On the John
Originally published in NUVO Newsweekly on April 5, 2006
Well, it’s official. The “facts” that we all assumed to be true are now, apparently, true. With the release of two books in the past month, Book of Shadows by a pair of San Francisco Chronicle reporters and Love Me, Hate Me by Jeff Sheridan, the curtain in front of the Barry Bonds steroids mystery has been lifted. The man behind the curtain? Some would say it’s Bonds himself. But when I looked back there, I saw none other than Bud Selig, baseball’s commissioner.
Selig is the irresponsible parent who lets his children run the household because he is too lazy to do so, and then punishes them when they break the television. Is Barry Bonds guilty of taking steroids? It sure sounds like it, but then again, can you really be guilty of something that was legal? Sounds like a bum rap to me.
For the record, I think that Barry Bonds did use steroids. And you know what? I’m glad he did. Not because I like steroids. I loathe them. I think they ruin the integrity of sports by placing the emphasis on winning and losing rather than on competition. The reason I am glad that Bonds (allegedly) took steroids is that baseball needed a smack in the face. Until 2003, MLB was the only sport of the Big Four that did not test for steroids. They had to know what was going on. Selig and the gang have been naïve and foolish at the least, selfish and irresponsible at the most.
Baseball is a game of numbers. Always has been, always will be. Rare is the sports fan who knows how many career points Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored, or how many yards Emmitt Smith rushed for, or how many goals Wayne Gretzky scored, but numbers like .400, 61 and 755 need not be explained. That final one is the most important. It was 714 from the day that Babe Ruth played his final game in 1935 until the day that Hank Aaron eclipsed that mark 39 years later. Now it sits at 755, and with 708 home runs entering this season, Bonds has 756 clear in his sights.
And this is where I smile: Baseball’s most hallowed record is on the cusp of being broken by a man who has been aided by a substance that was only legal because baseball wanted to reap the benefits. They did so in 1998, when, in all likelihood, a steroid-fueled home run race brought fans back to the park after the 1994-’95 strike. And now they are paying as 755 nears its demise.
Bonds will pay, too. If his steroid use since 1998 has been even half of what the books say it has been, then he will face natural consequences. His body will break down, and he may end up suffering a similar fate to Lyle Alzado. But he should not be punished by baseball. All he really did was take advantage of a bad system.
Barry Bonds is but a lead paragraph in the story of baseball’s greed and selfishness. Whether or not he breaks the record is beside the point. It’s possible that he would hit seven more dingers to pass Ruth, leaving himself as the all-time leading left-handed home run hitter before walking off into the sunset. He’s suggested that path in the past, as a nod to Hank Aaron.
No, it doesn’t really matter if Bonds gets to 756 or 715, or if he retires tomorrow as baseball’s third most prolific home run hitter. What’s done is done. The numbers from baseball’s steroids era of 1997-2004 will always come into question, and the fans will be the final judges.
Judgment day? It will come. The day that I and others my age take our kids to their first major league ballgame, that’s the day this will all be sorted out. My kid, with Cubs hat on head and glove on hand, will look up at me and say, “Pop, who were the great players when you were a kid?” And I’ll tell him about Bonds, and Sosa, and McGwire, and maybe even Roger Clemens, and I’ll tell him about the way Bud Selig and the rest of MLB let their sport self-destruct in the name of money and ratings. I’ll show my kid the record books, and tell him that we don’t know what was real and what was juiced. I’ll also tell him about guys like Ken Griffey, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio, guys who played natural ball with everything they had. The fans will always know what happened, asterisks or not. That’s how baseball will pay.
Copyright 2006, jm silverstein
FOR readjack.com’s five-part series on Barry Bonds and steroids, click here