It should have been Griffey, if anyone. That's what I've been saying to myself in recent weeks as the 2006 baseball season draws nearer. The biggest storyline going in, of course, is Barry Bonds' pursuit of the all-time home run record. It's a given that Barry, with 708 career HRs, will surpass #2 Babe Ruth (714), but true baseball fans also appear resigned to seeing Barry displace Hank Aaron (755). You'll forgive me for rooting against Barry I hope, regardless of how futile my efforts may be.
Barry Bonds is just not the guy I want to see holding what is perhaps the greatest individual accomplishment in American sports. He's a royal jerk. He admitted to a grand jury in 2003 that he took the steroids "cream" and "clear", though he says he did so "unknowingly". OK, fine, I've agreed with giving him the benefit of the doubt and calling him one of the greatest players of all time. But let's face the facts. In the first half of his career, as a home-run hitting speedster, Barry was a great player. But he became legendary through his power resurgence of the past six years, which began as he was a ripe old 35!
What's the explanation for the dominance of this second Barry? The answer might come from the upcoming book Game of Shadows by the reporters who broke the BALCO steroids scandal. The book alleges frequent, systematic use of steroids by Bonds since 1998. Read the length excerpt in Sports Illustrated here, or get the lowlights here. It's grotesque, fascinating reading, and it's virtually assured now that the primary topic of baseball conversation isn't going to be the Nats' new stadium or the exciting games being played in the World Baseball Classic.
Six or seven years ago, I anticipated seeing the home run record being broken by a star outfielder of the time. That player was Ken Griffey Jr., the greatest baseball player of the '90s. For the record, I calculated the HR totals of Griffey and Bonds at the end of the 2000 season. Bonds had 445 HRs, Griffey 438--with the former being 5 years older and having played 3 more seasons. Of course, since then injuries have derailed every one of Griffey's seasons, while Barry Bonds has (most likely) been injecting, swallowing, and rubbing. (Or, as Kornheiser puts it, "Bonds was taking all of Aisle 7 in the Rite-Aid!")
Good for Barry Bonds if he gets the record. I'll be watching, but I won't be cheering.