Can we get a grip, please?
Yes, Barry Bonds has most likely used performance-enhancing anabolic substances. In all likelihood, one day proof so indisputable will surface that it will obligate Bonds to ‘fess up.
It’s also true that he’ll most likely eclipse Hank Aaron’s major league record of 755 home runs.
It will not trigger the apocalypse—I promise. You wouldn’t think so by reading some of the things written about Bonds, the All-Star Game and “the record.” It boggles the mind.
A few caveats before we proceed: One, I feel Barry Bonds has used PED. Two, I do not condone steroid usage in baseball. I hate it. I object to any situation that makes others feel obligated to deliberately put toxic substances into their bodies to pursue their dreams or their jobs. Three, I am a much bigger fan of Aaron and what he accomplished than I am of Bonds.
I’m sorry, though. While I understand and appreciate others’ strong feelings on this issue and their passion for everything Hank Aaron has achieved (I watched on an old black-and-white TV as an awe-struck kid when No. 715 left the field), it might not hurt to take a step back, catch our breaths, and look at what will and will not transpire.
Let’s check out what is being written about all this of late:
The All-Star start will put him in the same outfield with Ken Griffey Jr. and give him his final practice swings (maybe a couple against Josh Beckett) before resuming his joyless/fraudulent chase Friday at home against the Dodgers.
This isn’t Matt Lawton approaching this record, it’s Barry Bonds. To pursue this mark Bonds has had to play in the major leagues for 22 seasons and step up to the plate 12,430 times. You do not get that many opportunities if you’re a stiff. Before BALCO, Bonds won a trifecta of MVP awards and was close to an annual lock for the All-Star Game and the Gold Glove. Further, Hank Aaron had 13,940 PA to hit his 755.
For fun, let’s rewind to the end of 1998: New home run milestones have been set. Barry Bonds is 33 years old and coming off a season where he batted .303/.438/.609. He is sitting at 411 career home runs. You’re having a beer with a buddy discussing Bonds and the new home run levels. One of you pipes up: “Suppose Bonds plays another 10 seasons and ends up getting close to as many plate appearances as saaaaaay—Hank Aaron in this environment. How many home runs do you think he hits?” Chances are good that you’d peg him somewhere between Willie Mays and Babe Ruth.
A little thought (and a Baseball Encyclopedia) tells you that from age 33 through retirement Aaron hit 313 HR. So Bonds could have … whoa, 724 HR! Then you remark: “But Aaron hit some of those in a period when a pitch at the letters was a strike; where pitchers stood atop a 15-inch mound…where guys weren’t mashing 60-70 HR …” (pause) “Geez, do ya think Bonds could?…”
As a shortstop, Alex Rodriguez had a three-season run where he averaged 52 HR. He may well hit 60 this year and at age 31 may have over 500 HR. If A-Rod played even 20-25 years ago, would he amass these numbers? A lot of things above and beyond Rodriguez’ amazing talent have gone into his totals: Smaller parks, lighter and harder bats, livelier baseballs, better weight training and nutrition, a shrinking strike zone, wearing padding at the plate, pitchers being actively discouraged from pitching inside and Mike Crudale*.
These things have aided Bonds as well. I wonder what the reaction would be right now had Bonds slugged 49 HR instead of 73 in 2001. He have 727 dingers and we’d be speculating whether his 3,000th hit and 756th home run might happen during the same at-bat in 2008. Yes, we’d still have the BALCO revelations, the grand jury testimony, “Game of Shadows,” etc., but we’d be looking at his long ball totals and seeing nothing out of line from his pre-juicing days. We might be ruminating: “How much did the juice help, since there’s nothing out of line from his career norms in hitting home runs?”
Further, heavy steroid usage negatively impacts player longevity. Those noted for their juicing have had their bodies break down and have been out of the game by their late 30s: Mark McGwire retired at 37, Ken Caminiti made it to 38, Jose Canseco was gone at 36. The only exception was Rafael Palmeiro, who played until 41, and here Bonds is .295/.512/.589 with 17 HR and will be 43 this month.
The simple fact that Bonds is still in the game raking despite the destructive properties of anabolic substances bears witness to the amazing biological machine that is home to the shade of Barry Bonds.
It’s probably safe to say PED usage has goosed Bonds’ totals, but absent it we cannot say for certain that he might not be creeping up on Aaron; don’t forget, how many pitchers got him out because of the juice? A healthy, productive Bonds at 43 (with or without steroids) would be expected to be closing in on “The Hammer.”
He thinks he can disappear this winter having avoided asterisk and indictment. He will probably be voted into the Hall of Fame by those who consider him greater than his flaws.
It’s all finally coming together. The perfect crime is nearing completion.
Barry Bonds thinks he’s getting away with the murder of baseball’s integrity.
And here in the final stretch of his great escape, man, did he rub it in.
Baseball’s integrity? If baseball had any integrity, Babe Ruth might not have hit 714 HR—he’d have had to face the best black pitchers and fielders. Josh Gibson might hold the record. Other items of note: collusion, the Black Sox scandal, Pete Rose, amphetamine use, Gaylord Perry etc. Bonds murdered baseball’s integrity the same way Charles II executed Oliver Cromwell. Along these same lines…
At some point this month, Bonds will hit his 756th home run, finishing off the most fraudulent campaign in professional sports history. But there’s no one left to stop Bonds, not as he’s this close to soiling history… Not only are we being forced to accept Bonds’ imminent coronation, but we’re having our faces rubbed in it. Bonds knows that no one has the guts to stand up to him now. Not Selig, not Bonds’ fellow ballplayers, not even the press. Bonds made himself available for a full hour on Monday, and was asked only once about steroids—and even that question was carefully nuanced.
Everyone, it seems, is waiting for someone else to do the heaving lifting. The commissioner turns a desperate gaze toward the Mitchell investigation, while the feds are leaning on former Met clubhouse employee Kirk Radomski to incriminate Bonds. And Bonds’ peers simply turn a blind eye to the game’s moral decline.
Did you notice?: “Bonds knows that no one has the guts to stand up to him now. Not Selig, not Bonds’ fellow ballplayers, not even the press.“
That sounds like the whelps of a beaten cur. Despite having the strength of numbers and the power of the media, he’s complaining that Bonds kicked their collective butts.
Frankly, I have no idea what to say about that. The game is in a moral decline, the players, media, and commissioner were helpless to stop it. What to do? Blame Barry Bonds! Sorry, that’s weak sauce.
I already have vowed not to write about Bonds’ ascension to Aaron’s throne when it happens in protest against what I believe to be his fraudulent, chemical means of getting there … But it would be special if Bonds were greeted by silence at Wrigley. Not by boos, but by silence. A silent protest.
Bonds feeds off the cynicism and anger of others. Despite all those home runs, the only thing that seems to bring him joy is his contempt for the vast majority of humans. He greets the world with a sneer … Give it some thought. Silence would say what Bonds accomplished didn’t really happen. It would say Aaron still has the real record.
Records only tell us what happened not how they happened—that’s what history is for. If we try to alter the historical record, we run the threat of creating the opposite of what we hope to achieve.
Let’s say Bonds retires with 785 home runs. We’ll give him that nice, fat juicy asterisk that gives so many in the media a euphoric high. Bud Selig takes a stand and announces that Aaron will remain the official all-time home run record holder.
Fast forward to the year 2027. Here’s what will probably transpire: Whenever Aaron’s name is mentioned as “The all-time home run king” folks will think: “But Barry Bonds hit 785.” In time, Aaron’s crown is going to sound a little hollow—Aaron’s 755 HR will be the total with the asterisk—that being: “But Barry Bonds hit 785.” (Yeah, yeah, it’ll probably be Alex Rodriguez by then, but the point stands.)
Aaron’s legacy now looks a little diminished due to Bonds’ higher total. It almost becomes a joke. If you let history speak, it will tell you that Aaron hit 755 HR despite weighing 180 pounds and he hit 212 of them during the greatest pitching period since the “dead ball era,” while Bonds…
Get the picture? Right now everybody and their grandmother is defending Aaron—how much more evidence do you need that while Bonds will have the higher numerical total, he hasn’t replaced Aaron’s legacy one iota? In fact, Aaron looks that much more impressive because of Bonds.
Aaron (and Roger Maris) didn’t eclipse the star of Ruth—it still shines brightly today as it did in the spring of 1961—and neither will Bonds diminish Aaron. Legends don’t need numbers. They transcend numbers.
Think about this: Someone who knows nothing about baseball drops into the middle of AT&T Park on Tuesday night. Or, maybe, tunes into the national telecast of the game. What’s the impression? What’s the overriding message?
That Barry Bonds is great. That he is loved by fans and adored by his fellow players. That he is a smiling, humble, gracious ambassador of the game.
That Barry Bonds is baseball.
And people think Bonds holds people in low regard? A little credit please. Look at what the common fan has been reading about Bonds the last few years. Do you think watching a single All-Star Game is going to change everybody’s impression?
Part of the reason Bonds gets booed is because, well, people just love to hoot controversial athletes. And Bonds is surely the Babe Ruth of controversial athletes. But what he is not is the Babe Ruth of congeniality, or the Henry Aaron for that matter. So people boo. And then there are the folks who quite simply believe the man to be a cheat, and, as these folks do not admire cheaters, they hoot and hiss each time Bonds approaches the dish.
No. Here’s why they hoot and hiss. They read things about Bonds that state:
“…the only thing that seems to bring him joy is his contempt for the vast majority of humans. He greets the world with a sneer … Yet no great player has been more consistently unpleasant than Barry Bonds, and not only with professional snoops, but teammates, too.” — (Don’t put too much stock in Bonds’ tactful concern)
“He smiled and laughed, exuding all the charm of a mobster posing for pictures with kids. This was Barry Bonds’ good side, the one we supposedly never see. But the man who would be (home run) king has stopped snarling at the world … He’s laughing all right—at Bud Selig, Hank Aaron, the feds, the fans, you and me.”–(Nobody can stop Barry Bonds)
“It’s why most people who know Bonds wouldn’t spit on him even if he was on fire … Nobody questions his talent. It’s his failure as a human being that is at issue.”–(Bonds in the showcase game? It just doesn’t add up)
These are comments that have little to with Bonds’ PED usage. We’ve read columns for 15 years now about what an unpleasant sort Barry Bonds is, and now are folks saying that if he never used steroids the public would now be embracing him and his assault on history?
Of course not. This isn’t about Barry Bonds’ drug usage, it’s about his personality—especially toward the media. The trouble is, there’s no law or rule against being anally-inclined. You cannot deny a Hall of Famer his due for not being Mr. Sunshine-and-Prozac. You cannot put an asterisk on a scowl and a rude brush-off. The PED issue is simply something tangible that can be used to punish Bonds for being the (Albert) Belle of the ball (park).
Many players have had poor relations with the media, but when it came to honors, the media members realize that to deny the Mike Schmidts, the Steve Carltons, the Eddie Murrays, the Rod Carews of the sport their rightful due for their talents would make them seem small and petty.
However, Barry Bonds has given the media something above and beyond being a disagreeable cuss. Bonds has given them something tangible to use as an excuse for refusing to honor his talents and achievements. They now hold a hammer they can sell to the public as to why Bonds is unworthy of this-or-that…performance-enhancing drugs.
Absent steroids, we’d be reading what a tragedy it is that such a boor will be supplanting one of baseball’s greatest heroes and ambassadors atop the record books.
I’m saving the best for last…
Baseball has lost Aaron, no matter how disingenuously both he and Selig try to maintain the fiction of a “friendship,” no matter how carefully Aaron tries to couch his reasons for shunning anything to do with Bonds and the number 756, which soon will be linked in infamy.
Aaron’s total, 755, was one of the great iconic numbers in the history of sports, as was its predecessor, 714. But 756 is a dirty number, a code number for cheating and corruption and collusion … That is why Aaron will be nowhere near AT&T Park tonight, and while it is easy for baseball to put on its best face during its replacement show—a tribute to Willie Mays, former Giants great and, coincidentally, Bonds’ godfather—there is no getting around the reality that something shameful has happened here … Instead, it is a tragic tale, a story of a man betrayed by the game to which he gave 23 summers.
Aaron did not return phone calls yesterday; you could not expect him to. After all, what else could he say? The man’s absence from anything to do with Bonds says it all.
And you can’t blame Aaron for being bitter about the way his record is being erased from the books and enraged by not only the inaction of the commissioner but his continued support of the cheaters who still infest baseball … And the last-minute smuggling of Bonds into the All-Star Game through baseball’s back door, via a mysterious late surge of essentially untraceable votes, tells you that baseball is more than ready to welcome the new king, even if it means trampling the body of the old.
There is one point from this that I would like to address: “Instead, it is a tragic tale, a story of a man betrayed by the game to which he gave 23 summers.” Hank Aaron spent his time in baseball in indentured servitude. He was paid a fraction of his actual worth. He had no say in where he could ply his trade. He was subjected to racism over the course of his career—indeed he started his career with the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns.
Hank Aaron was betrayed and exploited by the game for 23 summers. Barry Bonds will have earned close to $200 million for hitting as many home runs as Hank Aaron. How much did Aaron make? Hank Aaron was betrayed by the same media that are defending him now. When baseball players were simply trying to get their fair share of baseball’s revenues when Aaron was still in the game, how many in the press blasted the “spoiled,” “privileged” and “pampered” players of that era?
How many sided with those in management who exploited these men’s talent and then tossed them aside when they were no longer useful? Never forget this: Back in the early days of the MLBPA, players weren’t asking ownership for freedom of movement, multi-millionaire contracts, use of luxury suites and the like. All they wanted were decent pensions. Ownership told them, in effect, to go to hell.
The media went along with management’s line and ripped the players early and often. They were fully supportive of management’s use-’em-up and kick-’em-out and as a thank you, your pension might get you a bag of groceries by the time you collect it.
I think if you were to ask Hank Aaron, he would most likely ask: “Why didn’t you defend me when I really needed it?”
Think about it.
The Whine Cellar
I’m happy to announce that I will be covering the Blue Jays for Sympatico/MSN sports. This week’s entry is A.J. Burnett, Roy Halladay and Dizzy Dean: A cautionary tale.
A little bad news however: I will be remaining on staff for The Hardball Times where I will continue to create feces-laden turbulent weather patterns by turning such pithy phrases as “clogs the bases” as well as, due to his diminutive stature making viewing difficult, pointing out that indeed, once again, David Samson has put his foot in his mouth.
As of July 12…
Players who are on (or close to*) pace to top Earl Webb’s record of 67 doubles (assuming 600 AB):
Player 2B Team Pace Magglio Ordonez 35 DET 67
*on pace for at least 60
We’ll be following their progress on this page as the season goes on.
References & Resources
*and Mike Crudale