Apocalypse Now

It’s a disaster. I barely made it home alive. Downtown, where I live, looks like a war zone; cars overturned, buildings torched, violence in the streets as both police and the local military base are trying to restore order. They’re firing tear gas into crowds, and the people are retaliating by throwing Molotov cocktails back at them. Women are screaming, children are crying, stores are being looted, men are being shot down in cold blood in broad daylight. I saw three men hanging by their necks from a light tower on the main street—two of the poor slobs had Street and Smith’s 2006 MLB season preview pinned to their jackets, while the other was wearing a Cubs hat, so I didn’t feel too badly for him, since he probably enjoyed the experience.

This may be my last column for the Hardball Times. My father built a bunker 30 feet underground during the Cold War and this is the fourth time I’ve been in it—the other times were after 9/11, Y2K, and when the Los Angeles Kings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime of Game 7 of the 1993 NHL Campbell Conference Final (hey, you have your earth-shattering crisis’s and I have mine)—and I fear it’ll be the last. I’m typing this on my old high school TRS 80 under candle light—the machine being powered by a generator. My family is huddled in a corner trying to stay warm wrapped in tattered blankets, while eating something out of a can that’s been here since 2001.

We hope to survive but I fear it’s the end—the end of everything I hold dear.

You see dear reader—it looks like Barry Bonds has finally been irrefutably linked to anabolic steroid use.

Oops, I’ve got an e-mail and it’s marked “HIGH PRIORITY”

From: “Aaron Gleeman”
Date: 2006/03/09 Thu PM 06:11:07 EST
To: “John Brattain”
Subject: Are you insane????

John:

Have you been smoking your dirty furnace filters again? It’s perfectly safe out here. If this is a ploy to getting out of doing your Blue Jays preview, guess again. Now come out of there before your family disowns you … again.

Get a grip.

Yours Truly

Aaron

Well I’m red-faced. I could’ve sworn the end was upon us, judging by the apocalyptic rantings I’ve been reading in the media since the story of the new book exposing Bonds’ steroids use hit the fan. I mean oh my God, if the Second Advent of Christ also happened on Tuesday, it would’ve been bumped to page six under “In other news …” You’d think that folks have been exhuming the remains of Hal Chase, the Black Sox and Pete Rose’s great-grandmother, trying them posthumously, and burning them at the stake using replicas of Black Betsy as firewood.

Can we all chill a bit?

First off, we’re getting confirmation of what we’ve suspected for awhile now—this hardly qualifies as a bombshell. Did you honestly think this day wouldn’t come?

Let’s look at this objectively. Everybody’s biggest fear is that he’ll keep playing and sourpuss surpass Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

So what? If Bonds does that, his legacy will consist of the biggest but[t] since Sid Fernandez; as in “Barry Bonds is the all-time home run leader but …” or, Barry Bonds retired with the second most home runs in baseball history but …” As it is, he’s already “third on the all-time home run list, but …” “Bonds is a seven-time NL MVP, but …” and “Bonds holds the single season record for [insert stat here], but …” Every mention of Bonds career is going to have the verbal asterisk “but” affixed to it.

How does that negatively affect the legacies of Ruth and Aaron? Bonds doesn’t detract from their legacies, he enhances them as in “Hank Aaron is second on the all time home run list, but he did it cleanly/honestly/honorably.” Think about it Barry Bonds was once an all time great player but he needed ‘help’ to get into the rarefied air of Aaron and Ruth.

That’s how great they were.

See the point? The home run record is a number; Ruth and Aaron, however, are legends. Numbers change, legends remain forever.

If Barry Bonds wants to bear that particular cross then he’s free to do so. Instead of eclipsing them, he’ll become a pathetic figure rather than a legendary one.

For those who want to burn Bonds at the stake, the things I found interesting were his reasons for starting: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. He found that his greatness, his legacy was being diminished by steroids. Bonds wanted to be the best and he was on an uneven playing field. He made a crappy choice—no argument here—but it was an understandable one. For someone wanting to be the best, it may well have been the only one.

Why?

I’m willing to bet a lot of folks had their suspicions in 1998. At the very least, some players must have—especially if steroids were somewhat recognized among them. Bonds probably wanted to “level the playing field.” Let’s have a look at his options in the light of 1998, and see what the results would most likely be:

1) Report his suspicions to the commissioner and demand an investigation.

Any guesses what Selig would’ve done? We have enough of a sample size of Bud’s modus operandi to know that the less he does the better he likes it. Perhaps a committee would be formed, but I doubt it.

2) Demand that Don Fehr and the MLB Players Association step in and demand players play clean.

Given that Fehr had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the drug testing era, he’d probably mention privacy issues etc.

3) Blow the whistle to the media.

Count the PETULANT BONDS SOUR GRAPES OVER BEING ECLIPSED BY MCGWIRE AND SOSA headlines.

4) Allow himself to be diminished.

Really not an option for an ego-driven superstar who wishes to be the best.

I mean, should we really be all that surprised that Bonds made the choice he did? Like I said, it was a lousy choice, but somewhat understandable. There wasn’t a soul in 1998 who would’ve stepped in and “levelled the playing field” in the correct manner, so how else could the playing field be levelled so Bonds could get the deserved recognition as baseball’s best player?

Look at it from Bonds’ point of view.

I’m not looking to justify his actions, just understand them.

Barry Bonds made a bad choice. So did Bud Selig, so did Don Fehr, so did the membership of the MLBPA who were aware of steroid use by their colleagues yet did nothing, so did the media who had some suspicions but no spine. If you want to deprive Barry Bonds of the Hall of Fame for his choice, I simply ask that the same standard be applied to all in this era. No more Ford Frick Awards, no more executives inducted into the Hall of Fame (including Marvin Miller) from the “steroid era.” Perhaps any member of the MLBPA that either (a) opposed drug testing at any point in their career or (b) had guilty knowledge of steroid use and did nothing, since their actions or lack thereof helped till the soil that bore the steroid scandal crop.

If that sounds unreasonable, that certain allowances should be made then so be it. Here’s another allowance: Barry Bonds was a Hall of Fame lock before 1998.

For those who want Bonds to suffer for his misdeeds—don’t worry he will. He’ll never be able to kick the “but”.

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