Thursday, March 09, 2006

Crucify Him! Barry Bonds & the Steroids Saga

By Jack Random (posted by Dissident Voice 3/10/06.)

There’s a war going on. It’s a war pitting good versus evil, us versus them, and slugger Barry Bonds finds himself on the other side of the fence.

Believe everything you’ve read – despite a heavy reliance on anonymous sources and illegally leaked Grand Jury testimony. Believe that Bonds did steroids, intentionally and repeatedly, in an effort to break what once seemed an unbreakable record held by a man who did the same.

Crucify him! Run over him with a bulldozer or, better yet, an armored Hummer. Burn him in effigy or, better yet, burn him at the stake and blame him for New Orleans, Iraq, NSA wiretapping and Monica Lewinsky.

To those who have already condemned Bonds and blocked his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame, allow me to posit a contrasting point of view: Every player has a right to claim a record within the establish parameters of the game. Remember that the unqualified and nearly universal adulation of Mark McGwire did not end when Andro was found in his locker. The summer of Sammy Sosa and Big Mac played to packed houses, media madness, and in the end, Major League Baseball cried, “All hail!”

If Barry Bonds was incensed that a hulking white man laid claim to the most glamorous record in baseball, he had a right to be. Using roughly the same method, Bonds rose far above anything McGwire ever dreamed of; he rose to the lofty level of the game’s most esteemed legends.

Neither Bonds nor McGwire were fuzzy cheeked rookies trying to establish themselves. They were mature individuals, raised in a competitive environment, who investigated the risks and rewards, and made an informed and determined choice.

There was nothing inherently wrong with the decision they made. It was a decision countless others, including pitchers, made as well, secure in the belief that baseball was indifferent at best and no one would ever know.

Contrary to the implications of the most rabid detractors, neither Bonds nor McGwire was caught injecting children. (If you raise your children with even a modicum of wisdom, you have more to fear from leading politicians than overpaid athletes.)

Contrary to self-aggrandizing baseball purists (apologies to Keith Olbermann), it does not matter whether Bonds is inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot or any subsequent ballot. Baseball is a game of numbers. Over the course of a magnificent career, Barry Bonds stepped to the plate and produced numbers so far beyond the norm they defy all explanations – including performance enhancing drugs.

There are those who say that numbers tell you all you need to know. In baseball, they are very nearly correct. If you look at the numbers, Ruth and Gehrig were genetic freaks – and both (incidentally) died young. If you look at the numbers in the career of Roger Maris, 1961 was an aberration very close to statistical impossibility.

If you look at the numbers, Barry Bonds transformed himself from one of the very best speed-and-power, five tool players the game has ever known, to a pure slugger rivaled only by the legendary Babe. (Despite the numbers, it is debatable which player – the younger or the older Bonds – was in fact more valuable to his team.)

Sadly, I suspect we will one day learn that the price of that transformation was too great but the motivation was eminently understandable to anyone who has entered the arena of competitive sports.

I discovered the ultimate truth about Barry Bonds in reading a column by Joan Ryan in the San Francisco Chronicle (3/9/06): As I turned from page B1 to B5, there it was – a picture of a year-old girl shot in the back in Darfur.

The ultimate truth about the Barry Bonds saga is that, in the grand scheme, it does not matter – or rather, it matters very little. We may love the game of baseball but if you cannot teach your children that there is no relationship between athletic ability and moral, ethical or responsible conduct, then you have already failed your children. How convenient to be able to blame Bonds, Sosa or McGwire.

While I almost always agree with everything Joan Ryan writes, she is as guilty as most in oversimplifying the Bonds case. She offers the moral equivalency of Bonds’ denial of steroid use and Bill Clinton’s denial of the Monica Lewinsky affair to George W. Bush’s deceptions about weapons of mass destruction. Neither Bonds’ nor Clinton’s deceptions killed anyone or put the planet on the edge of world war.

She offers a simple metaphor: The story of little Billy informing his teacher that little Johnny cheated to ace a test. In Ryan’s story, the teacher scolds and punishes Billy for turning on little Johnny, the pride of the school.

To make the story more applicable to the Bonds case, little Billy actually found out from Johnny’s cousin that Johnny took Ritalin which enabled Johnny to focus and stay up late studying. When Billy was informed that there was nothing wrong with taking Ritalin, Billy began taking it himself.

The point is: Words like cheating, lying and betrayal are thrown around a little too carelessly these days. There was a time when cheating was something you did on the playing field. Anything you did off the field was your own business. Moreover, if you did something that was both common and within the rules of the game, no one outside your own parents could tell you it was wrong.

As for lying, as every human being short of sainthood understands: You have a right to lie, deceive and obfuscate to avoid torture, inhumane treatment or unjustified impeachment.

The Lewinsky affair has some measure of moral equivalency; the Bush lies do not.

I believe in my bones that Barry Bonds made a horrible mistake – and one that no child or adult athlete should repeat – when he decided to use steroids. If this gut feeling is correct (I hope it isn’t), there will be a terrible price to pay. It was, however, his own choice, his own crossroads, and neither I nor anyone else has a right to judge.

As a fan of the game and the San Francisco Giants, it has been a pleasure watching a modern-day Babe: Better than Disneyland, better than virtual reality. The man has supplanted the seven wonders of the earth.

So when #25 steps to the plate at Pacific Bell (I refuse to call it anything else) one more time, I’ll rise to my feet to cheer the greatest player since Willie Mays.

He may be a freak. He may be rude to the press. He may be a pain to other players. He may be prone to mental lapses on the field. Still, when he steps to the plate, he’s the Babe.



No comments:

Post a Comment