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Bonds Bombs - A Sunday Night Thinkpost

Bonds 715

SF Giant Barry Bonds touches home plate after hitting his 715th home run on May 28, 2006.

For a long while, Major League Baseball had a problem. It was due to the disputes and constant harangues between the ballplayers and the club owners over money. Fans of the game were not pleased about this, especially when it seemed as if both sides were making out like bandits. Salary caps. Revenue sharing. Corporate sponsorships. Fair business practices. Free agency.

In came to a head in 1994; there was a strike and the World Series for that year never happened. Many unhappy fans resolved to stay away from the game because of the spoiled brats that were grabbing as much cheese as they could, and forgetting about the people who permitted them the opportunity to do that.

But, slowly, things started to change. The next year, MLB introduced the "Wild Card" format, where the team in each league with the best record of those not winning their division would make the playoffs. This gave fans a chance to root for their team to make it into the post season, even if they weren't a division champ. The Yankees started winning again, which always made for excitement. New and beautiful ballparks started opening up around the league, replacing some hideous monstrosities like Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, Seattle's Kingdome and Houston's Astrodome. But perhaps most importantly of all, there was "The Long Ball."

Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals began an onslaught of New York Yankees Roger Maris's thirty-seven year old single season home run record of 61 in 1998. To have these two incredible athletes and great personalities going after this one record together during this one season really brought fans back to the ball parks. Suddenly, it was a baseball renaissance. Everything was going right. The Yankees were winning championships left and right, and there was even a "Subway Series" in the midst of it all, where the Mets and Yanks squared off to claim the title of best team in Baseball, and in New York, the unoffical Capital City of Baseball.

But, really, what we didn't know was that all wasn't right.

Steroids were being used by players to "enhance" their performance. Steroids help to build muscle mass. Human Growth Hormone. Players started to "muscle up" as they say.

Who used steroids? It's hard to know exactly who used, and when, and for how long. Some players were caught red-handed. Others have been suspected but never officially caught. Still, this issue is, to coin a term, shadowing Barry Bonds, who has long been suspected of using the substance to help his abilities.

So, all of this goes back to 1994. After MLB gave itself a black eye by not being able to come to an agreement with players and owners, they were looking for something to bring the fans back. The athletes wanted to help with this, and someone got the brilliant idea to try steroids to help with this.

Suddenly, older pitchers could throw that fastball in the strike zone on three day's rest. Utility infielders could hit homers to the opposite field. Everything got dialed up an extra notch or two and the fans were loving it, the players were having fun, attendance was up even higher than before and it was working great.

That brings us back to Sosa, McGwire and Bonds. Sosa and McGwire both broke Maris's record, with McGwire getting to the amazing total of 70 homers! Then, three years later, Bonds broke McGwire's record by clubbing 73.

The talk of "cheating" in baseball is a difficult discussion. What is "cheating," anyway? Breaking the rules of the game, obviously. But really, baseball looked the other way when all of this began. Surely someone knew that certain players were trying steroids very early into the process, back in 1994, or perhaps even before. No one spoke at that time.

When Jose Canseco wrote his book, "Juiced," he exposed himself and his teammate from the Oakland A's, Mark McGwire, as rampant steroid users. This was the first public outing of the problem and the wave that was caused by it continues to ripple throughout the sport. McGwire has since retired from the game and though he has not admitted to using steroids, has also never said he did not. Canseco is now a pariah in baseball. Maybe he blew the whistle, but no one is thanking him, that's for sure.

Bonds was eyed as another likely user of the substance and has always claimed he never knowingly used steroids in his career, and has never tested positive for drug use. However he did have dealings with a noted distributor of steroids, and that BALCO scandal lead to some inditements, though Bonds came out of that relatively clean.

Baseball purists are claiming that Barry Bonds is a cheater and that his records should be removed from the Baseball Almanac. If Bonds goes on to break Hank Aaron's 755 career home run record, it should not count, and really breaking Babe Ruth's 714 shouldn't count, either.

The problem is in discovering just who used and who didn't. Pitchers that use can recover more quickly, throw more accurately and prevent hitters from hitting nearly as well. Other batters that hit better extend innings and get their teammates more at bats than they would have otherwise gotten. With no accurate account of who used and who didn't and nothing but accusations flying around, it is impossible to get the facts. And if you stop the season and start an investigation, you will likely find that all of this goes a lot deeper than the several high profile players that everyone is examining.

Who is to blame? The players? Well, they were the ones who used. But they were trying to do the best for their teams, their fans, the game. Perhaps there was self-motivation there, but there was also a sense of trying to entertain the people who paid to see them.

Ultimately, Baseball itself, or really, the caretakers of Baseball through this era are those that are to blame. Bud Selig, the nit-wit Commissioner of Baseball during this time is the main target of derision here, since he was at the helm during all of this.

What will happen next? How will baseball react if and when Bonds breaks Aaron's HR record? It saddens me to think.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 29th, 2006 06:35 am (UTC)
Of course I'm a Giants fan so I'm a Bonds Booster. Oh, the MLB is to blame for this "scandal" - they knew what was going on the whole time. Have you read "The Physics of Baseball" by Robert K. Adair, Sterling Professor of Physics, Yale University? People should, then they would know just how hard it is, juiced or not, to hit a baseball.

The curveball was outlawed as unfair for a time too. Shall we asterisk strikeouts committed with the use of a curveball on pitchers' records? Or discount home runs from Coors Field because of the altitude?

I think the MLB should outlaw steroids because it jeopardizes the players' health, not because it affects stats. Stats are just entertainment.
May. 29th, 2006 07:13 am (UTC)
This thinkpost was inspired when someone in yankeesfans asked about Bonds passing Ruth. This debate has come up every so often there, since it's Ruth's record as a lefty hitter that's getting passed, so it's no surprise that someone brought it up again today.

But people seem completely focused on stopping Bonds somehow. He gets booed mercilessly in every foreign city.

Really, Bonds has a "personality" problem. People don't like him because he's not a likeable kind of guy. And this isn't even "Roid Rage," becuase he was sort of nasty to people back in his skinny days as a Pittsburgh Pirate. He will never be a "beloved" figure in the game, like his godfather Willie Mays or that cove's namesake, Willie McCovey.

If Bonds had a personality more like Mark McGwire, would things have gone differently for him? I have to think so. And really, that's sort of why "Game Of Shadows" was written: people have a grudge against this guy for being rude, arrogant, an asshole. They are looking for a way to bring him down. They found a way to at least try.

The problem is, of course, if you attack Bonds for useage you have to first prove he used, and that hasn't happened yet, and then you have to be equitable and seek out ALL players that have used. And that might take some time.

You're right... the rules of major league baseball have changed over time. If you saw the HBO special episode of "CostasNow" where Cardinal battery mates Don Gibson and Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan had a round table discussion, Gibson was angry about them lowering the pitcher's mound 6 inches after the 1968 season.

The difference here is that when you make changes like that in the game, they are uniform for all teams. You could outlaw the spitball or the curve ball or whatever pitches you want, but everyone is under that rule. With steroids, there is next to no way to tell if a person is on them at any given time. But I get your point.

Selig is the second biggest idiot in a position of power in this country, and I lay the blame for all of this on him. His lack of leadership allowed the '94 strike to happen, and that was a big part of everything that has happened around the game since. Another point was his dopey All-Star game "tie" (Ironically in his old home park in Milwaukee), which led him to make the All-Star game "home field advantage" for the World Series.
May. 29th, 2006 04:23 pm (UTC)
Yes, it would be nice if Barry was more amiable and sociable. Still, that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve acknowledgment for his achievement. Who's the asshole there?
May. 29th, 2006 08:38 am (UTC)
I made a smaller, less thought-inducing post on this situation a few weeks ago when Barry refused to autograph #711 in Philly (I think). Got no responses. I guess we won't have enough beisbol fans around. However, I am a baseball fan from way back. Beisbol been BARRY good to me. (I am the most exhausted woman in the room). Wondering how, when and if Barry breaks Hank's record, how history will view the accomplishment. I don't have stats right in front of me, although I should. I know Hank had been playing consistent ball from his youth, and had become something of a journeyman in the later years of his career. I remember there was a huge controversy back in the day from the rednecks who didn't want him to break the Babe's record.

All of the Babe's records have pretty much been smashed. The only record in baseball still untouched is Dimaggio's consecutive-hitting streak. But, I digress. Here is the supposition I posited in my entry a few weeks back: is Barry being tested, consistently, for steroids? Is he being tested daily, weekly, monthly? There is so much doubt surrounding his pursuit of Hammerin Hank's record. It will seem so anticlimactic when and if he reaches that goal. It will seem so...meaningless, I guess. Unless we can prove Barry suddenly became a better player in his 40's than he was in his 20's or 30's. What do you think about all this. Like I said, I posted about this and got no responses, so now that you have made a post, I'd like to have some intelligent discourse on the subject. And, I can always count on you for intelligent discourse. Seriously, that was a compliment. Sometimes my compliments sound strange when I am tired. :-)
May. 29th, 2006 10:16 am (UTC)
Hank was just hated by racists who didn't want him to break Babe Ruth's records. Irony, since The Bambino came from a questionable background and I don't know that we even know today what his actual racial makeup was.

Even though Babe's records have pretty much all been eclipsed, he had held them all so long and collectively himself, his legend is secure. Someone new may have the single season HR record, and another may have the career record, and another may get the most walks... but he held all of those.

Dimaggio will probably not get broken. It would be easy for an opposing team to snap it. If you get the guy out the first time he bats, you can just walk him the rest of the game and the streak is over! It would take an exceptional hitter to go for 57. It would require some luck, and a lot of ability and endurance.

Barry is not being tested consistently... in fact, no players are. They are being tested "RANDOMLY," which also means that they might get tipped off before a test. Also, I suspect that once you're tested, you won't get tested again for a while. So, after you test, you're free to juice!

I think that this just happens to be the "steroid" era of baseball. I mean, really, it could be that everyone in the game is using! It's not really likely, but it's possible, or at least possible that many more are on the roids than we first thought.

The reason sports holds a special appeal is because there is an element of fairness. There are rules which are followed and consequences that happen if you don't. That's within the framework of the game! Now, we're examining something that happens outside of the game and how that affects the players and the rules.

We cannot separate one player out and hold him up to punishment if we aren't going to do it for everyone that did what he did. So everyone that is calling for Bonds to be suspended or have his records removed is not being fair.

Personally it's about the man. Bonds is not liked because he's not a nice guy. That just isn't who he is. And he catches a lot more hell because of that.

So, I don't know. It's like slicing up a baseball. You want to get steroids out of the game. There are a lot of players (well, SOME players) who wouldn't be where they are without steroids. When you start in with investigating one, you may find the core of that baseball completely unraveling...

And yes! I got the Dimaggio/Marilyn Monroe ref!
May. 29th, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
I can't stand him.............sickens me that he broke the record and that they aren't doing anything about his obvious steriod use. I wish he'd retire already:(
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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