On Logic and Barry Bonds

Brandon HeikoopSenior Analyst IDecember 25, 2008

Well, apparently I've gone out and upset someone, quite possibly ticked them off. That's fine, often times during a discussion individuals let their passion and opinion trump logic. Yesterday I reviewed an article over at the Hardball Times. An article which seemed to ruffle a bunch of feathers and even got "voted down" at Ball Hype (something I have personally never seen from a THT article).

That said, there was a very interesting discussion at Ball Hype in regards to this column. About 10 people chimed in with responses to the article, only one of whom was truly agreeing with the author (although I recognize that people are more likely to speak up when they disagree then when they agree).

The author of that piece decided to chime in himself, disregarding many of the comments made and shutting down only those that he can illogically skew—albeit, these were the typical rejections that are met with this discussion.

The discussion at hand is: Why did teams refuse to sign Barry Bonds? The author believes there is a simple ethical explanation, although it doesn't hold much weight when you break it down (something I will do later).

What I am writing about is a few issues I have with the authors rejection of logic.

First, the author ignores the cases in which baseball has turned its eye to 'bad behavior.' Between the message board at Baseball Think Factory (I encourage you to flip through them, it is a great and educated discussion) and at Ball Hype, there are mentions of a parallel between Pacman Jones and Elijah Dukes.

While Pacman Jones is clearly not a model citizen, Elijah Dukes isn't really reeking of parental approval—although truth be told, I imagine Dukes doesn't care. Not being one to typically dive into the personal lives of the sport I love, a post at Ball Hype states,

"Baseball sure likes to pick and choose its ethical battles, then...Drunk driving is a much greater evil than steroid use. And do you really believe that anyone would hesitate picking up Urbina if he weren't in prison?"

Isn't that the sad truth. I think back to a story when Milton Bradley asked a police officer if he knew who Bradley was. This invariably led to Bradley leaving the Indians, but in the midst of baseball's offseason, we see Bradley is one of the most sought after free-agent outfielders. More so than perfect records of Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu.

Or how about when baseball's good guy, Albert Pujols, was named in Jason Grimsley's affidavit? How quickly was that brushed aside by baseball? How many reporters jumped on that story discrediting Pujols for his miraculous climb up baseballs ladder?

The author then turns this morality issue on an axis, providing factually defunct examples. One such example, "Basketball refuses to do anything about pot use, because it would decimate the league."

Decimate the league? I know we hear some about marijuana issues in the NBA, but of the 500+ players in the NBA, are there more then 10 arrests a year? I mean, how many NBAers played in the Olympics? How many of them have tested positiveve for marijuana? Were those not most of the best players the NBA has?

At worst, I'd say marijuana use in the NBA is worth monitoring, but extremely far from being a cause to 'decimate' the league. I'd say STD's have a better shot at doing that.

The next error, "Has any baseball team ever tolerated the number of criminals, or even a small percentage of same, accumulated by the Bengals of recent vintage?"

Answer, no. Bravo! But I would like to further my answer with a question to the authors question: Has any other football team ever tolerated the number of criminals, or even a small percentage of same accumulated by the Bengals of recent vintage?

Answer, no. The Bengals were a special case. A team that went after 'bad seeds' as they were under valued on draft day. A team that had perpetually lost for nearly two decades that was looking for any semblance of progress.

The fact there, however, is it sort of worked for the Bengals. If only for a moment.

This is where logic chimes in loud and clear. The author obviously does not know specifics about what he is talking about. He understands ethics, but cannot argue popular culture to save his life.

The author takes the following stab at me,

"Brandini, on the other hand, adopts the ridiculous argument that because baseball was a little late adopting a wholly unnecessary rule against what was already ILLEGAL under US law, Barry wasn't cheating. Baseball, like the rest of society, is bound by the laws...it doesn't have to specify that every felony is prohibited by baseball too. This may be the lamest of all the Bonds defenses."

First, my assertion that Bonds wasn't cheating is based on him not breaking any of the rules of the game of baseball. In baseball, a pitcher can throw a ball at a hitters head and get a 'warning'. Whereas here in the West, if one were caught throwing a ball at an individuals head, I'm more then certain a restraining order would at least be placed on the thrower.

This is not to say that all laws in the US do not apply to the world of baseball, although that is a questionable assertion in and of itself. For example, if one were to purchase and use steroids in Mexico, would they be breaking a US law? Would this then make it acceptable for one to use steroids, as long as they did them in legal settings?

Second, I did not claim that Bonds was not cheating simply because baseball was 'behind' in making its rules. In fact, I argued that baseball was pushing the use of steroids (and I used a source too! Wow! What a concept!).

That being said, my point was that 'cheating' is breaking the rules of baseball, not society. If Ken Griffey Jr. was a negligent parent, would this mean he is 'cheating?'

Obviously that is a stretch, as being a poor parent has nothing to do with baseball performance, but I wonder how much the author knows about steroids and baseball performance? On a scale of 10 to -10, do we think he would rate in the positives or the negatives?

He does, however, attempt to know the relationship between performance and steroids (something not even Bill James is able to conclude on). Here the author reasons, "Drunk driving may or may not be worse than illegal steroid use, but unlike steroid use, it doesn't provide a competitive advantage, now, does it?"

First, how many terrible players have taken steroids and still ended up being terrible? All we know is that there are some players who allegedly took steroids that had 'breakout seasons', although it is simply an assumption that the player had this breakout season due to the steroids.

If all one needs to do to provide reasonable is to suggest a player who did not improve while taking steroids, how about Alex Sanchez? Breakout seasons happen for all sorts of reasons. To argue that every steroid user had a breakout season is to simply ignore facts.

Second, how do we know that driving drunk does not improve a players ability? Yes, this is a stretch. But think of the pressures a player puts on himself during a baseball season. If the player decides not to go out to the bar, or maybe head home a little early, is it unreasonable to think that a couple drinks wouldn't relieve him of some stress?

The author continues with a lengthy explanation of his justification. But he presents a major error in his first example. One that I need to point out.

The scenario,

"The presumption of innocence has nothing to do with rightly concluding that someone is guilty of misconduct when the evidence is overwhelming. Let us presume your companion, standing right next to you, suddenly ran up to someone on the street and strangled him right before your eyes, in broad daylight, then came back to you and said, "I'm sorry you had to see that, but I just had to kill the guy." Would you later maintain that there was a question whether he had actually committed the murder? In the eyes of the law, your deadly companion would still be technically "innocent," because a jury hadn't pronounced him guilty. But this wouldn't mean that there was the slightest doubt that he committed the act, and it would be unreasonable, indeed absurd, for you to claim otherwise. The huge amount of documentation and testimony gathered in the book "Game of Shadows" places Bonds perilously close to the status of your fictional companion. At a certain point, the presumption of innocence concerns only process, not truth."

Let's put this into some different perspectives.

The first, the 'murderer' has a clean record, is a model citizen, and has a good relationship with the district attorney. The 'witness' has a long record, is a narcotic user, and has little to no references to speak of.

Would a judge find the 'murderer' guilty based on the claim of the 'witness' in this scenario? Probably not.

Let's spin this around. We're got the 'murderer' who has a fine record, but isn't well liked. The 'witness' doesn't report the issue immediately, but has a decent track record and most people like him.

Chances are, that even without raw evidence, the judge won't be able to find the murderer guilty, but on an off day, evidence be damned.

Let's put this into baseball perspectives now. In scenario No. 2, the 'murderer' is Barry Bonds, the 'witness' are those belonging to the media.

Now, I'm not going to say that Barry Bonds did not to steroids. What I am going to say is that I'd like to see some more evidence before passing judgment. While there is plenty of quality evidence, I'm still not sold.

I won' argue for or against it, nor will I tell people they are wrong for going either way, but I won't watch FOX News, those people probably do.

With all of that said, there is no way a person can call Barry Bonds a 'cheater'. If Barry was the only player to use steroids, sure, but he wasn't. In fact, he wasn't the first, nor will he be the last. Did Bonds break some ethical standards? Sure.

But how many people wouldn't take the same efforts to be the best they are? This is occurring in academia. It is occurring in medicine.

However, this does not make what Bonds did as 'ethical'. So the author has a marginal point. What Bonds did was unethical. So too were the actions of the majority of baseball. Thus, the question to ask then, 'Is it ethical to pick a scapegoat?'

While many of us may do so currently, that doesn't make it right.


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