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John Wayne's Holster: The Villification of Barry Bonds
John Wayne's Holster
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Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Villification of Barry Bonds

Sports Illustrated recently released an excerpt from a forthcoming book entitled Game of Shadows, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. The book details alleged steroid use by Giants outfielder Barry Bonds over a period of about five years.

For the record, Bonds has denied knowingly using steroids, and he had never failed a drug test. However, one must admit that the evidence against him is mounting.

Lets just suppose, for the sake of argument, that Bonds did use steroids. So what!

The position that the media and Major League Baseball (MLB) are taking on this issue is ridiculous. Are we supposed to believe that all this steroid business is a shocking revelation to them. And Barry Bonds is the only player who used them. If you believe that, you probably believe Clinton never inhaled and the Iraq war is about spreading freedom and democracy.

MLB and the media both knew steroid use among players was rampant. They turned a blind eye to it. After the last players strike, baseball was in big trouble of loosing its fan base. To put people in the stands, the league took a number of steps to make the game more exciting. They started building parks with shorter outfields, wound the baseballs tighter, and allowed the players to use hard maple bats. This increased the number of home runs and made the games more exciting for fans to watch.

As Michael Reagan points out, the players followed suit. They started “juicing up” themselves with supplements, performance enhancers, and steroids. And MLB knew it. The media knew it as well. But they didn’t care. The headlines were great. Fans were coming to the games and the money was rolling in.

MLB tries to pretend they didn’t know. They will tell you they had a drug testing policy. But the policy in place at the time was a joke, thanks to the MLB Players Association. Testing was infrequent and the penalties were milder than a slap on the wrist.

The league even publicly promoted and celebrated the home run chase by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire in 1998, despite the fact it was openly known within the league that both players were taking steroids and other supplements. This benign neglect on part of the league was a de facto endorsement of steroid use. Any player wanting to break into the league or players within the league who wanted to keep pace with the McGwire’s and Sosa’s has little choice but to “juice up” or fall between the cracks.

It was recently estimated by MLB players themselves that as many as 65% of the players were using steroids. Obviously, they were all not hitting 70+ home runs a season, like Barry Bonds. So maybe there is something about Bond’s game that just makes him a better player. Maybe the smaller parks, the harder bats, or the tightly wound baseballs have something to do with the inflated home run numbers. Maybe the steroids do too.

So what do we do now? Put an asterisk next to Bond’s numbers? Wipe his name and stats from the books? Toss him out of the league? Make him ineligible for Cooperstown?

I say, leave Bonds alone! He is the best all around player of his time – with or without steroids. He has always had a great eye for the ball. Steroids didn’t change that. He could always hit. Steroids didn't change that. He has always been a great fielder. Steroids didn’t chance that either. And what if it can’t be proven that Bonds used steroids? Should the league act on unproven allegations? After all, he has never failed a drug test.

The steroid problem is much bigger than Barry Bonds. If the league takes any action against him, they will have to take action against the estimated 500 or so players who have also taken steroids. This is something the league simply can not afford to do.

Baseball made their bed. Now they have to lie in it.


At 3:18 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

OK lets just say he did use them he is on the verge of breaking one of if no the biggest sports record ever. I think fans and media have every right to be pissed . Yeah we know alot of other players do it and it is hipporcritical to not complain about them but geez this is the homerun record

At 3:25 AM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Perhaps they do have a right to be pissed. For starters, the league changed the rules with the smaller parks, harder bats, tigher baseball etc. That in itself jacked up the homerun numbers. Imaging how many homers Babe or Hank Aaron would have in PacBell Park or Wrigley Field. As far as the Roids go, the league created the problem, and it is too widespread for them to deal with, without taking the league down. Besides, if over half the players in the league are juiced, then they are all more or less playing at the same level.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

Interesting post. You certainly keep me quessing. I am a bit confused because you seem to believe in accountability yet you think that Barry should not have that standard?

I completely agree that MLB's passivley accepted the fact in order to build popularity. I also think the majority of the blame should be laid at their feet. However it is not alright to lie to a grandjury. If Bonds did that then he should be punished. If these allegations can be proven MLB should act. Yet I agree that MLB would have to alter all of the recent stats not just Bonds. This is a tough issue!

By the way both Ruth and Aaron hit at Wrigley Field. The increase in homers is due mainly to steroids not small parks.

At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

Quick question Joe. Do you believe that Pete Rose harmed MLB more than steroids? It seems hypocritical for MLB to lock out arguably the best player ever for something he did after he retired yet honor the homerun chases and ignore steroids.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Hey Roy,

Thanks for your reply!

I do believe in full accountability. Perhaps my post was not as clear as I thought. When I stated that Bonds should be left alone, I was referring to the league & media. For years, the both pretty much payed lip-service to the steroid issue. Now that Barry Bonds is on the verge of baseball immortality, everyone is pointing the finger at him, as if he were the only guy in the league to use them. I think it is two-faced of them to do so. How can they single out one player and make him the poster boy for something that they know is as rampant and widespread as steroid use? Especially if the estimates are correct and almost two-thirds of the players were using steroids or other illegal supplements.

If Bonds stats are going to be erased and he is banned from the game like Pete Rose, I am fine with that. But if they do so, then the other players who were juiced should also be banned and have their stats erased. After all, it is pretty clear that McGuire was juiced! So were Sosa, Giambi, Palmiero, etc! So were 100’s of others. I don’t see the league taking hundreds of players, and wiping out their stats and banning them from the game. I think the league would also have to take back some trophies and pennants. I don’t see how this could happen without bringing the league down. Personally, I would not mind seeing that happen, but I don’t think it will.

As it now stands, for the league to act against Bonds, they would have to do so based on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of some shady characters. As far as I know, nothing has been proven regarding Bond’s steroid use. He has never failed a drug test. With the new book Game of Shadows coming out, that may change. Personally, I have little doubt that Bonds was juiced. Nobody has the kind of years he had from 1999-2004, particularly after they are passed their prime, unless they are getting some “help”.

As far as lying grand jury testimony goes, that is a whole different matter that I did not address. I think Bonds should be punished if that can be proven. That being said, Palmiero lied and nothing has happened to him.

I would agree that steroids played a big factor in the inflated home run numbers, but I don’t think the smaller parks, tightly wound baseball and maple bats can be discounted. The smaller stike zone also was a factor. Sure Babe and Hank played in Wrigley, but they did not play half of their games there. In the pre-steroid days, I think Mike Schmidt or Willie Mays would have broken the home run record if they played at Wrigley 60+ times a year, rather than 3 or 4 times.

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Roy said...

Thanks for the clarification Joe. I completely agree. Bonds is being painted as the bad guy because he is not a friendly accessible player.
It will be interesting to see what MLB does with all of the stats from the 90's. It is going to take some major PR work to repair the damage done. As you said it goes much deeper than Bonds.

On a side note, it is funny to watch Selig squirm when talking about steroids. This guy is a joke and should have been removed years ago!

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Joe Verica said...

Regarding Pete Rose: I think Rose is not being treated fairly. Sure he bet on baseball, but he never bet on his own team. As such, I don't think he compromised the game in any way. Certainly nothing approaching the steroid issue. Rose's betting is not really that different than if he bet on football or horse racing or whatever. If baseball has a rule against any kind of gambling, then I guess they could suspend him, but banning the "hit king" from the game is kind of ridiculous. In my opinion, he should have been suspended, but he belongs in Copperstown.


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