While the Padres and Dodgers are well underway at Chavez Ravine as part of MLB’s celebration of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line 60 years ago, the Giants and Pirates were rained out earlier today in Pittsburgh, thus costing the Sultan Of Surly a chance to pay homage to Robinson. Something tells me Page 2’s Jeff Pearlman (author of “Love Me, Hate Me : Barry Bonds And The Making of An Anti-Hero”) doesn’t mind one bit.
As announced last week, the San Francisco slugger plans on celebrating the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s big league debut by joining other active players in wearing No. 42. “I’m proud to do this,” Bonds told MLB.com’s Barry Bloom. “There’s no person who was more important to the African-American cause in baseball history than Jackie Robinson. He paved the way for Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, everybody. You just can’t underestimate the impact Jackie had on this game.”
Though Bonds’ words are righteous (Bloom, his personal stenographer, would allow nothing less), his gesture is as authentic as a Sidd Finch heater. Now in his 22nd major league season, Bonds’ track record in areas of race and sports is, to be polite, abysmal. Here is a man who, according to infinite associates and peers, has rarely — if ever — gone out of his way to assist a rookie African-American teammate trying to find his way; who sees young black fans not as potential heirs to the game, but as autograph-seeking gnats to be insulted or dismissed. Four years ago, Bonds spit in the face of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum by ignoring an invitation to be presented with one of its Legacy Awards (taken aback by the public outcry, he finally visited four months later).
To his credit, Bonds once used his celebrity to influence a political campaign. To his discredit, the candidate he endorsed was former California governor Pete Wilson, an arch-conservative whose stances on minority issues were only slightly to the left of David Duke. In fact, Wilson seems something of a role model for the Bonds Guide to Honoring Dead Civil Rights Icons: In 1995, while promoting the “California Civil Rights Initiative,” a ballot measure that would ban all state affirmative action, Wilson routinely evoked the name (but not spirit) of Martin Luther King.
Of the countless transgressions that make Bonds the last man who should wear No. 42, the one that gets me — that really, really, really gets me — is the way he has treated his black baseball forefathers like Aaron not as legends to be honored, but as stepping stones in his own maligned assault on the record books.