Sunday, August 05, 2007

For the Record: Barry Bonds vs. the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Barry BondsAdmittedly (by this writer, not those indicted), the last few weeks in sports have not left a very positive taste. This is not to be confused with a positive test, for nearly half of the riders of the Tour de France were kicked out of the famed bicycle race for using banned substances while NBA Ref Tim Donaghy was bounced out of professional basketball for gambling and throwing games, and NFL superstar quarterback Michael Vick is not being allowed to throw passes this season pending the outcome on his trial for involvement in organized dog fights. And, of course, Barry Bonds, implicated in steroid use from everyone from his (former) supplier to his (ex) girlfriend, hit his 755th homer last night to tie Hank Aaron's record ...

As far as Barry is concerned, barring an act of God, Mr. Bonds will soon have the all-time home run record, one of the most coveted in baseball if not all of sports, all to himself. And this makes people mad. You see, Bonds is, according to many sources and much circumstantial evidence such as action-figure muscles and a swelled head (the literal kind that is), a big-time steroid user, not to mention a huge jerk. In other words, not a very good role model. So according to conventional sports-talk "wisdom," we should take the record away from him (by putting an asterisk as big as his muscle-bound noggin next to it) and definitely not let him in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite the fact Barry is perhaps the greatest hitter of all time.

Here is my problem with this logic. First of all, Barry has never been found guilty by a grand jury of cheating, so at least we owe him a trial. Secondly, baseball is at least partially to blame for the drug scandal, for in being the last big time sports to not only test players for steroids but in many cases, even ban their use (indeed the steroid-laced performance enhancers Mark McGwire used during the great 1998 home run race were then still legal in Major League Baseball), the front office gave their players their tacit approval to use them. And finally, if we were really going to weed the immoral immortals out of the Hall of Fame, half of Cooperstown would be forced to fly the coop. Mickey Mantle practically drank himself to death and played many a day game with a huge hangover, while Willie Mays (as did many major leaguers in the 60s) frequently used amphetamines and chased down many a ball while on "Speed." And Ty Cobb? He not only sharpened his spikes before games to literally cut down opponents as he slid into the bases, but was also one of the biggest racists our country has ever known. In other words, he not only played "dirty," but was even a bigger jerk than Bonds—or Pete Rose, the great "hustler" on and off the field who broke Cobbs' all time hit record but because he bet on baseball still isn't in the Hall of Fame either.

As for myself, I think we have to learn to distinguish between the accomplishment and the character, the "feat" and the feet. Even St. Paul implies (in 1 Cor. 9:24-27) that there is something admirable in athletic discipline in and of itself for it is a foreshadowing of the heroic virtue spiritual discipline brings. If one discipline leads to the other, all the better (I don't mean THAT kind of betting Mr. Rose!) but there is still something God-given in the achievement that makes both the moment remarkable and the person responsible divinely reformable. To me, watching athletic records being broken by rogue players is sort of like receiving the Eucharist from an immoral priest. Okay, in Bonds' case, it is more like hearing mass from a dissident bishop and then receiving the host from an extraordinary minister in mini-skirt and halter top, but the point is still that if the priest did pronounce the Eucharistic Prayers correctly, the bread and wine still becomes the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, I am all the more thankful, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, for the records made at the University of Notre Dame, a place whose shrines (like the Grotto, which was dedicated on this date in 1896) are to Our Lady, whose prayers help to keep the athletic pursuits of the Fighting Irish pure.

As for Mr. Bonds, put him as well as Mr. Rose in the Hall, but in a new "purgatory wing" next to the notorious Cobb. No doubt the bust of the black-hating Georgian will soon bait the giant-headed marble Giant into a fight, with Pete placing bets on the eventual winner. On the other hand, with Babe Ruth, the first home run king and famed womanizer who DID return to the Catholic faith, praying for their conversion in that Field of Dreams we call heaven, one never knows what the final fate of "The Record" (or record-holder) will be.


James H said...

Not sure If my post went throught i got knocked outline right when I hit submit

Anyway as I said good post and nice comparison.

Pristinus Sapienter said...

First, I believe frankly that watching sports is so far inferior to playing them; I just cannot . . . which leads me to wonder if spectators put too much emphasis (glory?) into sports.

A-Rod is going to pump Bonds' record into the deep seats soon enough. Yet, of course, A-Rod's questionable behavior drives his wife into unseemly t-shirts, I hear . . .

One admiration any can pay the Fighting Irish athletes is that their coaches are nearly unexcelled for requiring manly, Marian behavior. How many even non-Catholic athletes have found the needed humility to honorable and productive teamwork visiting the Grotto with coaches and teammates?

This is the Lady who raised Touchdown Jesus!

Tom O'Toole said...

James H - Thanks for the positive feedback on my website. Please check out In Defense of Notre Dame
and The Suffering Irish before rushing to ND judgement. And keep fighting the good fight!
God's grace & Mary's prayers, Tom

p.s. The Irish would have loved to have had Mr. Russell and several of the athletes who crushed us in January, but they couldn't make the grades for Notre Dame, so we have to settle for intellectual mashers!

Tom O'Toole said...

Pristinus, Yes, there is too much emphasis on spectating --- except the Irish of course. That IS allowed, pending praying the Rosary at Halftime.