Those who do not learn from history…

Well, Opening Day has come and gone for the majority of major league baseball with one conspicuous absence.

Barry Bonds.

Before we proceed further, what is to follow is not meant to be a defense of Barry Bonds or those in the game who have used performance-enhancing drugs either over the short or long term. It is about my belief that the sport is again making a colossal, Viagra-enhanced boner which consequences will be felt for a long, long time. It is about a short term, poorly thought out strategy where looking ahead is out of the question.

Here is the thing—it may be tempting to think that collusion in this instance is justified to protect the integrity of the game and its records. However, what will happen is exactly the opposite—it will permanently mar some records. If baseball is indeed colluding against Bonds, it will eventually become known. If/when this happens, let’s fast forward to when Alex Rodriguez hit his expected 763rd long ball.

Finally—a no-questions-asked home run king.

Hmmm … ever wonder how many home runs Bonds might have hit had he been allowed to pay an extra season or two?

Uh oh … looks like there may be a question after all. The home run record was deliberately restrained by MLB by colluding against Bonds. The commissioner subsidized Rodriguez’s record by getting Bonds out of the game before he could set the bar any higher.

Just as we love to project Ted Williams’ career absent military service, Joe Jackson’s totals if not for the Black Sox scandal, or how many wins Satchel Paige may have garnered had there been no color barrier—future fans will wonder how many home runs Barry Bonds may have hit had he not been illegally blackballed from the game.

If A-Rod, or Albert Pujols or someone else sets the all-time record within reaching distance of Bonds (had he been allowed to play), then the validity of the new king’s crown will become questionable in the eyes of some.

Therefore, instead of protecting the cherished record book, MLB gets an asterisk for deliberately rigging the home run record by unofficially banning Barry Bonds. If folks wish to be outraged by Bonds’ besmirching the record book with steroids then why isn’t there equal outrage towards MLB for muddying the record books with an illegal collusion against Bonds?

Further, Selig and Co. weak-kneed ignoring of the PED issue was what caused the record book to be rewritten in the first place. The final part of Barry Bonds’ career is the bastard child of MLB of which Selig refuses to acknowledge paternity—one by possible collusion and two by the Giants trying to hypocritically distance themselves from Bonds now that his utility to them is at an end.

This isn’t about steroids, or the home run record, or that Barry Bonds’ personality can resemble the avenue where a feedbag’s contents are ultimately discharged. It’s about baseball again taking the easy way out in a dishonorable fashion.

Why do I suspect collusion? Well, there are too many data points that do not add up to where all 30 major league clubs feel Barry Lamar Bonds is of absolutely no value to them. The media inform us why Bonds is unemployed due to his own baggage yet…

We’re told about Bonds’ age, health and concerns about how much time off he will need, yet Moises Alou is soon 42 years old and the Mets picked up a $7.5 million option for him to be their left fielder. Alou has played in more games in a season than Bonds just thrice since the millennium dawned—and Alou played in 185 games the last two seasons to Bonds’ 256 (games). Everybody assumed that Bonds would be limited to DH duty (hence confined to the AL), yet no NL club thought of offering a non-roster invite to Bonds to see if he could handle left field in Alou-type fashion?

Speaking of left fielders … it makes perfect sense for the San Diego Padres to employ Jody Gerut as their starting left fielder. Gerut hasn’t seen the majors since 2005 and batted .253/.330/.347 (in 170 at-bats) that year, yet it’s illogical for a club to see if a guy who hit .276/.480/.565 in twice as many at-bats in 2007 to see if he can help? Especially when one takes into account that the Padres were tied next-to-last in OBP last season in the NL—an area where Bonds could be of immense assistance.

Others claim Bonds’ toxic personality is keeping him unemployed.

After the 1999 season, the Mets were so desperate to be rid of clubhouse cancer Bobby Bonilla that they paid out a lot of money to get him to disappear. Of course, his hitting .160/.277/.303 was also a part of that. Despite having two strikes against him (personality and performance) the Braves took a flyer on him in 2000 and the Cardinals did likewise in 2001.

Further, a repeat DUI offender and a felon who posted an ERA above 6.00 the last three seasons drew a NRI (Sidney Ponson) but not Bonds. Whatever you think of Barry Bonds, Ponson’s behavior (and performance) is far more reprehensible, yet the media think that teams are ignoring Bonds for purely legitimate and honorable reasons. Albert Belle’s hip took him out of the game, Kevin Mitchell’s weight and back-to-back 66 and 65 OPS+ seasons did him in, Elijah Dukes is still a coveted prospect, etc.

Regardless of how sociopathic the player, no matter how toxic the personality, a player of note has had to play his way out of the major leagues. The only counter-example is Dave Kingman who finished second in the AL in home runs (35 with 96 RBIs) and was gone. (Bear in mind his numbers looked more impressive back in those statistically primitive times before Zefram Sheehan perfected the VORP-drive.)

Moreover, that occurred during collusion.

Others state that he wants too much money for a team to gamble—a number bandied about is $10 million. This begs two questions: 1) has Bonds said this himself or is this a number somebody tossed to the media to demonstrate how unreasonable Bonds is? and 2) Were you aware a small market club gave a one-year $10 million contract to a 32-year-old surgically repaired steroid-dabbling relief pitcher who folded in a pennant race after being acquired by the Red Sox last season?

You could look it up—Eric Gagne inked just such a contract with the Milwaukee Brewers.

However, somebody who posted an OPS+ of 170 last season isn’t worth a look at any price?

Is Alex Rodriguez any less a media distraction in the clubhouse than Barry Bonds (albeit for different reasons)? Was home run 762 any less controversial than 252?

Every example given why a team shouldn’t sign Barry Bonds has a counter-example that debunks that clubs feel that way. The thing is, Bud Selig does not like Barry Bonds; anyone who watched Selig beat himself in lamentation (he was playing pocket-pool) after Bonds hit home run No. 755 could discern that. In addition, Bonds is a larger-than-life reminder of his massive failure that led to the steroid era. As I mentioned over at Baseball Digest Daily, Selig has the three elements you look for in a crime: means, motive and opportunity.

Means: he’s commissioner with a lot of clout with ownership. Motive: getting back at Bonds for breaking his friend Hank Aaron’s record and being a visible reminder of his own failure in addressing performance-enhancing drugs. Opportunity: Bonds being a free agent, 43 years old and with both legal (although there’s almost zero chance he’ll stand trial this season) and possibly health issues. These provide a smokescreen giving Selig and the clubs plausible deniability. During the original collusion under Peter Ueberroth, it was baseball’s alleged poverty and threats of bankruptcy (coupled with cooked books) that provided cover back in the 1980s edition of collusion.

Let’s look at other similarities…

Code words: during the 1980s many innocuous high-sounding honorable phrases were used to describe what was happening such as “fiscal responsibility” and “financial restraint.” (Oddly enough, Selig was described as a “leading proselytizer” of Ueberrothian collusion.) Today, could the following be code for ignoring Bonds? “Learn from the past and move on,” “put this period into the past” and “it’s time to move on?”

Media complicity: back in the 1980s the press were generally supportive of management’s efforts to ‘save the game from bankruptcy’ from the ‘greedy players’ and ‘the ridiculous demands of free agents.’ When the union started to holler, the media backed management saying in effect that the game had come to its senses and the only conspiracies that were occurring were ones of common sense and smart business.

Now, we’re reading comments such as “And not because of collusion, as Donald Fehr and the Major League Baseball Players Association might have you think. It’s because of common sense.” (Neil Tarpey of The Times-Standard) “And I’d call it a conspiracy of common sense.” (Bill Ordline of the Baltimore Sun) “Collusion? Hardly. Common sense is more like it.” (Tim Dahlberg of AP). You could find similar sentiments in the press clippings of the Ueberroth screwardship of the sport.

Back in the 1980s the pundits stated that baseball had to be saved from bankruptcy due to player greed. In the era of Selig it is the specter of a sport needing saving from becoming morally bankrupt due to player PED use.

Other examples of this phenomenon: during the Ueberroth collusion, clubs were making arguments why All Star-caliber players were a bad idea for their team. For three straight years teams deliberately declined to upgrade their rosters; for three straight years they deliberately decided that boycotting players was more beneficial than the potential rewards of a playoff-bound club; for three straight years they vindictively turned their backs on players—the very ones that people line their pockets with gold to watch.

Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf, George Steinbrenner, Fred Wilpon, The Tribune Company, Carl Pohlad and David Montgomery were all part of collusion under Ueberroth and most are among the sport’s power brokers. The ghosts remain.

Surely, they learned their lesson, right? They learned it so well that when the last collective bargaining agreement was ratified, they paid the players’ union a modest collusion settlement. The simple fact is that ownership colludes whenever they feel they can get away with it. They felt that they could get away with it during the Jim Crow era and boycott non-Caucasians from the field. They did likewise in the 1980s since the game was ‘on the verge of bankruptcy.’ It reared its ugly head again in 2002 since the union had become complacent. With an aging Barry Bonds without a contract and a desire to ‘move on’ from the steroid era it seems they’re trying again.

Just as all 26 teams came to the simultaneous conclusion that players like Kirk Gibson, Tim Raines, Jack Morris, Ron Guidry, Andre Dawson etc. couldn’t help their clubs, all 30 have decided that a big left-handed bat who isn’t even the biggest south end of a northbound mule in the game cannot help their clubs compete in 2008.

The worst part of it is this—back in the 1980s ownership had to repay the players $280 million settlement in lost wages and some players were again granted free agency. If baseball is indeed colluding against Barry Bonds, he is too old for a make-good. The home run record may always be in dispute since Bonds’ career was illegally cut short.

It just goes to show once again where the greatest threat to the game’s integrity truly lay. Alex Rodriguez (or someone else) can hit a non-steroid-aided 763rd home run, but no one can undo the “what might have been” record from blackballing Barry Bonds.

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