a war going on. Itís a war pitting good versus evil, us versus them, and
slugger Barry Bonds finds himself on the other side of the fence.
Believe everything youíve
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 established
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, ďAll
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 gameís 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
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
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 Bondsí denial of steroid use and Bill Clintonís
denial of the Monica Lewinsky affair to George W. Bushís deceptions
about weapons of mass destruction. Neither Bondsí nor Clintonís
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 Ryanís 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 Johnnyís 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
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 isnít), 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, Iíll 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, heís the Babe.
Random is the
author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the
Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City
The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the
Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others.
Visit his website:
Other Articles by Jack
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* Open Letter
to Cindy Sheehan: Challenging the Pro-War Democrats
* The State
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Presidential Power Grab
Surrealistic Pillow: The West Virginia Mining Disaster
* Pataki &
Bloomberg: How to Bust a Union
Imperial President and the NSA Spying Scandal
and the Burning Embers of Repression
Activist Court & the Neoconservative Agenda
* The Agnew
Factor: Clearing the Impeachment Path
* Iraq and
New Orleans: The ABCs of Police Lawlessness
* The Age
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* No Tears
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Tolerance: Bush Gets Tough as New Orleans Suffers
Chavez and the American Slug: Pat Robertsonís Call for Assassination
* The Lie
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Again: Major Party Turnabout
* The New
War Candidate: Major Paul Hackett for Congress
Judy! The Fine Art of Calling a Bluff
Executive Blackmail: The Betrayal of Democracy in Haiti
the Democrats & Move On: The Federalist Court
the Wind: The Inevitable End of the Iraqi Occupation
and Madrid: Reflections on the War on Terror
Miller: The Anti-Hero
Scherzo: The Last Waltz
* The Last
Throes: The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Bush -- US Out Now!
* The Gates
of Hell: Occupied Iraq
* May Day:
The Rise & Fall of the Middle Class
* The Papal
Aristocracy: Confessions of a Nonbeliever
Citizen Left Behind
* A Marine
Comes Home: The Untold Story of War
Compassionate Leader -- In a Time of Crisis
Defense of Barry Bonds
Defending Dan? Rather Not
Went to Canada...& Johnny Got His Gun