The Guardian’s Will Buckley observes the Sultan Of Surly, “has become a hate figure. Comparisons, as odious as they are otiose, are often made with OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson, despite neither double murder nor child molestation charges featuring on the baseball player’s CV.” To which I can only add, Buckley is rarely as good looking or insightful as when he’s bringing up Lance Armstrong’s name in relation to that of Bonds.
‘If he did it, hang him!’ the ESPN radio host John Seibel has said. ‘If Bonds breaks the home-run record, it will be like the OJ Simpson trial all over again,’ wrote Jemele Hill, one of few high-profile African American women sports journalists. The leader of the pack hounding Bonds is Sport Illustrated’s Rick Reilly, whose new book of his own personal favourite columns features one entitled ‘Bonds’s records should stay in the record books. With a little syringe next to every one’. Yet there have been no findings against Bonds.
While plugging his book “Hate Mail from Cheerleaders and Other Adventures from the Life of Reilly” last month, Rick Reilly started a campaign for ‘everyone in Denver not to watch this guy [Bonds] because what he did was wrong. He cheated to do this.’ The foreward to Reilly’s book is written by Lance Armstrong (above), another sportsman whose phenomenal achievements have been shrouded in suspicion. There the similarities end. While Bonds is cast out, Armstrong is a friend of Presidents. While Bonds is damned by the asterisk, Armstrong is feted. While Bonds is black, Armstrong is white.
If the men are different, so has been the approach to the problem of drugs by their sports. Baseball, having swept it under the carpet, now wishes the subject of drugs would quietly go away. Cycling has been indulging an orgy of recrimination and self-laceration.
The brute reality is that this year’s Tour will start with the man who took centre-stage on the podium last year currently engaged taking the stand wearing a yellow tie in a court-room in Malibu. A ridiculous state of affairs but perhaps no more ridiculous than fans at Fenway Park waving foam asterisks in anger at probably the best baseball player they have ever seen.
Not to jump on the Barry Hate Parade or anything, but Hideki Okajima’s retirement of Bonds yesterday in Boston’s 1-0 win over SF might’ve been one of the most exciting moments of the ’07 campaign. The Sultan was caught looking in the 8th inning with the tying and lead runs on first and second, and Okajima — crazily effective since giving up a HR on his first MLB pitch back on Opening Day — held the lead for countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka (7 IP, 8 K’s, 3 hits, 3 walks).