Hypocrisy Reigns With Barry Bonds
Steroids have been present in professional sports since at least the ‘70s when, according to those who played in the era, they were widely used in the NFL. They probably still are. Linebacker Bill Romanowski was often linked to them during his playing career, and when he was in Denver, he once claimed that he had convinced 90 per cent of his teammates to use products from the BALCO lab.
Have you heard of anybody demonstrating against Romanowski?
In baseball, steroids use goes at least as far back as the late ‘80s. Jose Canseco, in his book, “Juiced,” has talked of his own use and made claims about others, including his A’s teammate, Mark McGwire. At that time, Thomas Boswell wrote of Canseco’s steroids use.
What happened? Beyond the taunting of a Red Sox crowd at Fenway during a postseason playoff game, nothing. Canseco reacted to the chants of “steroids, steroids,” by smiling and flexing his muscle. Nobody else raised the question in print or on the air, and the issue went away for a time.
In 1998, McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in a spirited home run chase, both going far beyond Roger Maris’s single season record. McGwire’s career had been bogged down with injuries and slumps which had taken him as low as .201 for a season. Suddenly, his career was resurrected, as he put together seasons of 54, 58, 70 and 65 home runs. In 1998, a steroids-like substance was discovered in his locker but, aside from that story, nobody said or wrote anything.
Sosa was a good athlete who was skinny when he came up but built up to 230 pounds on his six-foot frame. Sound familiar? Here are his homer totals for his first five full seasons: 33, 25, 36,, 40 and 36. Here are his homer totals for his next five seasons: 66, 63, 50, 64 and 49.
Nobody raised the question of steroids for either McGwire or Sosa in 1998, not commissioner Bud Selig, not the club owners, not Donald Fehr, executive director for the Players Association, not the media, not the fans. Everybody was just too excited about the home run race, which was a bigger story that year than the Yankees setting an American League record with 114 wins. Baseball had been seriously damaged when a labor dispute cancelled the World Series in 1994, but the home run chase brought people back to the park. Nobody was going to do anything to stop that.
Because everybody pretended that steroids didn’t exist at that time, it is going to be very difficult for the George Mitchell investigation to recommend punitive measures against Bonds. But that won’t stop the hypocrites in the media and among the fans from demonizing Bonds.
I saw the start of Gaylord Perry’s career with the Giants. He was stuck in long relief, probably no more than two years away from the end of his major league career, when Bob Shaw taught him how to throw a spitter. That pitch eventually put Perry in the Hall of Fame. The spitter is, of course, an illegal pitch. but Perry cheerfully admitted throwing it, even doing a book on the subject. Why not? For the media and fans, it was just a cute story. Nobody ever called him a cheater.
In fact, baseball history has many stories of pitchers doctoring balls, hitters using corked bats, teams stealing signals from other teams. Cheating is a way of life in baseball.
Tainted records? Baseball is a game of records but not every record is created equal. Cy Young won 511 games, but he pitched entirely in the dead ball era, so there is no way to compare that mark with a current day pitcher. Hack Wilson set a record which still stands of 191 RBIs because he was fortunate enough to play in 1930, a season when the ball was so juiced that all kinds of extraordinary offensive stats were produced. Bill Terrry hit .401, the last .400 average in National League history. The Philadelphia Phillies had a team batting average of .315, but finished dead last, 40 games behind the pennant-winning Cardinals. So, would you say Wilson’s record was tainted?
In any era, it’s important to compare like with like. Young was pitching in the dead ball era but so was everybody else at the time, and nobody else put up his numbers. Wilson was hitting a very lively ball but he had numbers – which also included what was then a National League record of 56 homers – that nobody else was matching.
It is the same with Bonds. Nobody knows how many players have been on steroids but the number is apparently substantial. Yet, with McGwire and Sosa retired, Bonds is alone in the numbers he is producing. There’s more there than just steroids.
Health issues? A contributor to the Chronicle’s “Two Cents” department last week warned Bonds that Lyle Alzado and Ken Caminiti had died from steroids use. In fact, though Alzado claimed that steroids had caused a brain tumor, his doctor said that steroids did not cause his death. I’d be inclined to believe the doctor. A police source told ESPN a few days after Caminiti’s death in 2004 that a drug overdose had killed him. Caminiti had battled a drug abuse problem for most of his adult life.
Because we won’t legalize steroids, it’s impossible to study their possible short- and long-term dangers, but athletes have been taking them for a long time and there’s hardly been a wave of deaths from that.
It’s terrible that Bonds could surpass a record set by Henry Aaron, who’s one of the true gentlemen of sports?
When Aaron passed Babe Ruth, many people were distressed that a black man was breaking a white man’s record. Aaron was deluged by hate mail. Others, noting that Aaron had nearly 4000 more at-bats than Ruth at that point, thought Aaron’s record shouldn’t count. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn attended Opening Day in Cincinnati, when Aaron hit a record-tying home run, but was conspicuously absent when Aaron hit No. 715 in Atlanta in the next series. “Having seen Aaron hit No. 714, I felt no obligation to follow him day by day until Number 715 came along.” Kuhn later said.
Henry Aaron has always been a class act, but many of his contemporaries, including Kuhn, were not. Neither are those who are using his reputation to vilify Bonds, a campaign that Aaron himself has not joined.
THE DEMONIZATION of Bonds has already had its effect on fans, with signs, boos and even a plastic syringe thrown on the field in San Diego.
This is probably not indicative of the reaction of all fans. The San Diego episode reminded me of the hooligan element of the Raiders Nation; the more these guys appear on television, the more outrageous their behavior becomes. The San Diego demonstrators probably have the same mentality.
Selig has stressed that the Mitchell investigation will look into the whole picture, which it should. I have no hope that the media and the Bonds-hating fans will accept that. It is just so much more emotionally satisfying to be able to focus hatred on one person. Hypocrisy reigns.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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