The San Francisco-area baseball writers held their annual luncheon last week, with Bud Selig as their guest and keynote speaker.
The entree? Chicken, coming home to roost.
Take the dread that Hall of Fame voters felt when time came to decide on the fate of Mark McGwire this winter, triple it, and you'd get the dread the baseball world feels as Barry Bonds closes in on Hank Aaron's home run record this season. Pitchers and catchers report this week, but the usual breathless anticipation by baseball diehards is diluted by the gloom exhibited at every mention of the overtaking of the most hallowed record in sports.
Bonds' tainted trip toward history has long been assured of being the most unpleasant chase ever, below Roger Maris' chase of Babe Ruth, below Aaron's chase of Ruth, maybe below the Los Angeles cops' chase of the white Bronco.
Selig's trip to Bonds' and the Giants' home base, then, was the perfect first pitch for the new season. If the Bonds issue brings so little joy to the commissioner of baseball, then the rest of us have no chance.
But you can't blame him. With every question posed at the luncheon Thursday, he had little choice but to hem and haw and stutter and waggle his way through a noncommittal answer. The news that came out of his remarks was that he would not commit to being on hand if and when Bonds hit career home run No. 756. It is "a matter I'll determine at some point in the future," he said, leaving open the possibility that the Earth will open up and swallow him right around the time Bonds is sitting on 754.
The definitive line from his awkward afternoon: Asked if he, like so many, wished Bonds would make himself disappear, he reportedly wound his way up, around and back down the question until getting to, "No, it's not true."
What Selig really wished, it seemed, was to not be there answering those questions.
Problem is, he asked for it.
All of baseball asked for it, including those of us in the business who turned the other way on performance enhancers for too long, helping Selig and his sport cash in. He did point that out at the luncheon, and how sporting of him to do so. But, as they say, he still had three fingers pointing back at him.
Too bad, then, for poor Bud, that he's made to feel so uncomfortable now, on the eve of the start of a painful lurch toward a milestone no one wants to see happen. Ooooh, my heart breaks at the thought of it.
It legitimately breaks for Aaron, who minced few words awhile ago when he made it clear he was not going to be there when the record goes down. (Presumably, neither will his family, a la the Maris family with McGwire in 1998. Maybe Floyd Landis' family will follow Bonds around, or Victor Conte's.)
The one bright spot in this sordid scenario is that, at long last, Aaron is gradually getting the full appreciation from the public - fans and media - that he has been long denied. I griped long and loud about this last season, throughout the references to Bonds hitting his 715th and "breaking" Ruth's "record," but as I'd fervently hoped, the praise is now being lavished on the next target almost the same way it was on the last one.
Aaron deserves that. What Selig and the rest of baseball deserve are as many squirmy moments as can be heaped on them this season.
One of Selig's biggest eyebrow-raisers was his remark that Bonds' possible passing of Aaron "will be handled the same way that every other record in baseball that's been broken was handled."
The first thing that brings to mind, of course, is McGwire when he hit No. 62. Suuuure. Bonds hitting No. 756 will look just like that - national TV, fireworks, lengthy standing ovation, opposing players standing on the dugout steps cheering, a prominent player giving hugs and high-fives and fist-bumps, a speech, a groundskeeper giving him the historic ball.
Even better: Cal and No. 2,131. We'll pause here for 60 seconds for you to stop laughing, get off your knees and wipe away the tears.
OK, 60 seconds more.
We won't even talk about Aaron in 1974, although Selig would then be keeping with history, since commissioner Bowie Kuhn wasn't on hand that night, either.
Selig's example of his likely reaction, a phone call, was of Trevor Hoffman's record-breaking save last season. I know, you're like me, you remember exactly where you were the night (or day?) Hoffman broke the saves record, held by some guy with some total.
But face it. If the sport sank to the level it has on your watch, so that no one believes its most sacred record will be legit - even when it is set by one of its best players ever, despite his immense unlikeability - you'd want to hide, too.
It appears Selig is going to try. He should not. It's his shame. He ought to be in the ballpark, on the field, in front of the microphones and the fans, and face it. And try to do it a little better than he did in San Francisco last week.
David Steele -- Points after
Carmelo Anthony got his first All-Star berth after all. Better yet, no one was deprived of a spot by someone who missed half of the pre-break schedule for throwing a weak punch. An understandable move by the coaches leaving him off in the first place, but a commendable move by David Stern to say, "OK, your time has been served, the point has been made, so come on in."
That still doesn't answer the burning question: Is fighting in a game worthy of All-Star exclusion more than 'roiding up before one? Shawne Merriman was at the Pro Bowl yesterday. He can't feel good about a proposed rule about punishment for positive tests being named in his "honor."
By the way, if you placed a bet on the Pro Bowl, give some thought to making your next call to Gamblers Anonymous.
Wade Phillips, new Dallas Cowboys coach? Yeah, OK, I guess.