It would be useful if, instead of referring to Barry Bonds (simpliciter), people referred to Bonds I (the star outfielder for the Priates from 1986 to 1992 or ’93), or Bonds II (the peak value version, who played for the Giants from ’92 to let’s say ’99, when he was still an amazing star but was showing every sign of ballplayer mortality, his stolen bases diminishing, the years perhaps beginning to take their toll), or Bonds III (the unnerving increase to almost superhuman baseball accomplishments, though it’s worth noting that he was still no longer stealing bases), to Bonds IV, the shell of the spectacular ballplayer who had finally begun to decline, a little, and was forced into retirement by the judgmental baseball establishment after a season for which most players would give years off their lives to attain.
Now, I’m not ignorant of the odds that he achieved Bonds III status by the judicious employment of performance-enhancing drugs. I’m not arguing that people should declare him innocent solely because he has not admitted or been proven to have knowingly used PEDs (though it’s pretty clear that his trainer used steroids in treating him). I don’t like those circumstances a tiny bit.
But he’s also a proud Black man whom the predominantly white power brokers in baseball and the media wanted to break — as white folks have used their power against other ‘uppity’ Black folks. Even as at the time I was wishing he weren’t so prickly, were more like his godfather Willie Mays, I had to respect his unwillingness to play by the rules others tried to impose on him. And to be fair, even Bonds III, the man who in his late thirties was improving his game and achieving baseball accomplishments that may never be equalled (with chemical support), was so good a hitter that he should go down in history just for those years.
An early season reminder that plenty of white ballplayers were disagreeable, cheated, were aggressively dangerous to other players, and the world of baseball noted approvingly how ‘competitive’ they were. Barry Bonds was better than most people who were alive at the time can remember, better than most who didn’t experience his presence in the game can believe, and he’s still around. It’s time. I acknowledge, honour, and respect him as the best there’s been (though we should also begin to make room for Shohei Ohtani to redefine baseball greatness over the next few years).