Marty Lurie Talks San Francisco Giants Baseball

Bonds versus Board of Education

Rick Kaplan
Staff Writer

OAKLAND (April 29) – Barry Bonds has more money, fame, and home runs than any of us can even dream of. He is a baseball legend who owns seven MVP awards. He is feared as a slugger like no other, and included by most observers among the top five players of all time.

Yet, he is apparently hated as a person.

By the same fans and experts that acknowledges his greatness as a player.

Why? Because he used steroids? Because he lied to a grand jury? Because he is surly and uncommunicative? Because he is on the verge of shattering sacred home run run records with the help of performance-enhancing substances?

Click below for more!In 1998, Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs, breaking Roger Maris’ single season mark of 61. A totally one-dimensional player who had lost all mobility due to his new-found bulk and universally advertised use of the steroid androstenedione, Big Mac was warmly embraced by virtually the whole world in his quest to surpass Maris.

Even Maris’ family was cast in a sappy supporting role in the post-players’ strike “Saving Baseball” soap opera that played during the 1998 season, as the race-to-the-record, between McGwire and smiling Sammy Sosa, barnstormed across the nation. And then, after hugging the Maris family on national TV, Mac endeared himself further, with the help of a sympathetic media, by telling the nation’s children not to use Andro like he had. Eventually, he lied to Congress about his involvement with illegal substances, and was allowed to fade away, record intact.

Big Mac was coddled and embraced.

Barry is being chased by a lynch mob.

Why? Do you really think it’s because Barry “isn’t a good person,” to use a phrase being floated by the media, or that we really know what kind of person he is?

In 1954 the United States Supreme Court ruled, in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education, that the prevailing standard of allowing ‘separate but equal’ facilities, i.e. segregated schools, was not in agreement with the 14th amendment and the doctrine of equal protection for all citizens under the law.

The impact of the ruling went far beyond the schools. Essentially, it was saying that Jim Crow, the apartheid social system of separate facilities and unequal opportunities for the races in the United States, was now illegal.

Yet, more than fifty years later, we are still struggling to come to terms with that idea.

It’s a feeling of a broader implication that you get the more this thing unfolds. Like in the Brown decision, where a single family in Topeka brought their grievance to a court and precipitated an issue which affected and still affects the history of a whole country, it’s a feeling that this is way bigger than Barry Bonds or baseball.

I am not a Barry Bonds ‘fan,’ and I have no use for steroids or HGH. But what is being done to him, and to all of us, regardless of our ‘race,’ makes me sick.

It’s the same feeling that many african-americans had about the prosecution of O.J., that the attack on him was really an attack on the credibility and image of all black people, thus inciting them to ‘defend’ Simpson, even as most of these very O.J.-defenders probably thought he was guilty.

And it took me a while to get it.

In public and private conversation these days, Bonds isn’t just a user of steroids any more – which, by the way, was not against MLB rules at the time he was alleged to have done so.

No, it goes well beyond steroids, or perjury. Even as Jason Giambi has resumed hitting unnaturally long home runs to the cheers of the New York media, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have been allowed to retreat to quietly rehabbing their bruised images, Bonds has now been singularly targeted as “a bad person,” “a cheat,” “a liar,” and an unfaithful husband, according to the media who are seeking to vilify him.

That’s why my view of this whole thing has changed.

At one point I believed this really was about things like “protecting the record” and insuring “a level playing field.”

Now I realize there is a much more important agenda than that.

And that Barry Bonds is a pawn. And that his demeanor and anger make him a better target.

It’s something you can’t always put into words, but it’s there just the same. And it is that feeling that people who have lived outside the dominant culture, such as most african-americans, know all about, even as many caucasians refuse to recognize it’s continued, stubborn reality.

It’s the way we live in the United States. Different groups and types are treated differently here. Double standards are the bedrock of our culture. And if you can’t see that it is probably because it has never happened to you or your loved ones, or, more regrettably, you don’t care.

As Monte Poole clearly stated in the Oakland Tribune recently, a defiant (non-submissive) black man is asking for trouble. To go a little further, and beyond baseball to where the heart of this whole Barry Bonds Affair really lies, there are forces in our culture that want to make sure that this defiance is never allowed to see the light of day. That is what makes discrediting and vilifying Barry Bonds so important, rather than Bud Selig’s baloney about protecting Henry Aaron’s record.

That is why this is taking on the character of a racist witch hunt. The story line about the “sanctity” of Hank Aaron’s home run record is a smoke screen.

I worshiped Mickey Mantle as a kid. But I didn’t understand that my loyalty to him was as much a product of a segregated culture as it was my own “choice.” Maybe the following account from my youth as a Yankee fan will illustrate what I mean.

It was September 19, 1968 in Detroit. The Tigers had already clinched first place. Leading 6-1 in the top of the eighth, the Tigers’ Denny McClain, on his way to a 31-6, MVP, and Cy Young Award season, winked at the left-handed hitter about to step into the batters’ box.

Mickey Mantle motioned with his hand just below the “New York” letters on his gray visitors uniform top, as if to say, “Throw it here.” McClain looked in with a wry smile and went into his windup.

Mantle swung at the first pitch, a belt high batting practice fastball, and sent it soaring into the right field stands at Detroit’s historic Briggs Stadium.

The home run, the 535th and next-to-last of the Mick’s illustrious career, was a gift from McClain. The same mercurial Denny McClain who shortly afterward began acquiring an endless rap sheet of felonies, including loan sharking, racketeering, and drug trafficking, the notoriety of which ultimately surpassed even the distinction of his two consecutive Cy Young awards.

Mickey was his friend, and cheating was the least he could do for the aging superstar. After all, they were members of the same big league fraternity, and you know how those things are. That was just good ol’ baseball etiquette.

Besides, gambling was his real passion, and throwing a fat pitch now and then was something he had no qualms about.

The hometown crowd cheered wildly for the future Hall of Famer as he circled the bases for what would be the last time in Detroit. Racked by injuries, alcohol, and neglect of his health, everyone knew this was the Commerce Comet’s farewell lap in the Motor City.

And everyone at the ballpark that day, and throughout baseball, embraced Mantle. He was, after all a good ol’ boy, maybe even THE goodest ol’ boy of them all.

It didn’t matter to the players or the writers that he was a drunk who regularly went out on the field loaded. Or that he was an emotionally and physically absent parent, who treated his wife with casual indifference, at best, while he cavorted with women in every city in the American League.

After all, he was blond and white. He had great, folksy stories, and a manner that put others at ease.

He was the All-American boy and King of the Yankees.

As such, he would be understood, embraced, protected, lied for, anointed and enshrined. It had a feeling of a royal lineage on the Yankees, a direct and unbroken descendancy from Ruth to DiMaggio to Mantle.

But, then, somehow, when Mickey was gone, they skipped over Reggie Jackson, who was hispanic/african, and the crown ‘King of the Yankees’ was inherited by Donnie Baseball himself, Don Mattingly.

Yeah, sure, Reggie was a great player and a great Yankee. But he had a “bad attitude.” He got in fights with Billy Martin and bragged too much. It doesn’t matter that he was probably the greatest clutch hitter in the history of baseball. He just wasn’t royalty.

And then there was Willie Mays of the New York Giants, across the river over in Harlem (and who happens to be Barry Bonds godfather). And, as hard as it was for me to admit it, the rightful heir to the throne of New York baseball.

He was clearly a better player than Mantle. But he had that “chip on his shoulder” too, which the media always made sure was part of the story. In the end, he was exiled to SF, with the rest of the Giants, to live out his days in the purgatory of Candlestick, and to endure even more racist exclusion. And whenever he would be interviewed he always seemed to be sulking and kind of whiny. Sour grapes, I must have thought.

What is it with these black players. Why are they so ornery? I wonder.

Now it’s Barry’s turn. There is this thing that pervades his story that he “isn’t a good guy.”

Maybe not. But has every white star been a good guy? Are U.S. born black players the only problem children in baseball?

When Norm Cash, a tobacco chewin’ country boy, revealed years later that he had won the batting title in 1961 with a corked bat and a .363 average, it was a quaint matter of ‘that character Cash. He’s so funny.’

By the way, that funny guy killed himself when he allegedly fell off a boat in a drunken stupor

Graig Nettles, a Southern Cal surfer type, claimed a fan had given him his corked bat, and we all chuckled. And even Sammy Sosa got off light because he adopted a contrite manner after being caught with the cork.

But there was always a cloud over the image we had of Richie Allen, who was black, and one of the greatest hitters of the 60’s and ’70s, and that cloud was drawn there incessantly over the years by the media. It didn’t matter that Gene Mauch called him “the best team player I ever managed.”

Still, in the papers he was ‘lazy,’ ‘disruptive,’ ‘belligerent.’

Maybe he was surly. And maybe he was tired of the scrutiny and judgment reserved for players who didn’t “fit in,” and who stood up to racist harassment.

On the other hand, all you ever heard about the middle american Ryne Sandberg was that he was a ‘good guy’. I don’t know why. Maybe he sent out christmas cards or something. At one point I thought his middle name was Good Guy. He made it to the post-season exactly once. A good-but-not-great-player, he seemed to have a reservation-from-birth in Cooperstown.

And Bill James loves Ryno and his immaculate fielding percentage. Basically,he had great numbers because he couldn’t get to a ball in the hole, so he didn’t make any errors. Now he’s in the Hall of Fame, with his .285 lifetime BA.

But if you’re Al Oliver, or Tony Oliva, or Bill Madlock, all african-american and dangerous career .300 hitters, you were lacking ‘intangibles.’

Bill Mazeroski, white and friendly, was loaded with ‘intangibles,’ and a .260 lifetime BA. He hit one historic home run and could make a great pivot. Gee, now that’s a Hall of Fame career!

Then there was Albert Belle, one of the hardest working and scholarly players of the ’90s. But there was always that cloud, and who really knew why.

Today it’s Jose Guillen, Randall Simon, Frank Thomas, and Milton Bradley, to name a few of baseball’s new bad boys. And pretty soon, the way baseball ‘demographics’ for black youth are going, there won’t be many left.

To spell it out, sure there are the popular african-american players, the guys that seem to have some extra charm and radiance, the Dontrelles and the Tori Hunters. But the standards are different, just like fifty years ago. If you are black, you have to be better and nicer. Or they’ll start comparing you to Ron Artest (who happens to be a nice kid).

Can you think of a single white “bad guy” since Pete Rose? Dave Kingman, you said? See what I mean?

But let Preacher Roe and Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry brag about their cheating and spitballs and everyone is just tickled. How many black veterans have you seen on late night talk shows telling their drunken fraternity stories to an adoring national audience?

Maybe there is a reason why Barry Bonds is so sullen.


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