Bonds/Steroids: Much Ado About Nothing
The news that there is a book coming out on Bondsí steroid use, with an excerpt this week in Sports Illustrated, was all over the airwaves yesterday. I was on one of the shows, with Rick Barry and Rod Brooks on KNBR. When they asked me if I thought this cast a pall over the Giants season, I said no, which seemed to shock them.
In fact, though, this book and the resulting clamor in the media will have virtually no effect on fans. People have made up their minds about Bonds long ago. There is a large anti-Bonds faction out there, and this will just reinforce their feelings. There is also a sizeable number of Giants fans, especially those who actually go to the games at PacBell, who love him Ė and this wonít change their minds, either.
Thatís the key for the Giants, as always. The sentiments of people who donít come to the games or even watch them on TV, which is the great preponderance of the anti-Bonds group, is of no concern because theyíre not contributing any money to the Giants, directly at the game or indirectly by watching the telecasts.
Those going to the games love Bonds. I usually go to a couple of games a week when the Giants are home, and Iíll walk around the park. I was standing in the area behind the right field seats last year when Bonds announced to the crowd that heíd be back soon from his knee injury. His prediction was greeted by tumultuous applause.
Unfortunately, Bonds optimism wasnít warranted, and he didnít return until mid-September. Without him, the Giants were a dull, losing team. When heís been playing and theyíve been winning, itís been an exciting ride, and the reaction to Bonds has been one of sheer joy. The fans donít care what heís taking. They just enjoy his superhuman exploits.
That wonít change this year. When Bonds is in the lineup, heíll be greeted joyfully, because the fans know that, for the Giants to win, Bonds will have to play somewhere around three-quarters of the games.
On the road, the reaction to Bonds will be quite different. Heíll be booed as he always has been, because heís such an important factor in the Giantsí success Ė which means losing for the home team. Many years ago, I saw games in Dodger Stadium where fans cheered when Don Drysdale decked Willie Mays with a fast ball under the chin. They couldnít fully appreciate Mays because he might help the Giants win.
However they feel about Bonds in other cities, they come out to see him. The Giantsí road attendance dropped significantly without him last year.
The simple truth is that the steroids story means much more to the media than it does to the fans. Many in the media love to use the steroids issue to bash Bonds, but the fans just want to see the games.
FRANKLY, I THINK the whole steroids issue has been blown out of proportion by the media. I mentioned Benard and Sanchez, who have both tested positive for steroids, because they serve as examples of how ridiculous it is to assume that Bondsí steroid use is the only reason for his success. Let me throw out another name, Larry Walker, who had a Bonds-like escalation in his offensive numbers.
Walker was a nice player in his early career, a good defensive outfielder and a decent hitter, with two plus .300 seasons in his first five years, with a high of .322, and a total of 99 home runs in those five seasons.
In his sixth season, Walker jumped to 36 home runs. He played only half a major league season the next year because of injuries, but had a monster year in his eighth season, hitting .363 with 49 home runs, 99 extra base hits, 130 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .720 and an on-base percentage of .452. His home runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage all led the league.
The next season, Walkerís home runs fell off to 23, but he led the league with a batting average of .366. The following year, he also led the league with a .379 batting average and 37 home runs in just 127 games, and he also led the league with a .710 slugging percentage and an on-base percentage of .458.
Steroids? No. Walker just moved from the Montreal Expos to the Colorado Rockies, whose home park inflates both batting averages and power numbers. Walkerís frequent injuries have held down his career numbers, but if he makes the Hall of Fame, it will be because he had the advantage of playing in Coors Field.
Many players have benefited from either playing in a home park which aids their hitting or playing in an era like the Ď30s or the Ď90s where the ball was juiced. Significantly, though, Todd Helton is the only other hitter who has had Walker-like numbers for the Rockies. And, though an untold number of players take steroids, nobody else has come close to Bondsí numbers. It takes more than juice.
The other argument I find specious is that steroid use by major league athletes has a detrimental influence on high school athletes, who try to emulate their athletic heroes. They do if the parents arenít doing their jobs. Itís up to the parents to set an example, to talk to their kids about the dangers of doing any drugs. If the parents arenít there to do that, well, thatís a far more serious problem than whether high schoolers are looking for steroids.
There are also more dangerous drugs than steroids. Crack cocaine has been devastating to the black community. Neither Bonds nor any of the players taking steroids are taking crack cocaine; they wouldnít be able to function if they were. Bonds is taking a performance-enhancing drug because he wants to be the best. Thatís a mixed message to youngsters, but itís certainly much more positive than if he were caught taking crack cocaine or heroin, another killing drug which seems to be making a comeback.
THE STEROIDS issue wonít go away because the media will continue to flog it, far beyond its importance.
There are always those in the media who seem determined to impose their own value systems on society. Years ago, older writers talked disdainfully of ďdruggiesĒ who were into the recreational drugs, mostly cocaine. The alcohol abusers in sports got a pass from these writers, probably because the writers were into alcohol pretty heavily themselves.
Now, itís the steroids takers who are beyond the pale. I guess itís too much to ask that those in the media who think that steroids are the end of civilization as we know it actually show a little professionalism, but they should at least be concerned that people are tuning them out.
LETTERS: I updated this section with new e-mails yesterday.
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