What I Think of Barry Bonds...Or at Least Thought I Thought
It’s that time of year again; “buds spreading and jackets unbuttoning.”
Literally, things are beginning to open…and…well…it’s Major League Baseball's OPENING DAY.
The start of a new season; a new beginning. Baseball is unlike the other professional sports in that its beginning means that summer is around the corner, school is almost over, and there are 30 teams all with the possibility to start over.
Each team begins the season with an undefeated record—they are neither a game behind nor a game ahead. The lowly Royals need not remember that last year they lost 100 games, while Chicago’s South Siders pray it won’t be another 80 years before they win the World Series again.
And that is baseball—an annual chance to start over.
In Joe Morgan’s Long Balls, No Strikes: What Baseball Must Do to Keep the Good Times Rolling, he discusses how great the 1998 season was for baseball, stating that the New York Yankees' record setting win total was given “second billing to baseball’s new home run heroes” (9).
Even if you don’t follow baseball, it was difficult to miss the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the summer of 1998. Joe Morgan—an inductee into baseball’s Hall of Fame—wrote his book in 1999, after baseball had gone through one of its most productive seasons ever. Baseball had failed to find its way back into the hearts and homes of fans after the strike that cancelled the World Series in 1994, and the 1998 season was—according to Morgan—just what the league needed, thanks in large part to the inflation of home run totals.
I’m going to talk about Barry Bonds and the unnecessary criticism he is taking. I feel his records and statistics should not be tarnished by what some have accused him of doing off the field. There are even sports writers who are lobbying for fans to not react when Barry Bonds continues to break records, going as far as stating that they will not be voting for him in the MVP ballots should he perform as the league's most valuable player, and more importantly, will prevent him from being elected into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Barry Bonds—one of the best slugging outfielders of all time—has been looked at as a criminal; in 2003, he was accused of taking steroids. Although he admitted to unknowingly taking steroids, the media did not care and has not forgiven him.
I feel that Barry Bonds the baseball player should have his personal life separate from his baseball career, and that he has Hall of Fame credentials without question. Taking into account the league's executives, the media and fans looking the other way on the steroid issue, and Bonds’ pre-suspicion numbers, he is, without question, worthy of the Hall of Fame.
First I will begin with a brief timeline of Bonds’ career and the suspicion in what some are calling, “the steroid era”.
1986 – Barry breaks into the league as a leadoff hitter, hitting 16 home runs and stealing 36 bases.
1994 – Baseball cancels the World Series; fans are alienated and angry at both the league and its players.
1998 – Baseball's “revival;” the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. They break Roger Maris’ 37 year home run record of 61 by hitting 70 and 64, respectively. During the home run race a bottle of “andro”—a substance that gives steroid-like results—was found in McGwire's locker.
1999 – According to the recently published book Game of Shadows, Bonds is enraged by the recent league-wide home run spike in the league and decides to take matters into his own hands. The owner of BALCO—whom Bonds allegedly took steroids from— argues that most of the information in the book is false, suggesting Bonds did NOT know he was taking steroids.
2001 – Barry Bonds breaks McGwire's home run record after hitting 73 home runs, 24 more than his career-high recorded the previous season.
2003 – Baseball begins testing its players for steroid use. However, there is no penalty handed out. Up to 7 percent of players test positive according to MLB records. Later this year, a company being tried for selling steroids states that Barry Bonds was one of their clients. Bonds admits to taking “the cream” and “the clear,” though he did not know they were steroids.
2005 – Testing with penalties begins. A dozen Major League players test positive a single time and get suspended for 10 days—no player tests positive twice. Bonds is not among the players who test positive, however he spent a majority of the season injured. League home run totals are at a decade-long low.
A new testing policy was recently put in place with a “three strikes and you are out” punishment. No players have tested positive since.
2006 – An investigation is taking place in order to discover how long steroids have, in fact, been in baseball. Barry Bonds enters this season seven home runs shy of breaking Babe Ruth’s record—2nd all-time—and 48 from surpassing Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record.
( and ESPN.com Time Line)
Now that we have a brief timeline of what has been going on in baseball, I would like to explain how the league and its fans have ignored this timeline up to the last couple of years.
In a Sports Illustrated article in March of 2005, Todd McFarlane—a fan and baseball memorabilia collector—states: “Baseball can’t get pompous about it now. It turned a blind eye to its steroid problem. Fans (who cheered) can’t start being hypocritical now” (44).
Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times shares the same sentiment, stating, “It’s a little hypocritical to demand the players be banned for life while the people who created the environment are given a free pass.”
However, Tom Verducci—the baseball beat writer for Sports Illustrated—stated only a month ago that Bonds should be put in baseball purgatory due to the steroids scandal (52).
His point of view has switched sides, however. He stated in 2002 that throughout the home run boom of the late 90's, sluggers were “cheered in every park” (469). Similar thoughts were expressed by Rick Reilly in September of 1998 when he expressed his joy at the increase in home run totals with quotes such as, “the home run race is as American as a corvette,” “the whole nation was brought together by a giant playing a kids game,” and “our games were as pure and shiny as I’d ever seen them.” (143-45).
It is difficult for me to read these comments and think that the media, league, and fans were ignorant enough to think that these home run totals were not artificially inflated.
So if they didn’t have a problem then, why do they have one now?
And that’s my point; in my research I have encountered both sides of the story. The first is the players denying intentional use of steroids and the fans stating that they would not have taken steroids. Dan Le Batard gives a good analogy in an early March issue of The Miami Herald: “Let's say you are an accountant, mailman or secretary. And there are two people in your business who aren't as good as you are (let's call them Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) getting a lot more rewards because of some secret potion, powder, or pill that isn't against the rules of your workplace. You aren't going to go looking for that secret elixir that might make you better and add five years of money to your career? You are going to fall behind your competition by applying ethics? If so, good for you. You are a noble person. And, rather literally, a loser. You are going to be devoured for being less competitive and cruel than your cutthroat surroundings.”
Todd McFarlane agrees with this comment when he discusses that when he was in college, if he was offered a pill that would have gotten him into professional baseball, he would have said, “I’ll take two”.
So Major League Baseball’s officials ignored the steroid problem, which is discussed in Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, by Jose Canseco. The book asserts that steroids have been a part of baseball since the late 80's, and is simply a part of the game's evolution.
The fans turned a blind eye and cheered for the home run boom of the late 90's, buying t-shirts with slogans such as “chicks dig the long ball.” And the media is the one who continued to put emphasis on home runs by pushing home run contests in the off-season and during the all-star break.
Although there is no hard proof that Bonds did steroids, experts in the field are still stating that his performance in recent years has been aided. There are some who disagree however.
Before the BALCO trial, Tom Verducci stated that “Bonds’ development as a power hitter accelerated when baseball entered this post-Camden Yards age of long-ball worship and he learned how to lift the ball,” continuing with “this transformation (of hitting more fly balls as opposed to ground balls) would not be possible without Bonds putting more arc in his swing—he’s LOOKING to go deep.” (317-8).
So even if Bonds and the rest of the league steps forward and admits that the last decade has been filled with steroid use, Bonds’ pre steroid statistics are still solid enough that he deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and considered as one of the best all-time.
From 1986 to 1998, Bonds hit 411 home runs, or 32 home runs per season. Had he played just another four seasons at that rate, he would have broken the 500 home run threshold and been a surefire Hall of Famer. Added to that, he is the only member of the 400 home run and 400 steal “club” for a career, and is one of only three players to be in this “40-40 club” for a season. These impressive statistics would have put him in the Hall of Fame had he retired after the 1998 season.
So baseball is back—today is day number four of 182. A new beginning.
If Barry Bonds did indeed take steroids or another performance enhancing substance, he is not alone. Yet because of the blind eye that the league, its fans, and the media has shown along with Barry Bonds’ pre-suspicion statistics, he deserves to be elected into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Bonds is simply a product of his environment, a product of a game that went through an era that needed steroids in order to inflate home run totals, which as Joe Morgan explains, is what saved baseball and what continues to keep people going through the turnstiles.
There have been many different eras in baseball which have helped affect statistics. Records are kept to be broken. Bonds has helped keep this sport alive.
Canseco, Jose. Juiced: Wild Time, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. (April 3, 2006).Fleder, Rob, ed. Great Baseball Writing. New York: Sports Illustrated Books, 2005.
LeBatard, Dan. “Steroid Story a Case Study of Situational Ethics.” The Miami Herald.com Mar. 2006. Available:http://miami.com/mld/miamiherald/sports/columnists/dan_le_batard/14043754.htm/.
Morgan, Joe. Long Balls, No Strikes: What Baseball Must Do to Keep the Good Times Rolling. New York: Crown Publishers, 1999.
Verducci, Tom. “The Consequences.” Sports Illustrated March 13, 2006: 52 (April 3, 2006).
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