Ray Ratto

Barry Bonds' number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy

Barry Bonds' number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy

Barry Bonds’ number retirement Saturday brings with it the usual rhetorical asterisks, most of them having to do with the one honorific he still doesn’t have and likely will never get.

But that is the Bondsian Paradox -- what do you get for the man who has everything except the thing he wants most?

The Giants have lavished him with awards specific to their franchise, as they should. He made a lot of people a lot of money in this town, and in a very cynical way that is the truest measuring stick of the modern world.

So with only one thing left to present him, the Giants have decided Saturday is the best day to retire the number 25, a number which, other than he and his father, has never brought much in the way of lasting memories to the franchise. Indeed, only one other Giant has worn that number for more than a decade, and that was Whitey Lockman while the team was still in New York.

So never mind the number. This is indeed about the name on the back, and how the organization’s gratitude for services rendered tends mostly to direct everyone’s attention to the elephant in the room.

The Hall of Fame.

Bonds has four years left in his quest before the task shifts to the far less forgiving Veterans Committee, which means that Saturday’s ceremony may be the highest level he reaches on the baseball honors list, as one of 199 players who have either had their numbers retired or initials commemorated in the pre-numeral days. For that reason alone, that may touch him in ways that it might not otherwise – that, and the fact that the Giants are re-acknowledging him for his contributions to the financial and reputational juggernaut that is this franchise.

(At this point, we take note of the fact that you may be shrieking “HGH!” at the top of your lungs in rebuttal, and you are certainly entitled to your righteous indignation; I just happen to have wearied of the argument. Hate him, like him, take little note of him, it matters not).

But Bonds’ path to the place he currently resides has been among the most tumultuous in modern sports/celebrity history, and he will be so regarded for the foreseeable future. As has always been true, his approval ratings diminish in concentric circles away from Third And King, and the nation seems less eager to reconsider his character than ever. He has been defined, probably for good, and barring different rules for Hall of Fame voting, so shall it remain.

Which is why his number retirement actually matters a bit more than the usual marketing ploy. The Giants can’t really immortalize him any more save a statue, which is almost certainly in the commissioning stage, or naming the field after him a la Rickey Henderson in Oakland, so this is probably the last stop for the Bonds honors train.

And he’s earned it all in the classically fiduciary definition of “earn.” The Giants are who they are in large part because of him, for good and ill, and while they cannot truly do enough to make up that debt, they may be out of ideas for how to do so.

Golf is Tiger Woods, and the PGA Championship on Sunday confirmed that

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Golf is Tiger Woods, and the PGA Championship on Sunday confirmed that

There are only 241 days of MegaTigerHype left until the 2019 Masters, which means 241 days for everyone on the PGA Tour to understand just how fully the sport they play.
 
They don’t play golf. They play Tiger. Put another way, America’s chosen prism reads Sunday’s PGA Championship as the day Brooks Koepka did well to almost match Woods, even though by the mathematics he actually beat him.
 
But you can’t hype Brooks Koepka, not yet. He is the younger Mike Trout still building his stage. Tiger is his own concert tour, and his own massive audience of golf fans, psychoanalysts and self-satisfied scolds.
 
And there is still big money in all those things.
 
It’s one thing to know something intellectually, of course – the old stove-is-hot lesson – but to see it and hear it is another thing. Golf is Tiger Woods, and the noise from Sunday confirmed that. Brooks Koepka is the new, young, not quite beloved Tiger, while Tiger is the avuncular, easier-mannered Nicklausian Tiger, and most of golfing America prefers what it’s used to seeing back in the good old days.
 
Tiger essentially did a medley of Tiger’s greatest hits on Sunday, and the album will sell millions. And after all, nobody breaks wallet locks quite like Tiger Woods.
 
Golf may be for the young athletically, but the audience is old and the audience wants to be told that what it believed 15 years ago is still true, no matter how youthfully the culture actually swings.
 
In that way, The Eldrick’s performance at the PGA Championship allows 40-Plus America to say, “See? See what I’ve been telling you?” And it also allows 20-Plus America to respond as it always does, by being in its room watching something else.
 
This, then, the real Tiger-ssance – the great instrument of change in golf getting his next star turn as the beating, money-churning heart of the establishment. He was the face of the next generation, but the next generation has been replaced by a new next generation, and that next generation has not yet decided what it feels about golf, let alone Brooks Koepka.
 
And let’s not forget that Tiger Woods was once a mightily polarizing figure himself, and that it took a decade of physical and emotional humbling for him to become the face of the good old days. Thus, at age 42, he has become not only a familiar face in new bloom, but an old and very familiar narrative point at the same time. He makes middle-aged people feel comfortable, which is the direct opposite of what he once did.
 
In short, Tiger Woods now understands the world’s infatuation with Jack Nicklaus when Woods was chasing his ghost. Not I-know-the-stove-is-hot intellectually, but in the most real way there is. Tiger Woods IS Jack Nicklaus, and that’s the weirdest sentence you will ever read 15 years ago.

Urban Meyer fast-forwarded Ohio State scandal into disgrace with statement

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Urban Meyer fast-forwarded Ohio State scandal into disgrace with statement

And in the end, as you knew it would, Urban Meyer’s odyssey of flexible morals would come to rest on one plinth – whether or not he would get his final $38 million.
 
Meyer, the spectacularly discredited Ohio State football coach, issued a statement today backtracking what he earlier said about the 2015 domestic assaults by the former assistant coach Zack Smith, with Meyer going from knowing nothing about the assaults by Smith upon his now ex-wife Courtney to knowing and “following the correct protocols.”
 
Smith himself then doubled down in an interview and said that athletic director Gene Smith knew about the 2015 assaults, which would seem to blow away all vestiges of plausible deniability inside the Ohio State athletic department.
 
But Meyer’s statement also was pegged to attack any attempt the university might make at firing him for cause, which could have invalidated the contract and leave the school shamed but $38 million (the total of outstanding money remaining on his contract) richer.
 
In other words, Courtney Smith’s beatings are now merely a staging ground for a fight over reputations and contract law.
 
Since Brett McMurphy broke the story last weekend on his Facebook page while being paid by ESPN (a hilarious tale of corporate America in its own right), Meyer has been reduced in stature again and again, and his response now is to fight back at the only enemy he has left – his employer. And now that Gene Smith is apparently involved, thus further dragging the university’s culpability into question, the university is going to come swinging back.
 
If this reminds you at least tangentially of another Big 10 school and another scandal made geometrically worse by corporate silence, you’re right there with everyone else. The silence is the connector between this and the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Paterno/Penn State pedophilia scandal, the refusal to act swiftly to do the right thing, that made everything so much worse.
 
But Courtney Smith didn’t stay silent, and her time came when McMurphy approached her to ask about the different violences she endured. She spoke up, she brought documentation, and McMurphy did the reporting. There was justice to be done, a blow to be struck against silence, and now we have the end product – a quick-burning fuse on a mountain of gelignite, with reputations and money to be won or lost.
 
And that’s the grim end-game that comes from protecting the guilty at the expense of the innocent. Domestic violence is a much more complicated (I hesitate to say “nuanced,” for there is no nuance in punching a pregnant woman) issue than can be solved by simple administrative solutions like firing.
 
But it will all be reduced, as it was at Penn State, into a fight over careers and contracts and a university’s reputation, with Courtney Smith reduced to a sidebar. It’s the same old narrative – follow the money and the power, and only mention the victim in passing.
 
At least Urban Meyer did us all a favor and fast-forwarded the story to its inevitable resting place – the one where nearly everyone ends up caked in disgrace.