Here we go again.
Granted, you’d had to have been living in a cave the past eight years to be shocked -- shocked -- to learn that Barry Bonds took illegal (and let’s remember this term kids, it’ll be on the quiz later) steroids starting in 1998, as the forthcoming book, “Game of Shadows” reports in great detail, but this is still a big deal.
No, not for baseball. I think we’ve long realized by now that Donald Fehr heads a much-too-powerful union for Major League Baseball to ever implement any sort of scheduled steroid and HGH testing. And you could argue that the random testing system that is currently in place worked even somewhat last season. It brought down Rafael Palmeiro, who dared to wave his finger at Congress months earlier in refuting his drug use. But this may be the end for Barry Bonds. You have to wonder if even he can staunchly pursue his home run record on a nightly basis now that everybody knows, not highly suspects, what he did.
He cheated. Himself, the fans, the game and its history.
Only the most foolish of baseball fans are out there this morning, muttering, “Let’s see where they’re going with this…” Barry Bonds is a cheater. He was once a heck of a ballplayer, a legacy tarnished by his rampant drug use out of alleged jealousy over Mark McGwire’s 1998 pursuit of Roger Maris.
Now, of course, Bonds is going to claim this is a witch hunt, that Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams have been out to get him ever since their BALCO investigation. That’s far from the truth. Bonds’ use has been so blatant that it makes him an easy target. Baseball fans should be eternally grateful for the pair of San Francisco Chronicle reporters, who refused to take what they saw as fact, declining to shove compelling evidence under the table to protect the national pastime.
I mean, what if a certain Associated Press reporter wasn’t labeled a pariah by baseball-loving America back in 1998 after wondering what the Creatine in McGwire’s locker was all about. Typical media, they said, raining on the parade of the greatest season in baseball history. Maybe if we hadn't all turned our heads back then, in the interest of the game, we wouldn't be here today.
Bonds may be the focal point of “Game of Shadows,” but he is hardly the lone gunman. McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, perhaps countless others are to blame. None should ever be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and if one of them ever is, Pete Rose should be inducted as well. In many ways, what those guys allegedly did was even worse than Rose, spitting on the history of the game just so that they could make their own mark on it.
Will Bonds walk away? It would probably be best for him and the game. Don’t count on it.
“The Giants have ticket receipts to prove that Bonds still raises crowds,” writes Ray Ratto. “Major League Baseball still has crowd counts that show that his appeal is not only local. The media follows the parade. The chance that any of those facts are going to change much even with the reaction to ‘Game of Shadows’ is essentially nil.”
That is, unfortunately, the truth. Not because there is no way to specifically nail him, but because most of the general public doesn’t care.
The one excuse I love is, “But steroids weren’t illegal in baseball.” Great. Neither was brandishing a machete out to left field and threatening the groundskeeper, but you think a court of law might have a problem with that? Attempted murder isn’t in the baseball rulebook as a no-no? Oh, well then it’s fine.
"I won't even look at it. For what? There's no need to," Bonds told the Chronicle yesterday.
Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt also won’t be among those reading.
“Who cares?” he said. “It's so old right now. This is what, the third year of it? You've got to let it rest. If I'm a fan, I'm tired hearing about it. I want to turn the page. It's the same story every day. How many twists can you put on the same story? That's the way I look at it. Let's just play baseball.”
It’s so old. Nice.
Yes, it’s so old that one of baseball’s most hallowed marks has been topped, twice, by cheaters. Yes, it’s so old that the all-time home run record is in danger of being toppled, should Bonds continue to play. Yes, it’s so old that Ken Caminiti paid with his life for his steroid use. Yes, it’s so old that Hall of Fame careers of players such as McGwire, Palmeiro, and Bonds are in jeopardy at best ever since we all woke up to the problem. Can you believe there was actually a time when we believed the power onslaught was due to tightly-wound balls or watered-down pitching? How stupid could we all have been?
Eh, but that’s all so old now. Right?
Baseball fans, of course, don’t want to hear it, don’t want to have the game they love dragged in the mud by an ugliness such as drug use that directly affects the product on the field. And, to be fair, less than a fair amount of journalists were hot on the trail of the story as of this time last year, the Chronicle one of the only outlets in the nation with the repeated gusto to go after the story full steam.
There’s protecting the game, and then there’s just being magnificently naďve. Fans and media are both guilty of doing the latter ever since Sosa-McGwire.
Ken Davidoff of Newsday says it best this morning, “But you, the fans, must cooperate as well, and this, understandably, is far easier said than done. Suspend your fantasies if they seem too fishy. If a reporter comes up with important, negative information, don't dismiss it because you don't want to believe it. Would you rather have the highs of 1998-2001 and the lows that are still coming? Or would you prefer to play it cool the whole way through? The choice will surface once again. Hopefully, we, unlike everyone else, won't forget the past.”
Major League Baseball is a game that has prided itself on its past. Now, it is a league embarrassed over its knowledge and cover up of a scandal that, while it helped revive the game -- which was stained by the 1994 work stoppage in the last half of the ‘90s -- has made the powers that be a decade later look like buffoons. Keep turning the other cheek back then, after all, was good for the revival of the game.
What’s good for the game now? Bonds needs to walk away. He, nor McGwire or Palmeiro, can ever make the Hall. That’s the final stamp baseball needs on the steroid era. They can asterisk the stats all they want, but they’ll still be there. Cheaters need to pay, and the more and more evidence we get all the time, indicates that these guys were most definitely in that category.