Houston Fans Jeer Bonds, Cheer Buzz-Ball
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Baseball fans packed Minute Maid Park in Houston for the Astros/Giants game last night hoping to see something extraordinary. And they did. But it wasn't Barry Bonds hitting a homerun that would tie Babe Ruth's second place spot on the all-time homerun list. No. What they saw and what many participated in was a sustained standing ovation when Bonds was hit by a pitch in the top of the 5th inning.
(Soundbite of baseball game)
NORRIS: Russ Springer was the Houston Astros pitcher who threw that fastball. He denies hitting Bonds on purpose, but the incident focuses new attention on Bonds's long pursuit of the homerun record and the public's view of a player plagued by steroids allegations.
To talk about all this, we're joined by Andrew Baggarly of the Oakland Tribune. He was at the stadium last night. Andrew, good to talk to you.
Mr. ANDREW BAGGARLY (Oakland Tribune): Hi, Michele. Good to talk with you.
NORRIS: So do I have this right? Before Bonds was actually struck on the shoulder by that pitch, he had to dodge 1, 2, 3, 4 pitches before that.
Mr. BAGGARLY: Yeah. There was one that was actually thrown behind him. And at that point home plate umpire Joe West issued a warning to both sides. And then Phil Garner, the Astros manager, was out for discussion about that. And then the next pitch was a slider that nipped his heels and then another one. And then another one inside that actually hit the knob of Bonds's bat, which according to the rules is a foul ball so that was a strike. And then the next pitch, actually, plunked him on the shoulder just below his helmet.
NORRIS: And we heard there a lot of noise in the stadium. Fans actually rose to their feet. Is it clear whether they were cheering for the pitcher, Russ Springer, or were they booing Barry Bonds?
Mr. BAGGARLY: On no. I think they were cheering for Springer, just as if he had hit Ken Lay or Skilling. Yeah, it's a, you know a lot of people come to the ballpark to boo Barry Bonds and then when he hits a homerun, they cheer him because, you know, now they have a ticket stub to show their friends down the street that they were there to see him hit his 714th homerun.
So people always want to link themselves up with history and say that they saw history even if they don't particularly like the history. But I'm sure that Barry is seen as a villain most places he goes. And for Russ Springer to come inside and hit him, I'm sure he was seen as sort of the conquering hero by the home folks.
NORRIS: Now as we said, Russ Springer denies this. He and Bonds have a bit of history. He's hit Bonds before. Last night, do we think that this was just aggressive pitching or multiple mistakes?
Mr. BAGGARLY: Well, it'd really be hard pressed to say that he was just trying to pitch inside. I mean it certainly looked like he was using Bonds as a pincushion. You know he did hit Bonds in his previous confrontation with him. That was in 2004. He hit him in the shin. But that was a two-year-old incident and maybe he just doesn't want to be part of 714 or maybe he just doesn't like Barry Bonds. But it was pretty obvious that he was throwing at him.
NORRIS: 714, meaning he doesn't want to match Babe Ruth's total.
Mr. BAGGARLY: Right.
NORRIS: Is the incident last night at Minute Maid Park a barometer of Bonds's popularity or lack of it?
Mr. BAGGARLY: Well I think that's probably fair to say. But I think if the same thing had happened two or three years, the fans probably would've responded the same way. So, you know, I think he probably doesn't have a very favorable impression with most of the country.
NORRIS: Is this a rather extraordinary moment in baseball history? Is this a Ty Cobb moment?
Mr. BAGGARLY: Oh, I don't know. I think it's an awkward moment, because baseball loves to celebrate their heroes. Baseball loves to market and celebrate the great accomplishments of players in the game. I mean, think back to when Cal Ripken set the all-time consecutive game streak back in 1995. I mean it was a joyous moment for the whole country. Or think of --
NORRIS: Two players who couldn't be more different.
Mr. BAGGARLY: Yeah. And they would love to celebrate this moment. They would love to get the whole country in it and have it captivate everyone and instead it's just awkward, because no one knows how to receive this. No one knows, you know, exactly if Bonds cheated, although certainly there's a ton of circumstantial evidence that he did.
So it really is an awkward time for Major League Baseball. And I'm sure everyone in the league office would just be happy if Barry, you know, just disappeared after this season and didn't make any further advancement toward Hank Aaron's all-time record.
NORRIS: Andrew, it was good to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Mr. BAGGARLY: Oh, you're welcome.
NORRIS: Andrew Baggarly is a sportswriter with the Oakland Tribune.