Pitch to Barry
So we go now to San Francisco to face Barry Bonds and a bunch of other guys who all wear the same uniform as Barry Bonds, and that's pretty much all you know about them.
It's kind of sad. Other teams, you know more about in general because there isn't some kind of mega-superstar looming over the whole group of players. In San Francisco, however, there appears to be Barry, and not-Barry, and never the twain shall meet.
Things are jumping out in Frisco:
You could have purchased a pair of lower box seats for $58 to watch the Giants play the Toronto Blue Jays in a sun-washed game Thursday. The same seats are being offered tonight for $715 a pair on the Giants' "Double Play" Web site, where the team's season-ticket owners can unload their holdings.
What's the difference? The Blue Jays are not the Boston Red Sox and never will be. The Blue Jays and the Tampa Bays of the world are among what former Boston Globe political writer Martin Nolan calls "the 20 to 25 baseball teams nobody cares about.'' The Red Sox are up there in the elite: the Cardinals, the Cubs, the Yankees, the Dodgers, the Giants.
They come with a mystique. In New England, following the Red Sox is almost a religion, almost a literary event, almost a Greek tragedy.
Thousands of expatriate Bostonians live in the Bay Area. Add to that the rarity of the meeting. Because the Giants and the Red Sox are in different leagues, they have not met in a game that counted since the World Series in 1912, the year the Titanic sank. It's like a taste test between very old bourbon and single-malt scotch.--(SFGate.com)
So which are we?
I would guess we're the bourbon.
Bonds, whose knowledge of baseball history had him humorously mocking a visitor stumbling to draw comparisons between Williams's feats with the Red Sox and those of the 39-year-old Giants slugger, said Boston is a place he would never call home.
"Boston is too racist for me,'' he said. "I couldn't play there.''
It is a judgment, he acknowledges, not derived of firsthand experience -- he missed the 1999 All-Star Game, played in Boston, because of an injury -- but on word-of-mouth.
"Only what guys have said," he said, "but that's been going on ever since my dad [Bobby] was playing baseball. I can't play like that. That's not for me, brother."
When it was suggested the racial climate has changed in Boston, Bonds demurred.
"It ain't changing," he said. "It ain't changing nowhere."
They built a tunnel to honor Ted Williams in Boston. What did he imagine would be built for him?
"Nothing, man," he said. "I'm black. They don't build stuff for blacks."
[U]nlike other athletes unwilling to offer opinions that deviate from the politically correct, Bonds professes not to care about the consequences of his remarks. To remind him, when he says that he will not be honored like Williams was, that outside of SBC Park, there is a statue of his godfather, is only to invite a derisive counterpoint.
"Muhammad Ali doesn't, though, and he's the greatest boxer of all time," Bonds said.
(Ground has been broken in Louisville for a Muhammad Ali Center, scheduled to open in 2005.)
"But who's the guy in Philadelphia? Is that Sylvester Stallone? Sly Stallone? Rocky?"
There is a statue of "Rocky," the cinematic boxer played by Stallone, at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
"But Muhammad Ali don't? Ha."
He similarly dismisses the argument that the once-controversial Ali has morphed into one of the world's most beloved athletes.
"We can count those on our hand," Bonds said. "You guys [whites] can't count those on your hand.
"I live in the real world, brother. That's all. I do the best I can in the real world. I ain't mad at it, but it's still the real world."
It's pretty disingenuous of Barry to say he isn't mad at what he terms "the real world" when he speaks so strongly about it, but any truly educated objection to what he's said pretty much ends there.
If you don't know Boston's racist history, you have some reading to do.
Here's a start:
The history goes back to before baseball was integrated. Oddly enough, the Red Sox held a tryout at Fenway Park for Jackie Robinson in April 1945. But with only management in the stands, someone yelled "Get those niggers off the field," according to a reporter who was there that day. Two years later, Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first black player of the 20th century to play in the major leagues.
In 1949, the Red Sox gave up the chance to sign future Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who would go on to hit more career home runs than all but one man before him and electrify crowds with his defensive play. As Juan Williams reports, "one of the team's scouts decided that it wasn't worth waiting through a stretch of rainy weather to scout any black player. That decision killed the possibility that Mays and Ted Williams might have played in the same outfield for the Red Sox." (NPR: "The Boston Red Sox and Racism")
Of course, it's not exactly fair for the sins of the fathers (the previous generations of owners and fans) to be visited on the current inhabitants of Fenway Park. But is the continued resentment understandable? Absolutely. And here's more news for you: Barry's not the only black ballplayer to harbor such an opinion of Boston.
So while the reaction in Beantown grows shriller by the second, I propose we simply calm down and face it: face the legacy of racial insult that has been called "the real curse".
Don't believe me? Well, you're entitled to your opinion (as is Barry Bonds, by the way). But for what it's worth, I'm in good company:
"For the Red Sox it didn't change until Dan Duquette took over in 1994," Bryant says. "And then you started to see some successes. Things began to change. The combination of Duquette and Mo Vaughn - their contributions began to push race a little further back. I think that their contributions allowed a little hope to exist."
Hope, of course, is a cronic condition for Red Sox fans. But that's the price of history, according to Bryant.
"To have us talk about these other issues - not just today, but yesterday and the other day and 50 years ago and tomorrow - is the real price that the Red Sox have paid. And that's what they have to overcome."
Eighty-four years without a World Championship - and counting. (Greater Boston)
You want to reverse that curse? We have to be brave enough to name it first.