Mike Greenberg (“Greenie”) of Mike and Mike in the Morning leads the new wave of the negative reaction thought and talk in relation to Barry Bonds. Managing this thought requires a false sense of empathy with Henry Aaron and a false projection of today’s society. Greenberg says he understands why Aaron doesn’t want to be in attendance when Bonds hits number 756. Greenberg thinks of “all Aaron went through” to break Babe Ruth’s record and how it must be difficult to watch his record broken by the villainous Bonds.
Greenie–an apropos baseball nickname if I’ve ever heard one–remembers what his father told him about Aaron’s pursuit of Ruth and how he was treated by a large segment of America. The stories must have included Aaron reviving bag filled with hate mail and perhaps daily death threats. They must have included the fear of seeing the two young male fans running onto the field as Aaron rounded second base and the thought of most black and many white Americans holding their collective breath, fearing Aaron might be physically assaulted. Greenberg knows Bowie Kuhn refused to consider showing up to witness a black man breaking the sacrosanct Ruth’s mark.
Make no mistake, the climate of hate over Henry Aaron in 1974 hung like humidity just before a Georgia thunderstorm.
This attempt at empathy for Aaron and “the times” of 1974 omits a very real truth: nothing has changed. This, poor Henry Aaron talk omits the stark and simple fact that Barry Bonds has received hate mail and death threats for about 17 years.
That’s right, folks–17 years.
Remember when the words, “Barry Bonds” and “slump” seemed to exclusively coincide with the baseball postseason? The public response to those slumps was hate mail and death threats. Remember when it was clear that Bonds was going to leave Pittsburgh, when the Pirates organization was not going to pony up the money to keep their superstar? The public response was hate mail and death threats.
On April 10 I wrote a commentary, “Hank Aaron Makes hating Barry Bonds Real.” The gist of the commentary is that Bud Selig and Aaron’s sporadic biting, low-brow remarks mixed with intermittent silence and refusal to–in Selig’s case, indecision–attend any game in which Bonds might break his record contributes to the hateful sentiment surrounding Bonds’ pursuit of the hallowed homerun mark. On April 23 I wrote, “Barry Bonds: A Step closer to Aaron, A Step Farther from America’s Hearts.” Selig and Aaron have, wittingly, heightened the anti-Bonds talk.
Think there’s not hate mail coming to Bonds now?
The times have changed, people–but not necessarily for the better. Aaron never had to deal with 24-hour sports programming and the Internet. Not only is there hate mail from the public, there are open hate letters and what amounts to hate speech about Bonds from the press. For a solid three years columnist Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury-News and the infamous San Francisco Chronicle duo of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams did their level best to nail Bonds to a cross, turn it upside-down and crucify him old school Roman style.
Those three “newsmen” opened the floodgates for other journalists to express their hate for all things Bonds. And they in turn acted as mentors for the hordes on the Internet to mimic rabid dogs biting a cornered Bonds to assuage the pain their culturally-poisoned brains.
So, who really has it worse, Bonds or Aaron? Forget the “self-inflicted” excuse with Bonds; the, ‘he’s always been surly with the press’ excuse, the ‘performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) innuendo’ excuse, the, ‘his teammates don’t like him (all 10 or 12 of them)’ lies. Aaron was never known as a nice guy to the press during his playing days. He was wary of the press and largely uncommunicative with the image makers from the sports writing world.
Today, there are new and improved methods of anti-Bond hate speech acting to add pressure to Bonds’ pursuit. They are: silence, the question of whether or not Aaron’s homerun mark can actually be viewed as a hallowed record, and the juxtaposition of the racism of 1974 and today’s world where, if you listen to the like of Greenberg, racism doesn’t seem to exist.
Many writers and fans are in the, “just turn your back” camp. You see spectators wearing tee-shirts with asterisks at San Francisco Giants away games. You hear the reporters on television shows like Mike Wise of the Washington Post saying he just doesn’t care about Bonds or what he does in relation to Aaron’s record.
The “hallowed mark” question was raised in huge bold print on the front of today’s San Diego Union-Tribune’s sports page. The thought here is that if we must pay attention to Bonds, we will diminish the record and therefore render Bonds’ efforts inconsequential.
Finally, there’s the Greenberg tack. It’s the false comparison that makes Henry Aaron forever a hero and civil right freedom fighter in the face of tens of thousands of hood-wearing fans in seats at every game in which the “Hammer” played.
And if you believe Greenberg and those other journalists and Internet scribes like him, Bonds comes from privilege and riches where racism doesn’t exist. If you believe Greenberg and his ilk, black men don’t get pulled over by the police just because they drive a nice car and the police aren’t alleged to brag to their peers that they’ll pull over a certain athlete the first chance they get.
This is not the today where today the Supreme Court has the temerity to use the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education anti-segregation ruling to, in essence, once again allow segregation in public schools. This is not the today where the “trouble rate” of NFL players is but 2%, but 39 black faces are splashed across the front page of USA Today as if they are representative the entire American sports universe.
This is an environment so bizarre that the vast majority of black–and some white professional athletes live in such fear of recrimination by league commissioners, the press, the Internet hounds, and fans in general, that they too are asking for crackdowns on that 2%–just so the pressure can be eased on the majority 98%. That, is racism in sports at its finest.
Oh, what a wonderful world in which Greenie and Barry live.