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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Mike Bacsik

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

The moment called for perspective, but Hank Aaron was not there to give it. The moment called for grace, but Bud Selig was not around to offer it. The moment called for humility, but Barry Bonds was not willing to provide it.

And so, the moment that threatened to damage baseball forever had to be saved by a little-known pitcher for the Washington Nationals named Mike Bacsik. Yes, the man who gave up home run No. 756 is also the man who made it just a little bit tolerable.

As Bacsik stood on the mound at AT&T Park on Aug. 7 -- the historic home-run ball leaving a vapor trail over his head -- he had three options. He could slink away like Selig. He could pout like Bonds. Or he could give baseball the levity it really needed.

"Well," Bacsik said, "If I didn't give up this home run, nobody would ever remember me." Then he did what Bonds never could. He laughed at himself.

Just like that, the new home-run king was upstaged by a journeyman. While Bonds was the usual portrait of self-congratulation -- pounding his chest, pointing to the sky, wearing a T-shirt with his own image -- Bacsik was pure self-deprecation.

"I always dreamed about this as a kid," Bacsik said. "But when I dreamed of it, I thought I would be the one hitting the home run."

Whether or not Bonds's home-run totals are steroid-enhanced, Bacsik's joy was genuine. He talked wishfully about someday appearing at baseball card shows with Al Downing, the former Dodgers' pitcher who gave up No. 715 to Aaron.

"I'm really excited," Bacsik said. "I'm part of history now."

Bacsik became the best ambassador that baseball could have sent to AT&T Park. After the home run, he tipped his cap to Bonds. And after he was removed from the game, he went to the Giants' clubhouse to congratulate Bonds in person. Also inside were Willie McCovey and Willie Mays. "I did not belong in that room," Bacsik said.

To the contrary, baseball needed him in that room, in that stadium, on that night. For all sorts of reasons, Bonds is not the ideal home-run king. But Bacsik was the ideal foil. He turned a point of humiliation into a point of pride, and turned himself from a No. 5 starter into the Sportsman of the Year.

When his duty was done, he left the ballpark, met up with a childhood friend, and hit the bars in San Francisco. And he drank for free.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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