Fragments From 'Bonds! The Musical'

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman takes a look at Barry Bonds, who hit a record 756th home run last night.

[Commissioner of baseball BUD SELIG is talking to HANK AARON, as he does every day]

BUD SELIG

How's it hanging, Hammer?

No, I'm not happy either

I'm tired of this home run chase

I think I need a breather

The whole thing makes me nervous, Hank

I know it's not about popularity

But I worry I'll do a disservice

To history or to posterity

I know this should feel like the end

Of the most exhausting inning

Instead I'm filled with the suspicion

That it's just the beginning

As for me, emotionally

It fills my heart with sorrow

Oh, no...yeah...I understand

I'll talk to you tomorrow

[BUD SELIG replaces the receiver on the cradle. Before he hangs up, the audience hears, faintly but clearly, that he has in fact been calling MoviePhone. Fade out.]

[Fade in. A locker room. Men in towels walk in formation around BARRY BONDS, who is standing in the center, speaking to them.]

REPORTER #1

Your hitting game improved with age

You seem susceptible to rage

You've hit home runs with lazy swings

So how do you explain these things?

REPORTER #2

You have high levels of aggression

And disrespect for the profession

Also, people find you scary

'Cause you're cut like a topiary

REPORTER #3

You might be a convicted felon

REPORTER #4

Your head looks like a giant melon

REPORTER #5

Roger Maris's hair fell out

As he pursued the record

Your recent career has been checkered

Are you also filled with fear and doubt?

BARRY BONDS

Has this home run chase been a pressure source?

I think you need a refresher course

In what I'm trying to achieve

Your questions annoy me

You'll never destroy me

I think it's time for you to leave

[In San Diego, BONDS faces Padres pitcher CLAY HENSLEY.]

CLAY HENSLEY

Back in the minors I idolized you

I tried to do all the things that you do

I was even supended for steroid use

I thought I'd get great because of the juice

Now when I make this fateful pitch

I'll ask the Lord to guide it

If I'm to serve up history

I'll serve up irony beside it

[BONDS hits 755 off of CLAY HENSLEY. BUD SELIG responds, sort of, by standing, clapping once and a half, and returning his hands to his pockets.]

BUD SELIG

I award the batter

A smattering of applause

In the matter of steroids

I have probable cause

I am as excited

As a man could be

If repeatedly stung

On the ass by a bee

[Commentators are angry at BUD SELIG for not supporting BARRY BONDS, but also angry at BARRY BONDS for tarnishing baseball's legacy.]

MIKE GOLIC

The commisioner's a coward

The commisioner's a skunk

He said he isn't judging Barry

But that assertion's bunk

Did you see him out there?

He barely raised a hand

He shouldn't have been present

He demonstrated poor command

BOB COSTAS

I am short

And yet long-winded

So now I will declare

That Barry's status as one of the game's great outfielders, which was secure before he started using performance-enhancing drugs — and I am absolutely certain of that, as certain as if I saw a man with a smoking gun standing yards away from another man he had just shot — is hereby tarnished but not entirely rescinded.

[Two nights later, BONDS is back in San Francisco, in the lineup against the Nationals. The pitcher is MIKE BACSIK.]

MIKE BACSIK

Before I went into the windup

I remembered I have a story, too

Now I have made my mind up

To tell that story to you

My father faced Hank Aaron

More than thirty years ago

It's such a big coincidence

It hardly seems legit, I know

And yet, it's absolutely true

Hank had seven-fifty-five

Dad threw a couple pitches

Then got Hank out on a soft line drive

Baseball is a lengthy and complicated narrative

We are only characters — to grasp that is imperative

BARRY BONDS

I wish your tale was something

I could care about.

It isn't. Throw it in here

So I can knock it out.

[BONDS hits 756 off of BACSIK. He is taken out of the game to a standing ovation. Hank Aaron reads a statement on the Jumbotron.]

BARRY BONDS

So much for your moral sense

I launched the ball over the fence

[BUD SELIG is furious. He places another "call" to Hank Aaron.]

BUD SELIG

I'm short of breath. I'm sick to death.

Your home run record's sacrosanct

And this drug-abusing freakshow

Is now the one who is top ranked

You say I should simmer down

You say I shouldn't lose my cool

But I feel like this musclehead

Has played me for a foolish fool

When I ignored the steroid thing

I knew that this would be a risk

Now my life's a welter

Of cream and clear and asterisk

And yet, my heart is cold and barren

This record should be yours, Hank Aaron

[SELIG drops the phone, which is wet with his tears. The next morning, he meets with the same brain trust that recommended calling the 2002 All-Star Game a tie.]

CLIFFORD T. DORKELSON

Here's a brilliant plan

To help you get your man

Let's send in an intern

Dressed up as a spirit

He'll make Barry feel bad

And Barry has to hear it

Pretty soon he'll get to be

The saddest guy in MLB

[Impressed by CLIFFORD T. DORKELSON's brilliant plan, BUD SELIG hires an intern to enter BARRY BONDS's house dressed in a succession of disguises. First, he is ROSS BARNES, who played with the Chicago White Stockings in 1876 and hit baseball's first home run. The costume is pants that are too short.]

INTERN AS ROSS BARNES

I am the man who once upon a time

Hit the first home run

I've been dead a hundred years

It isn't any fun

When I hit my homer

It was off to the races

They were all in-the-park then

So I sped around the bases

BARRY BONDS

You're boring

I'm yawning

The two things are related.

If you are part of history

I'm glad it's what I've desecrated

[The INTERN goes out and comes back as the second ghost, BABE RUTH. The costume is a fatsuit and a Yankees hat.]

INTERN AS BABE RUTH

I don't care that you used drugs

I only care that you got caught

But now you have to be a man

If you want to be the new Sultan of Swat

I might have lost a hundred homers

When balls drifted foul after fair

You don't hear me crying like a girl

Or wallowing in my despair

BARRY BONDS

Zip it, tubby

I don't need to listen to this

You can't lecture me

Didn't you die of syphillis?

[The third ghost is Barry's father, BOBBY BONDS. The costume is amateurish makeup that makes him look vaguely like BARRY and a Father's Day card.]

BOBBY BONDS

I was the first man

To go for thirty-thirty twice

You should listen to me

Respect my fatherly advice

BARRY BONDS

You had as many strikeouts

As you had hits one season

When was that? Nineteen sixty-nine?

It defies all reason.

[The last and final ghost is CRAIG MCNULTY, the pitcher who surrendered BARRY BONDS's first home run. The costume is a piece of paper with "Craig McNulty" written on it.]

CRAIG MCNULTY

A while back

I threw a ball

You hit it past

The outfield wall

It was the first

Home run you hit

I put my head

Into my mitt

Now I ask you

To do what's right

And prove that you

Can feel contrite

Ask that your name

Be taken down

As home run king

Return the crown

BARRY BONDS

I think it's time for you to go

You're not even dead, you know

[The intern returns to BUD SELIG. Both are crestfallen.]

INTERN

We tried to get him to show contrition

Instead he maintained

His nasty disposition

And then in addition

He acted sarcastic

I have to say my Craig McNulty impression was fantastic

[BUD SELIG places another "call" to Hank Aaron, who does not answer. He retreats to his lair, which he calls the Bat-and-ball-cave, to try to resolve the BARRY BONDS problem once and for all.]

BUD SELIG

I do not like this Barry Bonds

His achievements bring me pain, not pleasure

As a result I have devised

A black ops super-secret measure

[BUD SELIG takes out a folder.]

If I can't put him in the slammer

I'll go to my dear friend, the Hammer

I'll unretire him

Then require him

To rejoin a professional team

And reclaim

His good name

By passing back the Great Pretender

Hank will be the Great Defender.

Only a worthy man can end this terrible dream.

I know this seems like a crazy plan

To take down Bonds with an elderly man

But I plan to help out if I can

Oh...

I'll fix it

I'll fix it

I'll Richard-Nixon-dirty-tricks it

If there's one thing I've learned

It's not to get burned

You need defense for every sneak attack

And when a cheater cheats you, you should cheat right back

I'll cook it

I'll cook it

I'll control-the-record-book it

If Hank is batting 0-for-all

I'll call for a gopher ball

From the opposing pitcher

If he complies, I'll make him richer

And Hank can go yard a few more times

He'll get a shot

At clearing up this moral rot

And erasing the shame of Barry's crimes

I have always said

We should make lemonade from lemons

Plus, it's not like Hank is ancient

He's in his early seventies

Just like Roger Clemens

He's in his early seventies

Just...like...Roger...Clemens!!!!!!

[BUD SELIG falls to his knees, clutching the Project Gopher Ball folder. Fade out.]

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.

Also: Catch Ben reading tonight at the Greenwich Village Barnes & Noble, 396 6th Avenue at 8th Street, 7:30 P.M.

Previously: Fragments From 'Weekly World News! The Musical'