Bonded

I’m not sure what to think about Barry Bonds breaking the home run record. I realize that 90% of America has decided he is a cheating scumbag who should be shot. But I’ve learned to be leery when everyone is agreeing on something. I think Joe Sheehan has the best perspective:

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.

I’d also add that Jason Giambi has apparently recovered his image.

I agree with Joe 100%. Read the whole thing — it’s not behind the BP firewall. The baseball ownership were happy to ignore the steroid issue when they thought it was doing the game good. Once the fans cottoned on, they threw one of the best players in history to the wolves.

There has been some chatter about the stark racial difference in the perception of Bonds. Blacks are a lot less judgemental than white and a lot more supportive. Not being black, I can’t speak for them. But the imputation that white fans don’t like Bonds because he’s “an angry black man” is frivolous and ignorant.

Fans have never liked angry players. Ty Cobb was extremely unpopular. Ted Williams — when he as a player — was on the most disliked men in baseball history. Rogers Hornsby was unpopular. Richie Allen, Hal Chase and pretty much the entire lineup of the 1890′s Orioles were unpopular. Pete Rose has become steadily more and more unpopular as his scumbaggery and bitterness come to the fore.

I’ll agree that Bonds has a worse reputation than he deserves. The media hate him and have made the fans do likewise. But he hasn’t exactly been helping himself.

In the meantime, this weekend saw the induction into the Hall of Fame of two of the most popular players in baseball history – Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken. And their popularity had a lot to do with their attitudes.

Personally, I always thought Bonds had a chance at Aaron’s record — even before 2003. I know there is little to no evidence that steroids actually help someone hit for more power. I’m willing to give him the benefit of a doubt. And I’m willing to acknowledge that he will be the first man to hold both single-season and career HR records since in 47 years.

Henry Aaron was one of the great players in baseball history and a great man. The fact that Bonds will have hit more career home runs will not change that.

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