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For Bonds (and Lance)- Credibility- not Records- is at Stake

With the return of Barry Bonds to a hopeless lineup, and the comeback of Lance Armstrong to a competition-less race, we as fans are desperate for answers. We are trained to believe that legends will ride off into the glorious sunset, and that there is no greater stage than the ones in our memory, on SportsCentury, or in the catalogues of the written recollection. But this isn’t anything like that. Bonds and Armstrong, two unrivaled dominators of their respective sports, are back in their games primarily to restore their credibility and move past an ambiguous past.Frankly, we’ve never seen this in sports before–an athlete performing for more than just statistics or records or team. While Barry Bonds may say he’s back to help the club, he really, truly, isn’t. The Giants are floundering in a very sub-par division, five games back from San Diego, and 12 games under .500. Having Bonds back for 15 games will do little beyond selling a few more tickets. For Lance, team USPS was never more than a semi-formidable security force for The Man–his return has as much to do with “the team” as Terrell Owens has to do now with the 49ers.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Barry Bonds has a homerun record to break. He is within a full season’s range of Hank Aaron and the most fabled achievement in all of sports. But Barry shouldn’t be back, you and I know it. His knee injury was the perfect excuse for him to get out of baseball, run away from the rumors and the speculations, the court of public opinion, and the belief that his achievements went no farther than a clear cream and a personal trainer. His image to the American public is at a historic low–a John Rocker-Daryl Strawberry-Pete Rose low–a low that no man should ever have to endure. He got a standing ovation in San Francisco, but off the bay he is downright despised.
    While the case may be slightly different for Armstrong, his precedent is the same. He will ride again to win, if only to prove all the doubters (French or otherwise) wrong. Barry is back in the batter’s box to show that he can hit homeruns in a post-steroid era. It is as simple as that. What do you get a man who has everything? Well, unless he has credibility, he really doesn’t have anything.
    I believe that in order to be a professional athlete you need abnormally more bite than bark; you need to be a competitive freak. Complacency may work for some (namely Manny Ramirez) but the competitive nature of a great majority is uncharacteristically–and abnormally–extreme. Lance is at the top of this chart, he simply could not let the French people push him around and throw accusations in his face without proving them wrong. Barry is their too, more than we give him credit for–he wants his name at the head of every record in baseball. But I think competition is a secondary issue here, unless you’re considering that they are playing to win us fans back. They will not take “no” for an answer. That is, unless, they can’t win.
    This is not a question about whom do you believe; the longer we see either of these two athletes out there competing the easier it will be to distinguish. These are two of the world’s finest superstars and role models, reduced to proving their abilities in sports they once dominated. They are back in the minor leagues.
    So what does this mean for us–can we still see Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong as the same heroes we once took them for? America is a nation built on forgiving and forgetting, and often times we go from extremes much too quickly. If Barry Bonds hits a few homeruns, he could become the most-loved player in baseball. If Lance Armstrong wins another Tour, he will remain the most-adored athlete in the country. But what if they can’t? What will the American public immediately assume? Not that they’re too old–Lance past prime at 33, Barry at 41–or that they’re significantly marked and hated by competitors, or that maybe one of them is really injured or sick or whatever. Nope. We will automatically point to the X-factor: steroids. They’re careers were frauds. They’re records were tainted. Goodbye, immortality.
    Bonds and Armstrong are taking tremendous risks, unprecedented risks, in coming back to their sports. Credibility means so much to them that they are literally willing to gamble it all in order to save it. Before, they could get away with greatness–their greatness was far better than anyone else’s. But now they must retain that greatness, and seek perfection.
    In my opinion, this is a task that will ultimately fail: it is a lose-lose situation. We will root for Lance, but hold a hint of skepticism in the back of our minds, thinking “why is he here, why is he doing this? Maybe he believes the rumors himself”. There is simply no way he can reach the peak of adulation and respect he hit this summer, or the summer of ’99. He is doomed to become a TV icon who can’t seem to get out of TV, and whose respectability and command diminish with each new program he finds himself on.
    And we will watch Barry, a San Francisco Giant but an individual wimp, whose bat and glove made up where his charisma and charm were lacking, and we will only see him as a scam. His image as a person far outweighs his one as a player and that will be his doom. When he hits his 756th homerun, it seems, we’ll be amazed, but also, simultaneously be scowling.
 “I never liked you Barry,” we’ll growl. “You may not be on steroids, but what’s the deal with the recliner?”

One reply on “For Bonds (and Lance)- Credibility- not Records- is at Stake”

comment GREAT article. I really liked it. The only problems i  found were a couple times you used “there” wrong. Once you said “their” instead of “there”, and twice you said “they’re” instead of “their”. Otherwise, this is a really good article. In my opinion, Bonds should have retired after last year (I will be upset when he breaks Ruth and Aaron’s home run records for two reasons: 1. he cheated, when Ruth and Aaron’s records are legitimate, 2. Pete Rose won’t be in the Hall of Fame for BETTING on baseball, when Bonds actually did something to alter his body to peform better, and he will be a first-ballot HOFer). Also, I think it’s time for Lance to step down, just lay low. I think I read that the rumors of him coming back were untrue recently.

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