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Barry Bonds in historical perspective

This week's Chronicle of Higher Education has an piece worth reading by historian Warren Goldstein, on the simmering feud between Barry Bonds and his critics in baseball and the media. Goldstein sees an analogy between Bonds and the black superstars who were run out of sport in the 19th and 20th Century as racism became institutionalized in American society. The list, borrowing from William Rhoden's recent book, $40Million Dollar Slaves, includes IsaacMurhpy, a three time winner of the Kentucky Derby, Major Taylor, the top cyclist exiled to France, and boxer Jack Johnson. Since watching Ken Burns' documentary on Johnson a few years ago, I've viewed Bonds and Johnson as soul mates of a sort. So I am predisposed to both Goldstein and Rhoden's take on this.

Bonds plays in an era where overt racism is much diminished, and banishment akin to his predecessors seems unlikely. But he is caught front and center in the anti-drug witch-hunt, and he -- like just about every other player of his cohort -- is unapologetic. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if Bonds would not mind being immortalized in a manner similar to Murphy, Taylor, and Johnson. Just as Bud Selig and various members of the media shrink from celebrating Bond's pending achievement, it is likely that Bonds finds the prospect of sharing the moment with his detractors to be repulsive. For reasons both valid and perhaps a bit petulant, he'd rather figuratively hang with hishomies Murphy, Taylor, and Johnson. I can see his point: they're an accomplished group.

Warren Goldstein is the author of Playing for Keeps: A History of Early Baseball.

Update: I was not aware that Goldstein's essay at the Chronicle was gated. See the post above for a taste of his argument.

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Cross-posted at Only Baseball Matters, in honor of John Perricone's fifth anniversary as a blogger. John was an early and able defender of Barry Bonds, and one of the first sportsbloggers to take note of the wacky economist that was spouting off in this corner of cyberspace. Congratulations, John!