If you wish to bury Bonds…by John Brattain
February 27, 2008
There is no other word for it. The media knew, heck I knew that steroids were rampant in the game.
To read how it would be wrong, be bad for a baseball team to sign Barry Bonds provokes my gag reflex. Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge that Barry Bonds has in all likelihood ingested performance-enhancing drugs. I agree that he’s almost as big a south-end-of-a-north-bound horse as David Samson is. I think he’s a prima donna and a Grade -A Narcissist.
Nevertheless, to deny one man employment due to actions in an era in which he participated—but did not originate—is flat out wrong.
Here’s the thing—back in 1998 the baseball world went gaga over Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa*. Barry Bonds had dedicated his life to being the best baseball player in the universe. Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy were looming so large that they eclipsed Bonds’ star. I’m certain that many in the baseball fraternity had some suspicions regarding their accomplishment—including Bonds himself.
What does an ego-driven ballplayer do in such a situation?
If he goes to the commissioner with his suspicions that the playing field is no longer level he is ignored. If he goes to the union, he’s informed about privacy issues and the collective bargaining agreement. If he goes to the media, he gets to view bold face headlines blaring about his jealousy of McGwire and Sosa.
There’s only one way to level the playing field—if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em.
I’m not saying this excuses Bonds, but it does demonstrate that the steroid era isn’t his baby.
As time goes on, we are beginning to understand certain things. We know that owners knew what was going on and looked the other way. General managers and field bosses were aware that something was amiss but never invoked the ‘probable cause’ proviso in the CBA and requested testing for a given player. Agents certainly weren’t in the dark about their clients habits but did nothing. Bud Selig and Don Fehr (despite the commissioner’s ‘shock’) were not ignorant as to what was occurring. As of this writing (according to Baseball's Steroid Era) there have been 112 players linked to PED use with many more steroid Buck Weavers besides.
In light of all this, to say in effect that to employ one man would disgrace the game is pitiful. Literally, hundreds of people who are/were working in MLB in one way or another helped perpetuate the problem. Now, some (in the media) are in effect, calling to let all of them pretty much skate with one notable exception. According to such ones, this is protecting or standing up for the game.
Does this make any kind of logical sense?
I understand where a guy like Ken Rosenthal (a personal fave … sorry Robo, nothin' but love here, but I disagree) is coming from when he writes:
Bonds represents a cancer in the industry. He is not the only player alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs during baseball's steroid epidemic. But he is not just another name in the Mitchell report, either.
The signing of Bonds would put the sport's problem with PEDs back in the headlines at a time when the fallout from the Mitchell report is fading, a time when Roger Clemens is more of a question for the government than a question for baseball.
Bonds' personality quirks and salary demands, while certainly not inconsequential, are secondary issues. Any owner who would prostitute himself by signing Bonds would face a storm of negative publicity boiling down to three words: Shame on you.
However, he’s overstating his case. Baseball’s PED problem is front and center right now and Bonds is unemployed. Further, a lot of average fans put a great deal of financial and personal investment into the game and into their team. They do so with the hope that their team is putting the most competitive product on the field that they are able under their present circumstances.
Two of baseball’s greatest scandals (the Black Sox and collusion) were such because they violated the fans' hope. In the case of the Black Sox, it was the men on the field not doing everything in their power to win. In the case of collusion, it was the owners not doing everything in their power to put the best possible team on the field.
Yet writers are saying that a club should forgo employing Bonds even if it means not putting their best effort into assembling the roster in order to protect the game. If we’ve learned anything from baseball’s sordid past is that the biggest breach of trust is not doing everything within the rules to win, or failing that, being the very best that a player or team’s efforts allow.
We look back on the pre-Jackie Robinson era of the sport and while it’s right and proper to look at it as prejudice toward non-Caucasian players, it wasn’t only a crime against human decency—a lesser part of the scandal is that it destroyed what baseball is supposed to be about: a true meritocracy. To deny the very best a chance to compete at the highest levels degrades everyone from the players down to the folks in the bleachers.
A personal burr under my saddle is when I hear a player stand up for an underperforming teammate by saying “He makes too much money to be sitting on the bench.” That’s a violation of the meritocracy of baseball. The one’s performing the best play the most regardless of skin color, national origin, or salary.
But I digress.
Getting back on track, I cannot see how denying your team of an eligible/available player that improves a club’s chances for success protects the game’s integrity. There isn’t a rule against employing Barry Bonds. He is not under sanction from MLB. If those in the game feel that hiring Bonds degrades the game then the sport should have the courage of their convictions and make Bonds ineligible to play.
In short—suspend him.
Then he gets baseball’s version of due process--a grievance hearing in front of a neutral arbitrator. Both sides present their case on why Barry Bonds should be ineligible/eligible to play in the major leagues. Then a decision in handed down and we go from there. To collectively deny an eligible player employment based on non performance-related criteria is a form of vigilante justice.
To disqualify him from playing by this sort of collusive behavior strikes me as cowardly. It’s taking a stand without making a stand. It’s doing so without risking scorn from the media and the team’s fans that may improve their chances in 2008 of reaching the post season. As stated earlier, either suspend him and make your case why he deserves sanction. If the arbitrator agrees then nobody can complain that Bonds cannot find work—after all, he's ineligible. If the arbitrator disagrees and a team thinks they can benefit from his services then they should feel free to employ him without incurring official wrath.
If the fans of the team hiring him feels strongly about not wanting them there—they can express their displeasure at the box office and the club can act accordingly by paying out the contract in full and giving him his unconditional release. That’s the risk the team takes employing him. However, it should be the team’s decision—not the commissioner’s and certainly not the media’s.
The thing is, Bonds is very low on my steroid scandal totem pole of shame. I’m livid that both the commissioner, team owners, Don Fehr, Gene Orza and the MLBPA created a situation where taking low quality, black market anabolic substances manufactured in dubious conditions became a de facto condition of employment for many ballplayers on the bubble. I hate the fact that two players on an Triple-A roster were potentially having an unfair competition for a major league job if one was on the 40-man roster and not subject to unannounced testing and the other was not. I loath the thought that fringe and/or inexperienced major leaguers had to take potentially toxic substances while elite talent could use higher quality/lower risk steroids.
Suffice it say, to think that Barry Bonds should be denied employment while the people that created such a noxious work environment remain gainfully (and lucratively) employed and calling it ‘protecting the game’ is distasteful in the extreme and not grounded in reality.
References and Resources
*For the time being, I view Sammy Sosa’s accomplishments as legitimate. A corked bad an comic performance in front of the government oversight committee does not a steroid user make (or prove).
Our good friend, and THT stalwart, John Brattain passed away on March 24, 2009. John was a prolific writer, whose work can also be read at Sympatico/MSN Sports and Baseball Digest Daily. John's work was also featured at USA Today, MLBtalk, ESPN Insider, Baseball Prospectus, The Baseball Analysts and The Baseball Journals. Never afraid to express himself in any medium, he was also a frequent radio speaker.