At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

If True, New Book on Bonds Seals His Fate

– Note to MLB: Do Nothing; Let History be His Judge –

There will be so much written and said about Barry Bonds in the days and weeks ahead that I’ll try to limit my own commentary on the subject to these few words:

If even half of what’s written in the upcoming a new book Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports is true, Bonds will be revealed as a liar and a cheat, and will forever be the poster child for all that was wrong with major league baseball in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Written by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, and excerpted in this week’s Sports Illustrated, the book tells a sorry tale that would make a compelling motion picture if only it ended happily. It begins, the authors say, with Bonds coveting the attention that was lavished on Mark McGwire the year (1998) McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Of course, Bonds already was a force in his own right (.290 career batting average, 411 home runs, eight Gold Gloves, three MVPs), but he apparently decided to hurry the process of super-stardom along and jumped on the bandwagon of performance-enhancing drugs.

There’s no doubt that Bonds has been a dominant force ever since. Unfortunately, his ‘success’ evidently has taken the usual terrible toll associated with steroid use: changes in physical aspect and well-being, tendencies toward dramatic mood swings and aggression, etc. Bonds, as you know, has denied using drugs (at least knowingly) all along, and now it appears his reputation as a game-breaker – the reason he chose this path in the first place – is about to be utterly and irretrievably destroyed.

The tragedy in all this is the fact that he likely would have achieved the status he obviously craved without the artificial assistance – unlike, say Sammy Sosa, who is under the same cloud of suspicion but didn’t have the same credentials at the similar midpoint of his career. Sure, it would have taken him longer to get there. But even he had to know that a day of reckoning eventually would dawn for drug users and abusers, and that he’d be better off being indisputably clean when that day came.

What’s to be done now is a question largely without answer. Bonds could do everyone a favor by using his bad knees as a cover and simply retiring. My guess is that he probably won’t, to his shame and disgrace, at least until he passes Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. Instead, it will be up to baseball to make a decision, and after much soul-searching, my recommendation is that the game’s powers-that-be do nothing.

Based on what I have read and observed, I have respect for neither the decisions Bonds has apparently made nor for him as a player. Had I a vote for the Hall of Fame, I’d give it to Rafael Landestoy before I used it on Bonds. And I may yet send a sympathy card to Willie Mays, who must be mortified by his godson’s behavior. So please do not construe my stance as being an endorsement in any way of what Bonds has done.

But the simple fact is that 40 years from now, the emotion surrounding the current controversy will be forgotten in the same way the upset surrounding the 1919 World Series fix has long since been left behind. Taking this emotion out of the equation now leaves me on the side of letting history be Bonds’ judge rather than actively deciding to expunge him from the record book.

Let it be known that he hit more home runs in a single season than anyone else, just as it is known that the Cincinnati Reds won that long-ago Fall Classic. There’s no need for an asterisk, or for any lingering angst: let there be only historical fact, the acknowledgement that something went terribly wrong, and that corrective action was taken. For all our current outrage, marginalizing Bonds in this way may be the best we can hope for as an outcome, and the worst he could imagine given his thirst for fame. And from where I sit, that’s not a bad way to put the whole mess behind us.


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