It was fascinating to watch Barry Bonds in the first five or so years of the 21st Century. Forgetting for a minute about steroids, and hat sizes, and all those questions, focus for a moment on his quest to best Babe Ruth. He seems, at least to me, to have had a greater desire to top Ruth than he did to top Aaron. He might tell you different, but that’s at least my perception. Well, it was never in the cards for him to best Ruth, because he wasn’t taking on one man, he was taking on two: Babe Ruth and BABE RUTH!!!!! (to be said in deep stentorian tones, with awe, slowly, and deeply–Think James Earl Jones on a really good day).
Babe Ruth the baseball player was easy for Bonds to take on. There were numbers he could attack. There were 714 home runs, there was a slugging percentage, there were walks, there were runs, there were total bases. There were all those numbers and Bonds could attack them and either win or lose. You can take the two men, line their numbers up side by side and decide it Bonds came out on top. You can do that with or without the steroids issue as you desire and make your own conclusion.
But Bonds could never top BABE RUTH!!!!! (said in the same tones as before). You see BABE RUTH!!!!! (James Earl Jones again) isn’t a person, he’s a myth and you can’t top myths. He is Seigfried slaying Fafnir. He is Achilles at the gates of Troy. He is standing at home plate in the World Series pointing to center field and parking the next pitch there. He is able to tell a sick kid he’ll hit a home run for the kid the that day and then do so. BABE RUTH!!!!! ( for a change, imagine Charlton Heston’s voice here) can hit a home run in Alabama that stops in Louisiana. He can walk into a school and order the principal to shut it down so kids can play ball and the principal will do it. He can play in the first All Star Game and manage to hit the first home run. When the Japanese in World War II want to ridicule Americans it is “Screw Babe Ruth” not FDR. He will sign autographs for kids for hours after a game, free of charge. He can stay up all night with four hookers, down a fifth of gin for breakfast, show up at the ballpark a half hour before the game, wolf down three hotdogs all in one bite, then hit three home runs on two pitches. He can step into a ward full of paralized children and three of them will “take up their bed and walk” (well, maybe not walk, but at least wiggle their toes). In an age of heroes there is Red Grange and Charles Lindburgh and Jack Dempsey, and then there is (drum roll please) BABE RUTH!!!!! and he is greater than all of them combined. He is all these things and more. Heck, they even make movies about his life. He is (say it with me now) BABE RUTH!!!!! and he is next to God himself and in some corners the order is debatable.
And Barry Bonds, well, no matter how good he was he was never going to be BABE RUTH!!!!! (by now you’re getting the hang of how to say this, right?). Bonds wasn’t legendary, he was a ballplayer. They have a word to describe a larger-than-life feat in American sport, not just in baseball. It’s Ruthian. It was never going to become Bondsian. And Bonds never seemed to understand that he might be a heck of a ballplayer (and he was) but he could never be (get ready for it) BABE RUTH!!!!! in any tone of voice.