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Barry and Godfather Willie back in the news

I came across a couple of news items recently that caught my attention in part because of the relevance to our hobby but also because of the link they had to each other.

One report told how the Major League Baseball Players Association was at least taking the preliminary steps to examine whether MLB owners were somehow acting in-concert in their dealings with free agents this spring.

Around the same time came news reports that union head Don Fehr was wondering about the status of one Barry Bonds, free agent extraordinaire, who has seemingly been left out in the cold, at least for the moment.

All of this neatly coincides with the SCP Auction of the baseball that just might turn out to be the final home run of Bonds’ tumultuous career. That, of course, would also make the spheroid in question the one that marks the all-time home run mark.

That auction closes on April 12, and SCP officials have speculated that the ball could sell for as much as $1 million. That would be a nifty hobby development, but it amazes me that the high rollers in this kind of situation would roll the dice on paying big bucks for a baseball that would seem to have some potential of becoming a rather pedestrian artifact (relatively speaking) should Bonds somehow return to the ballpark.

I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge on the matter, but I still have an unshakable belief that Barry is going to wind up playing somewhere this summer. I know he’s a major thorn in Bud’s rib cage, but it’s one of those odd areas where I still cling to a good deal of naivete, all evidence to the contrary.

There’s very little precedent for a situation where a ballplayer had so much left in the tank but wasn’t allowed the opportunity to use it. Obviously, the old coot can’t run much anymore and has morphed from being a Gold Glover in the outfield to a defensive liability that probably can’t be tolerated by a National League ballclub.

But with that goofy designated hitter thingy in the American League, he’s doesn’t really have to be able to run all that much or bend over for those pesky ground balls that leak past the infield. He just has to swat the occasional home run, and I suspect that he’s still capable of doing just that.

I want to believe that our overriding sense of fairness wouldn’t permit MLB to blackball Barry when he hasn’t really been found guilty of doing anything that maybe a couple hundred of his contemporaries didn’t also do, admittedly to wildly varying degrees of success.

Bonds is under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice (indictment may be amended), but he hasn’t been convicted of anything and ought to get the benefit of the doubt until he is.
Assuming that MLB would – as a group – decide not to employ him despite obvious reasons to do otherwise probably does a disservice to MLB officials and team owners. I won’t presume that those folks would be inclined to collusion; the Union and media watchdogs will doubtless be on the job in coming months checking out just such a possibility.

I think he wants to play. I think he’s going to play. Stay tuned.

* * * * *

Barry’s godfather, Willie Mays, finds himself in the news within the narrow world of our hobby. Willie’s 1972 Topps “In Action” card recently sold for $8,100. It’s supposed to be illuminating to point out that it was a PSA 10, but for old-timers like me, it’s still a Neverland kind of moment.

It’s almost cosmically irrelevant, but the card is one of the lamest ever created of Willie in his 22 years of appearing on Topps cards. Obviously, the $8,100 price tag isn’t predicated on the design purity or the graphic elements of the card, or even the attractiveness of the photograph. But, gee whiz, this is one of the all-time great ugly baseball cards, with Willie seemingly mired in quicksand on a baseball diamond, with some other guy’s leg in the background and yet another in the foreground. And like so many Topps photos from the 1970s, the lonely leg in the foreground is in focus, while Willie, ostensibly sliding into a base, is not.

Sy Berger, the legendary Topps VP who helped design many of the great sets of the 1950s and 1960s and who “negotiated” with a couple of generations of ballplayers for the rights to be included on baseball cards, used to tell me how Mays almost continually crabbed about some of his cards. Like Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron and Roberto Clemente, Mays, in fact, wound up on some of the greatest cards ever created, but if that 1972 Topps “In Action” card was one of his complaints, I gotta go with Willie on this one.