August 05, 2007
Bonds ties Aaron

Congratulations to Barry Bonds for his historic feat yesterday, putting him just one step away from the top spot on the all-time home run list. Forget what pompous windbags like Richard Justice think. What Barry Bonds has accomplished is amazing, and should be celebrated as such.

As far as the whole steroids "controversy" goes, I stand with Joe Sheehan:

While it's an unpopular viewpoint, I stand by my argument that Barry Bonds has not failed a test for PEDs in the four years that MLB has had a program. His testimony before a grand jury--subsequently leaked illegally, and to his detriment--was that he did take substances that were identified later as steroids, but he was told at the time that they were not. His testimony has been interpreted as parsing by some, perjury by others, although statements before the same grand jury by others have been granted full faith and credit. That grand jury inspired two reporters to write a book about Bonds, sourced largely by the illegally-obtained testimony, as well as the accounts of people around Bonds, at least one of whom, ex-mistress Kimberly Bell, can comfortably be described as "scorned."

Baseball now has a small underclass of players--real players, not anonymous minor leaguers or fringe guys--who have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances, been suspended for that use, and returned to play. In virtually every case, those players go about their business without anyone caring. They're cheered at home for their good deeds, and ignored on the road. The Indians benefit from the bullpen work of Rafael Betancourt, by far their best reliever this season, and a big reason for their contending status. He's not reviled in Detroit or Minnesota as a steroid user, not booed and forced to endure the taunts of "Cheater!" or worse. No one cares. The same can be said for Juan Rincon, who is essentially the Twins' version of Betancourt.

Need more evidence that the game is more than willing to forgive and forget? Ryan Franklin tested positive in 2005, serving a 10-game suspension for his guilt. Last month, the Cardinals signed him to a two-year contract worth $5 million. Last winter, the Mets' Guillermo Mota was suspended for the first 50 games of 2007 off a positive test; a month later, the Mets signed him to a two-year contract for, again, $5 million.

Add it up, and baseball has lavished more than $30 million on players who have been found guilty of steroid use after their use has come to light. These players don't occupy some gray area, don't inspire "did he or didn't he?" discussions on sports radio or the talking-head TV shows. They cheated, they got caught, served their penalties, and went on to earn millions playing baseball without being held up as examples of all that is wrong with America.

The central truth about the "steroid issue" is this: average people don't care about PED use. They care about tearing down those who they do not like, protecting those they do, and making themselves feel superior in the process.

Amen. Very simply, sportswriters like Richard Justice hate Barry Bonds, for their own mostly petty reasons. It's just pathetic.

I'm not saying anybody needs to like Barry Bonds. I think he's a great player, one of the greatest ever, but I never cared one way or the other about his pursuit of the home run record. If he'd fallen short, that wouldn't have changed my opinion of him as a player. What I am saying is that I don't think he's gotten anywhere near a fair shake in the court of public opinion, as presided over by the likes of Justice. If anything has diminished his accomplishment, that's it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 05, 2007 to Baseball

Back when Baseballprospectus was a free webpage, I read it religiously. Joe Sheehan is one of the most level headed commenters on baseball. This is so dead on it's hard to one up it.

Last night, I got into one of those asterisks next to Bonds' record rants. I said as the alcohol was kicking in, "Fair enough, but let's not stop the asterisking there. Let's go back and put one next to every record and every game ever played by a player who was even suspected of cheating. Given that an estimated 5% of the league is on steriods, over 90% of all games should have asterisks next to them. This includes the 1989 World Series Games that the Giants lost to the A's, whose two best players have used performace enhancers. As a Giants' fan, I'll give you Bonds record, as long as you give me our World Series Trophy. I'm also looking at you San Diego fans, who seem to have popularized the asterisk signs. How much did a juiced Ken Caminetti (sp?) help you? Let's put asterisks next to every one of your games he played in. But, let's not stop there, lets put asterisks next to players and games that may have scuffed balls, corked bats, and stolen signs. Now you've got baseballs most memorable moments, record books, and box scores full of asterisks, and Bonds asterisks hardly seems worth mentioning. Bonds cheated in game that has included cheaters for about a century."

Posted by: blank on August 5, 2007 4:22 PM

I disagree. The players you mention have nowhere near the stature of Barry Bonds. Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa - these are maybe people who could be compared to Barry Bonds. All of these players to some extent have also had their reputations tarnished by their perceived cheating. This is not about "tearing people down" - some of these players were well liked, but that does not excuse the use of steroids.

The point is not whether the league is willing to forgive and forget. Of course they will forgive and forget. The league is a business that is going to attempt to protect itself. The league didn't even have tests for any steroids until 2003, I believe. And that was only after Congress started getting involved in the situation. Baseball protects itself more like the tobacco industry than say, the NFL, which does not need to be threatened by Congressional action to clean house.

The point here is that baseball in the late 1990's and early 2000's, to the knowledgeable fan, will be remembered as the "juice-ball" era. Just like the Tour de France and Olympic athletes, Barry Bonds and his contemporaries are not above public scrutiny.

In my opinion, he should not even be in the record books because he is a cheater. MLB kicked Pete Rose out of the game for betting on teams he coached to win the ballgame. They kicked Shoeless Joe out for allegedly participating in the Black Sox scandal, even though he was acquitted by a jury. Yet the bums of today are going to be honored as if they were Roger Maris, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron? I don't think so.

And by the way, I'm a young fan - I didn't see those older guys play - I'm not some old curmudgeon. But unless somebody else like A-Rod breaks the record, my kids will still know that 56 (hit steak), 61 (home runs), 755 (home runs), and 2632 (games played) are the real records. 73 and 75x from Bonds? Meaningless numbers.

Posted by: Mike on August 5, 2007 10:30 PM

I have no problem with Bonds breaking the record...MLB made their own bed by ignoring the problem, so let tehm sleep with it. Fans new there was a problem WAY before MLB decided to address it, let them deal with it.

Posted by: Vernon Guy on August 5, 2007 10:38 PM

To an extent, I disagree. I don't feel badly for Major League Baseball. This is a delayed comeuppance from the labor trouble of the early 1990's. The strikes and lockouts hurt the game and alienated fans. So when juiced up players started knocking the ball out of the park with a regularity that flew in the face of historical norms people started coming back to baseball. It was exciting, it was fun to watch, but in a certain respect, it was one step removed from pro wrestling. But MLB was making money, lots of it, so they were willing to turn a blind eye. Well shame on them for not acting sooner but watching Bud Selig stand not knowing how to react is priceless. It's like seeing a man who has sold his soul to the devil who is realizing that time for payment has come due.

Witht that said, Barry shouldn't be let off the hook because MLB let him do the things he did. There is no doubt that Barry has suffered his slings and arrows but for the most part it is because of choices he made and actions he has taken. But he's taking a record that in my opinion was more fairly earned by Hank Aaron who endured abuse and death threats simply because he is black.

Posted by: Patrick on August 6, 2007 8:39 AM