
  • In 2003 Barry Bonds hit his 600th HR and won his 3rd consecutive MVP. This was his 6th MVP. For this, Barry Bonds stands alone in baseball history.

"Steroids, Steroids," the hateful chorus chants.

Listen, steroids might enable a body-builder to win the Strongman Competition on ESPN by schlepping a 6-ton truck up a hill, but a carload of steroids wouldn’t improve bat speed, nor the ability to hit a baseball launched at 95 mph. As baseball afficionado Joe Sobran points out, hitting a sphere moving at that speed with a cylinder is the greatest achievement in sports.

As the Spring Training Camps opened the media insects couldn’t wait to see how “withdrawal” would affect the steroid juice-heads. Several well known “sluggers” were visibly depleted of muscle mass.

Not Barry.

He has consistently denied the use of steroids. Even those snakes hired to do nothing but study Bonds’ anatomy, and expose him as a fraud, found the same magnificently conditioned athlete they see every year.

Whatever the future reveals about Bonds and his relationship with some of the questionable characters who push enhancers, none of that can tarnish Bonds’ place in baseball’s pantheon.

In some sports super-stardom can be earned through one superlative effort, or a glorious series of accomplishments like California swimmer Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals in swimming at the 1972 Olympics.

There are other winners who don’t require validation by the Record Book.

On May 6, 1954, Dr. Roger Bannister became enshrined in Track and Field history as the first to run a sub-four minute mile, a feat then believed impossible.

Even Mohammad Ali’s dazzling boxing career can be distilled in just a handful of three minute rounds, his greatness measured in milliseconds as he proved to be more lethal than his opponent.

One of Ali’s primary credentials as a legendary pugilist was his epic, bloody war, the "Thrilla in Manila" with arch rival Joe Frazier. The drama, the violence, the action, all took place in less than 45 minutes.

Statistics were not necessary.

Seven-footer Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the best basketball player who ever shot a hoop, is remembered for one quirky night in April, 1962 when he scored 100 points in an NBA game. (Some were more impressed with Wilt’s claim in his 1991 biography, A View From the Top, that he bedded 10,000 different women. Another group of admirers contend that the statistics here were understated.)

But baseball is different.

There are no shortcuts in baseball. No quick way in. The only passport to immortality is the revered "Record Book." Every hit, every error, every injury is recorded. The athlete’s place in baseball history is uncovered beneath an avalanche of statistics.

As Barry Bonds enters the final years of his career, not only has he been rewriting the Record Book every time he comes to bat, he has altered the way the game is played.

Rival managers walk Bonds rather than give him a chance to beat them. Barry has broken all of Ruth’s Base on Ball records and it is certain Bonds will break his own record in the current 2004 season.

It is hard to imagine that as recent as 2001 there were baseball writers who questioned Bonds’ credentials as a Superstar.

In May 2001. I wrote a piece for LRC proving the case for Barry Bonds’ greatness and indicting the media for allowing their bias of Bonds to cloud their objectivity. They hated him because he hated them.

And Barry keeps rolling onu2014

Two weeks ago he surpassed Willie Mays’ Home Run Career total. Only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron remain in his crosshairs. If Barry’s home run production continues he will pass the "Babe" in 2005 and exceed Aaron in 2006.

Some respected baseball writers contend that Barry could hit over .400 this year, a feat unattained since 1941 by Ted Williams. (Williams was also despised by the media.)

Barry will be 40 this summer. In recent games, I’ve sensed a change. I’m not talking about his skills diminishing. For the first month of this season his bat had never been quicker and the pitchers never in greater fear, but I realized that even Barry Bonds was mortal.

When I was a kid, I actually saw Babe Ruth in uniform. He was near the end of his life, making an appearance at Ebbet’s Field in Brooklyn. Can you imagine a seven-year-old seeing the great legend Babe Ruth? It’s an image that never fades.

Hall of Famer, New York Giant first baseman Mel Ott was my idol. I watched him play at the Polo Grounds in New York City. I still have my Mel Ott jersey. (Not for sale, thank you.)

Willie Mays is about my age, and we sort of "grew up together." He never lost his boyish charm.

Often, in those half-awake moments before drifting into sleep, I would re-run Willie Mays’ unique baseball exploits of that day’s game. I never met Willie, but he was a companion for over 20 years.

(I said above that Bonds is the greatest player ever. If you put my back to the wall, and ply me with four ounces of wine I’ll admit that Willie Mays shares the mantle of the "Greatest Ever" with his godson, Barry.)

At 40 most baseball players are set out to pasture. The legs go first, they say, and then the reflexes.

Bonds takes more games off these days, and his feet must be giving him trouble. He never complains. By the way, Harold Reynolds, the brilliant ESPN baseball analyst, pointed out that because Bonds is issued so many walks, he spends more time on base than anyone in the game. Unlike every other rmajor leaguer, Barry does not get his share of rest time in the cool shade of the dugout.

Barry Bonds is driven by challenge, to be a winner and finally wear that World Series Ring. To rewrite every record in the book, with Ruth and Aaron as his targets.

What happens when the challenges are gone? When the aches and pains that visit the 40-year-old athlete finally subdue him?

The original purpose of this memo was to alert Editor Rockwell and other baseball fans that we are witness to the best baseball player EVER. It was my hope that he would be around at least through the year 2006. If that were true we would have many opportunities to see him perform.

Now I’m not so sure. I have become pessimistic about Barry’s immediate future in the game.

I fear that the constant refusal to pitch to him, to walk him twice a game, is beginning to wear him down. This has never happened to any other player in the history of the game.

If I’m right, it’s extra URGENT that you get to see Bonds on the field soon.

If you go to the ballpark, get there early and watch Barry take batting practice. See him when the Giants visit your hometown team, watch Barry on tv, or better yet, come to San Francisco. I’ll help you get a ticket.

There will never be another like him.

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