Jan 212007

The other night I went to the Luc Robitaille jersey retirement game at Staples Center. It was a great evening acknowledging the achievements of a wonderful player, and, more importantly, a complete class act. Number retirement is one of the two highest honors that can be bestowed on a team-sport professional athlete; the other, induction into his sport’s Hall of Fame, surely awaits Robitaille in his first year of eligibility.

Two players who also exhibited excellence both on and off the field were just elected into baseball’s elite Hall of Fame club–Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., both in their first year of eligibility. Notably missing from that collection was Mark McGwire, whose Hall of Fame numbers have been tainted by the suspicion of steroids.

Who wants to bet that, other than McGwire, no one is more upset about Big Mac’s exclusion than Barry Bonds? If the suspicion of steroids is enough to exclude McGwire, whose numbers are undoubtedly Hall of Fame caliber and who was well-liked by both fans and the media, what does that say about Barry Bonds’s chances for induction? Bonds, who never met a performance-enhanching drug he didn’t like, is generally despised by both fans and media everywhere except in San Francisco. The guy is the epitome of a non-class act, selling out his teammates (perhaps even falsely) to try to save his own skin.

Bonds likes to play the victim, but McGwire’s exclusion is going to make any whining if Bonds isn’t elected seem even more petty than his usual complaints. It also completely invalidates any attempts by Bonds to cry racism, an old standby in his bag of tricks.

Sure, McGwire may still be elected. It was only his first year of eligibility. But the baseball writers have spoken. Barry Bonds beware. If only something can prevent him from breaking Henry Aaron’s home run record. Hammerin’ Hank was a class act all the way. And he was victimized in ways Bonds can’t even imagine.