Looking back to the last time the baseball world stared at St. Louis while a home run record was in the process of being broken, the entire place was going bonkers.
Now as Barry Bonds and his merry men descend on St. Louis - maybe with Bud Selig, probably without - probably with ESPN's Pedro Gomez, hopefully without, the question is: Why is there a difference between the super-positive press that Mark McGwire received during his assault on Roger Maris' single season mark and the almost obligatory coverage and negative national reaction that Bonds is receiving?
To be blunt: We didn't find out until after he retired that, like Bonds is as an active player, that McGwire is both a jerk, and he was cheating.
McGwire had this town hooked pretty good, you'll have to admit. The team finished 83-79 that season (hmm, 83 wins in a season, that sounds familiar), and the house was packed every night. McGwire hit home runs when they gave out Big Macs, and he also hit one on Beanie Baby night. He was the toast of the town, and of the rest of the country. Remember, he ended up both in bed with Helen Hunt on Mad About You, and on the Simpsons, when Bart thought Major League Baseball was spying on Springfield.
McGwire, ever the charmer, said that he had to turn down President Bush's invitation to the State of the Union Address (because he was taping the Simpsons), and no one really had a problem with that.
He seemed like the kind of muscle-bound, good-natured, smart base running type of guy that you'd be happy if he was your brother-in-law, or your first baseman.
Then, three years after he retired, in tears, he changed everything by saying, "Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers 'No,' he simply will not be believed; if he answers 'Yes,' he risks public scorn and endless government investigations."
And who can forget this classic?
"I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about the subject. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself."
So while we welcome to town the person who did the same thing that McGwire did, break the single season home run record, just three years later in 2001, the only reason everybody isn't standing on their heads for Bonds is that we already know he's an over-pumped, deceitful, mediaunfriendly one dimensional (now) player.
Passing the magical age of 40, he has slowed down, and because of his peak physical condition (legal or not) he hasn't dropped completely off like most other players do. Nolan Ryan didn't, Roger Clemens hasn't, Rickey Henderson didn't, and hockey's Chris Chelios hasn't. All four of them are either in their halls of fame (Ryan), or headed there when they retire.
Now Bonds sits on the brink of passing one of the true gentlemen of not just baseball, but of all of sports, Henry Aaron. As much criticism and negative publicity Aaron received in the spring of 1974, it seems like we as baseball fans, and anti-Bonds fans, have (in the words of Mike Shan-non) shifted 360 degrees and are trying to hold on to the last days of Aaron's reign as home run king.
Although not a hall of fame voter (yet), there is no doubt in my mind that Barry Lamar Bonds is a no-doubt first ballot inductee into Cooperstown. As of the end of June, he's just 100 hits shy of 3,000. He will end up with closer to 800 home runs than 700. He's the only member of the 400-400 and 500-500 clubs. He has won seven Gold Gloves and seven NL MVPs. He is also one of those players that everybody: fans, teammates, opponents, and opposing managers, know how long it is until he bats. How important is a walk in the seventh inning? If it means that Bonds will bat in the 9th inning of a close game, it's very important. He's been that important since 1990.
Like Bonds plucking the regular season record from McGwire shortly after McGwire took it from Roger Maris, we can only hope for another player (see Rodriguez, Alex) can snatch the record before his name gets too associated with it.
Sure, Bonds does have that Richard Nixon during Watergate quality to him. Everybody else in the BALCO situation, from Greg Anderson and Victor Conti, to Jason Giambi and Marion Jones keep getting in trouble, while evidence mounts more and more against Bonds.
So this weekend, and next week in the All-Star Game, enjoy it if Bonds touches one off, and realize that synthetically speaking, he may be the best player we'll ever see. But with apologies to Jack Buck, pardon me if I don't stand or applaud.