I think that it’s been well-chronicled over this site’s existence that I’m not really a baseball fan (except for really hoping the Cubs win the World Series before I die) and that I could give a shit about steroids in baseball (or any other sport really).
I understand that it’s in sports’ best interest to keep athletes off performing-enhancing drugs. The trouble when usage becomes rampant is that everybody is pretty much forced to do it to keep up (unlike the hysteria over, say, pot, which if anything hurts performance). Steroids obviously have some ability to bring high-performing athletes to a slightly higher level… the difference to a professional for such a boost is millions of dollars. Obviously, you need to have the talent to be in the conversation to begin with, but once you are baseball (and the U.S.S.R. women’s sports program) has proven that steroids can make a crucial difference. And once they become rampant, everyyyone is going to do them.
So fuck Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi and (gulp) Sammy Sosa… they weren’t happy with a good-to-great baseball career and decided to take a shortcut for money and fame. The only baseball player I actually have a bit of sympathy for?
This evening, Bonds was convicted for perjury for lying to a Grand Jury in the BALCO probe. My argument isn’t that he didn’t use steroids and lie about it (he clearly did)… whether it was worth the government time and money to prove it depends on whether you think Martha Stewart got what she deserved.
Part of the reason it’s so hard to defend Barry Bonds is that he was one of the great assholes in baseball history. Of course, most of that reputation comes from sportswriters, and it is probably to his credit that he was a dickhead to that (mostly) worthless group. But there are also stories from teammates, fans, etc. that makes it pretty clear that Bonds was more than capable of being a jerk. It basically boiled down to:
Baseball is just my job.
Nothing will piss off a middle-aged white sportswriter more than not treating the baseball diamond like the Field of Dreams.
My career is an open book, but my life is not.
Come on Barry… I’ve got column inches to fill… can’t I follow you around for a day while you pretend you always volunteer with autistic children and tend to your organic vegetables?
I’m not afraid to be lonely at the top.
And that’s always what’s pissed everybody (especially the media) off. Bonds was great, knew he was great, and didn’t need anyone’s validation. Maybe he saw enough as the son of a major league All-Star to know that fans and media were full of shit, and would turn on/fuck you at the first opportunity.
But being possibly misunderstood isn’t why he’s the only figure I have a slight sympathy for in the baseball steroids saga either (and that includes MLB and the fans themselves).
Barry Bonds is the best baseball player any of us will ever see. He could do it all at the plate and in the field, a true five-tool player… that he never led a team to a World Series title is an aberration that only something as magical as the Rally Monkey could explain. By 1998, he’d been in baseball for 12 years… he was a 8-time All-Star, 3-time MVP, 8-time Gold Glove winner, one of (then) two 40-40 club members, a 5-time 30-30 club member, the only member of the 400-400 club, etc., etc. And he couldn’t get arrested (how times have changed).
All of the baseball world decided they’d rather jizz over the battle between McGwire and Sosa, two athletes who were 1) obviously ‘roided up and 2) not even half the players Bonds was. And, yet, in a few months, they got more endorsement money, fame, appreciation then Bonds got in 12 great years. All of a sudden, 400 stolen bases didn’t matter. What baseball fans wanted was the long ball and only the long ball.
I don’t think it was mostly the love or the money that finally motivated Bonds to jump on the BALCO wagon… it was pure anger. He had already started to lose MVP’s to the likes of Ken Caminiti… now he was being told that Sammy Sosa was his peer? Fuck that shit. It pissed Bonds off that his legacy as the best player of his generation was being jeopardized by an unfair playing field. So around 2000, he leveled it… his home run totals exploded and his stolen bases disappeared. He bulked up and slowed down. Why?
Because that’s is what we as fans told him we wanted. That’s what we told him we respected. That’s what we told him mattered. And don’t fucking tell me we didn’t know what was going on. Baseball fans claiming they didn’t know something fishy was going on pharmaceutically in 1998 is like smokers saying they didn’t know cigarettes were bad for them until the companies’ duplicity was exposed. Should the institutions be punished for lying? Yes. Had you been coughing from your first drag? Yes.
Bonds was weak, shortsighted and stupid (especially in lying to the grand jury). He’s paying the price, and he should. But unlike other players who took steroids so that they could go from good to great, he took them in order to reclaim his rightful place at the top of the pyramid. That is more understandable, and defensible, than anybody else’s reasons. And all baseball fans have a small bit of culpability for forcing his hand.