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About Barry Bonds

Unless you've been deliberately ignoring news and sports reports for the last 24 hours, you already know the facts: Barry Bonds has been indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to his alleged taking of anabolic steroids. Evidence was found that Bonds had a positive steroid test in 2000, three years before MLB had a formal testing program instituted.

Those are the facts. But what do they mean?

Barry Bonds is an immensely talented baseball player. According to the book "Game of Shadows", Bonds began doing 'roids after the 1998 season, because he was "jealous" of all the attention given to Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire during the famous HR race that season, and that he -- Bonds -- was resentful because he considered himself a better all-around player than either Sosa or McGwire.

That is absolutely true. Had Bonds retired after 1998, his performance and numbers -- he had already won three MVP awards by then -- would have made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But Bonds wanted more. And in part through his natural talent, part through his juiced-up body, he got it. He turned 43 last summer, and wound up with seven more career home runs than Henry Aaron, putting his name into the record books as the all-time HR leader. This was done to roaring ovations from fans in San Francisco, and howls of derision and disdain from fans elsewhere.

And now he is under federal indictment and likely to spend at least some time in prison. His baseball career, as Gene Wojciechowski says, is over. He won't get a chance to get the sixty-five hits he's short of 3000, something he desperately wanted.

Is he the only one who did steroids? Absolutely not. We're going to learn the names of many, many others when the Mitchell Report is released, including some who are presently looking for work as free agents (we can, I believe, safely assume that one of those names is Bonds himself). The reasons Bonds is singled out as the poster boy include the fact that he did this for a single-minded, selfish reason: to set some sort of record so he could take the attention that he thought rightfully his away from McGwire and Sosa, and he did, by hitting 73 HR in 2001 (24 more than his previous season high, something that seems impossible at age 37), and by hanging on long enough, despite serious knee injuries, to break the career mark last summer.

Further, Bonds is a thoroughly detestable human being. He thumbs his nose at every convenient target: sportswriters, broadcasters, fans. McGwire and Sosa have received a relative pass, Sosa even welcomed back as a Texas Ranger last year, because they were likable people, giving each other bear hugs at 1998 press conferences; McGwire even got high-fives from the Cubs as he rounded the bases in St. Louis on September 8, 1998 after hitting his 62nd HR to break Roger Maris' record. That was a surreal sight: the HR cut the Cub lead in that game to 2-1, and the Cubs eventually lost 6-3 in a game that was critical to them in a playoff race, and the players are congratulating an opponent? Bizarre. But they did so because McGwire had a pleasant, though a bit distant, public persona. No opponent did this for Bonds as, three years later, he broke McGwire's record of 70, and none did it last July when the career record fell.

What this indictment does, I believe, is signal the end of the Steroid Era. Would any player risk going to prison, even for the chance to enhance his performance? Granted, technology proceeds, and there exist already methods to cheat and enhance one's body that are undetectable, and professional athletes are always looking for that extra "edge".

Jay Mariotti and Rick Telander have interesting takes on this today and I commend you to both articles. Telander says, in particular:

Humbled by all this should be ever-clueless baseball commissioner Bud Selig and all the athletes who thought it was noble through the last decades to say that whatever other players were doing, drug-wise, was nobody else's business.


It was America's business.

With which I absolutely agree. However, he continues:

With luck, Aaron will regain his career home-run crown.

And with even more luck, Maris will get his season record of 61 back from Bonds (73), McGwire (70 and 65) and Sosa (66, 64 and 63).

Ruth himself will get his season slugging percentage record (.849) back from Bonds, who hit a monstrous .863 in 2001.

This is where I have to say, sorry, but no. Much as I detest Barry Bonds, the numbers are what they are. Is baseball going to put blinders on and say those home runs were not hit? Thousands of people witnessed them. They happened, unfortunately. To deny the numbers would mean going back through every one of the 2,986 games that Bonds played, extracting the home runs (and according to what Telander said, the doubles and triples, too, because he wants to take away Bonds' season SLG record as well), and recalculating the results of every Giants game, and maybe the games he played as a Pirate, too.

Obviously, you can't do that. But every baseball fan will know, when the final history of Barry Bonds' career is written, that many if not most of his achievements were made because he cheated. As I have written before, Barry Bonds has hit the most home runs of anyone who played major league baseball. But to me, he is NOT the "greatest home run hitter of all time". That crown belongs to Henry Aaron, or maybe Babe Ruth. We'll look at the record books of the future -- which may include Alex Rodriguez' name as someone who hits more career HR than Bonds, as he needs "only" 245 HR to break Bonds' mark -- and know that the numbers put up by Bonds and other PED users were accomplished by cheating.

That is the legacy of Barry Bonds, supremely talented athlete. He's a cheater and a liar and rather than looking forward to a Hall of Fame induction in five or six years (an induction he's said he'd boycott, incidentally), he's looking forward to time in a federal prison.

It's a sad day for us as baseball fans. Maybe now, at last, something will be done to clean things up. That might be too optimistic on my part, but I can hope, anyway. For Bonds -- and many others -- it is too late.