"Barry Who?"

May 08, 2006
May 08, 2006

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May 8, 2006

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Life of Reilly

"Barry Who?"

A dispatch from beyond reveals that Babe Ruth isn't losing any sleep over seeing his home run mark eclipsed by the joyless Giant

I talked with LouGehrig the other day. Ran into him at the barbershop. Roger Maris was in thechair, getting another one of those flattops. Busy day--Elvis was waiting, thenAlbert Einstein, then Lou, then me. Old Number 4 was reading an old copy of thePolice Gazette when I came in, but he put it down and asked me the questioneveryone seems to be asking.

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"So what doyou think about Barry Bonds hitting 715?" he said.

I told him what Itell everyone: I'm trying to be nice.

"It's adifferent time, a different situation," I said. "It's a different game.How's that sound?"

I know thatLou--and everyone else--wants me to talk about the steroids, the allegations ofcheating. I'm not going to do it. I never talked bad in the press during myplaying career about any other player, teammate or opposition, and I'm notgoing to start now. Not even about the most-disliked player I've seen inbaseball since Chick Gandil and the rest of those 1919 Black Sox. It's likeClarence Darrow said when I saw him at the supermarket, "Babe, you don'twant to get wrapped up in this steroid mess. Let the lawyers handleit."

I will say that Iinvented the four-ply wallop, the dinger, the dong, the circuit smash. If itweren't for me, Barry Bonds wouldn't have had a road to follow. Wouldn't havehad the temptation to do bad things, either. Nobody would.

I was not only thebest at what I did in this home run department; I was the first at what I did.I was the Vasco da Gama of home runs. I was the Charles Lindbergh. (I saw himjust last week at the dry cleaners. Looked pretty good, Lucky Lindy did.)Before me, a home run was just a long fly ball. I captured people'simaginations in a way Barry never could, never will. From the time I hit myfirst professional home run--Providence Clamdiggers, 1914--straight into LakeOntario at Hanlan's Point Stadium in Toronto, I showed the excitement, themajesty, the uninhibited happiness of watching a baseball leave the boundariesof a simple game and land in real life, crashing through plate glass windows,clanging off facades, knocking over beers and landing once--Washington, D.C.,1918--in a victory garden next to the turnips. That one was off Walter Johnson,too.

My nutritionalsupplements were hot dogs and a pint of lager. My drug of choice wasbicarbonate of soda. My personal trainer--and, yeah, I had one, a guy namedArtie McGovern, who also worked with John Philip Sousa and some titans of WallStreet--had me doing jumping jacks and push-ups. That was it. I was natural. Myscouting reports were in my head, not in some computer or video vault.

These modernsluggers--not so much Roger or Hammerin' Hank Aaron, but the rest of them,especially Barry--seem artificial to me. Legally or illegally, they seemconstructed in a fitness lab, tinkered and tweaked, outsized bodies puttogether by scientists and mechanics. Their ballplaying seems to be allbusiness. They have helpers, coaches, stats men, nutritionists, psychologists,personal assistants. Where is the music, everyone doing the Charleston in thebackground? Where is the fun?

Does Barry eversmile except when he's making a commercial? He walks to the plate like he'staking out the trash. Every game seems like an imposition.

Myself, I grabbedlife by the ears and took it dancing. I stayed up late and got up early and wasnice to dogs and children and young ladies. Especially young ladies. Forget thehome runs, I'd like to see Barry try to follow that pace. Baseball andeverything around it were a joy and a wonder for me and I just kept swingingand some of those balls I hit are still traveling, kept in the air byconversation and lore, myth and romance. Will Barry be able to say that?

"You wereLucky Lindy," Gehrig said to me as he settled into the big chair to get hisears lowered. "These other guys, especially Barry, they're Steve Fossett orthat Richard Branson character, spending money to buy records that don't reallymatter much."

I don't know muchabout those two fellas, Fossett and Branson, but I have to agree. No one cantake away what I did. I forever am the Sultan of Swat. I also am the Caliph ofClout, the Wizard of Whack, the Wazir of Wham, the Mammoth of Maul, theMaharajah of Mash, the Prince of Pounders, the Behemoth of Bash. I am theColossus. I am the Bambino, the Bam, the Big Bam. I am the Babe.

Barry Bonds is,well, Barry Bonds. Enough said.

> LeighMontville is the author of The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,published this week by Doubleday.

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"This is the perfect time [to retire]. I don't wantto die in a stadium parking lot."  --KEITH JACKSON, FOR THE RECORD,PAGE 20