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Cheating in Baseball: The Case of Barry Bonds and it’s Relationship to Modern America

Barry Bonds was convicted of one count of Obstruction of Justice in his trial on perjury charges. The obstruction count came as a result of Bonds’ 2003 Grand Jury testimony.  The three perjury charges were deadlocked and the judge has the option of retrying them.  Bonds’ defense team asked for the verdict to be set aside and the judge did not immediately rule on the request.  The Bonds legal saga is not over as a decision to retry the deadlocked perjury charges, the judge acting on the defense motion to set aside the guilty verdict and the outcome sentencing and any appeals are still to come.

Meanwhile the steroids era just will not go away as Roger Clemons is soon to stand trial for lying to Congress about his alleged steroid use and Manny Ramirez ended his already tarnished career with yet another positive steroid sample.  Ramirez should have known better. He was on the list of 103 players that tested positive in 2003 and he was suspended for 50 games last year for a positive test while playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The fact that he was caught once again suggests that he was either incredibly arrogant or stupid or possibly both.

Unfortunately they are not alone. In fact 6 of the top 14 home run leaders (in italics) of all time are tainted by steroids only one of whom is still active.  Jim Thome who is also active has not been implicated in the steroids scandals but will still likely be scrutinized simply because he hit a lot of home runs during the era.  The sad thing is that the use of steroids according to some was so prevalent that almost anyone who set records during the era tainted or not will be viewed with suspicion.  As for Bonds people made up their minds about him years ago and there is little middle ground when it comes to him. The only thing now is how baseball will deal with the records of Bonds and the other players of the steroid era and admit him or any of them into the Hall of Fame.

1              Barry Bonds           762

2              Hank Aaron            755

3              Babe Ruth               714

4              Willie Mays             660

5              Ken Griffey, Jr.      630

6              Alex Rodriguez      617

7              Sammy Sosa          609

8              Jim Thome              590

9              Frank Robinson     586

10           Mark McGwire      583

11           Harmon Killebrew 573

12           Rafael Palmeiro                    569

13           Reggie Jackson      563

14           Manny Ramírez                    555

Now some like Palmeiro went and shook their fingers at Congress and then popped positive, not smart but so many others could very well have done steroids that have not been caught that we will never know.  There are numerous reports which implicate others most of whom will never be prosecuted or banned from baseball.  But thanks to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitsky who transferred to the FDA to pursue elite athletes Bonds, Clemons and other legends of various sports have been singled out for prosecution in what amounts to a witch hunt designed to bring down the biggest names in sports.  In the case of Bonds this has cost the taxpayer over 50 million dollars.  In an era of massive deficits is this a good way to spend our money to get a guilty verdict on just one charge after almost 8 years of work?  To me it seems that Novitsky and his team have made a special effort including violating court prescribed limitations of search and seizure at the BALCO labs and to ensure that the case was tried in the media before Bonds ever went to court.  Do the math: 1 player, 8 years, 50 million dollars and 1 guilty verdict on one count of 5 that went to trial and 4 that went to the jury.

That being said I believe that Bonds knowingly took steroids as did so many of the players of his era and though Bonds has not admitted anything I imagine that he started to take steroids because of the wild success of those that were taking such as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa neither of who had all of the natural talent and ability of Bonds who was on course to be a Hall of Famer before he started using.  I wish that he had admitted that he did back in 2003 it probably would have done much to help end the era as well as put others on notice and it is likely that instead of being ever in our face the Steroid era would be in the past.  The conviction even on the one count of obstruction says much in how he is perceived in court and in public. While Bonds has many supporters he also has many detractors.

I think as does Bob Costas that Bonds should be elected to the Hall of Fame, not on the first ballot for sure because unlike McGuire and Sosa he was heading to hall of fame well before his numbers became inflated after the 1997 season.  Despite the fact that steroids undoubtedly had some impact there were many others that took steroids and still couldn’t hit, many that couldn’t get out of the minor leagues. To quote Minnesota Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart who was interviewed by Minneapolis Star Tribune sports writer Paul Reusse:

“The truth is, there were so many guys taking steroids for a few years, and they couldn’t hit like Barry Bonds. In my opinion, a guy hitting with a corked bat is taking a bigger advantage than someone who was on steroids….If Bonds was doing all of this … you still have to hit the ball. He still was going to hit 40 or 50 (each season), with or without steroids.”

Zach Moore compiled an interesting and enlightening portrait of Bonds’ performance before he began allegedly using steroids in 1998. I post it here with the link because with or without steroids Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame based on his pre-1998 statistics.  True he may not have topped Aaron or Ruth in Home Runs but the numbers and the company they put him in are impressive.

“Bonds’ stats prior to the 1998 season include a .288 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. He had 1,750 hits, which included 321 doubles, 56 triples, and 374 round trippers. He drove in 1,094 runs, while crossing the plate 1,244 times himself.

He did all that while also walking 1,227 times. Bonds was not only a threat at the plate, but once he got on base, he stole 417 times. He did all this while only striking out 958 times.

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was written just before the 2001 season during which Bonds hit 73 home runs, he calls Bonds “the most un-appreciated superstar of his lifetime.” That is one reason for Bonds’ desire to use steroids, according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows.

In the section of the Abstract where James ranks his 100 best players at each position of all time, James ranks Bonds the third best left fielder ever, only behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

James also calls Bonds “probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder. Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player.”

The astounding part about this is that James wrote this before Ken Griffey Jr. started getting hurt, so he could still vividly remember Griffey gliding around centerfield, robbing home runs, stealing bases, and that beautiful swing.

On the next page, James then went on to list his 10 best players of the 1990s; Bonds leads that list, with Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros coming in second, the 10th player on that list is Greg Maddux. I say this because James goes on to say, “the No. 2 man, Biggio, is closer in value to the No. 10 man than he is to Bonds.”

We tend to forget how good Bonds was, even before he went on this steroid-aided home run tear of recent years sometimes.

I can’t compare his 12-year career statistics with any one player because his ability to do everything does not allow that. Instead, I’ll use a few different Hall of Famers to nail home the point.

His .288 average is higher than both Rickey Henderson’s .282 and Carl Yastrzemski’s .285.

He hit 101 fewer home runs then Stan Musial in about eight less seasons and also hit 13 more home runs than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

His on-base percentage was one point lower then Manny Ramirez’s current .409 career mark, and it tied Jackie Robinson’s career OBP.

Listen carefully to this next statistic, with his 12-year all-natural career, Bonds’ career slugging percentage of .551 would be eight points lower than Musial’s, six points lower than his godfather Willie Mays’, five points lower than Mickey Mantle’s, and only three points lower than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s.

Bonds had 15 less career runs scored than HOF centerfielder Duke Snider.

He finished with 29 less hits than HOF infielder Lou Boudreau.

Kirby Puckett’s 1,085 RBIs were nine less than Bonds’ sum. His 321 doubles tied Yogi Berra’s.

Bonds’ 1,227 base on balls are still more than future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez’s current totals. He even had more than walk machine Jason Giambi, and he did it in only 12 seasons.

Bonds’ 417 stolen bases put him in the top 65 all-time.

Another testament to his incredible combination of speed and power is that he is one of only four players in the 40/40 Club (home runs and steals). He actually did it during 1996 when he was clean.

The other three members of that club are fellow abuser Jose Canseco who did it in 1988, Alex Rodriguez who did it in 1998 when he was still with the Mariners, and Alfonso Soriano who did it in 2006.

After only 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, Barry Bonds was unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/40505-were-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-hall-of-famers-before-steroids

Additionally Bonds before 1998 was a 7 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time MVP and 6 time Silver Slugger Award winner. For a complete list of Bonds accolades see the Baseball Almanac page at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/awards.php?p=bondsba01  Even after he was alleged to use steroids he won the 2004 Hank Aaron Award, the 2004 Most Valuable Player Award, 2004 Players Choice Outstanding Player of the Year Award, 2004 Players Choice Player of the Year Award, 2004 National League Silver Slugger Award and 2004 Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award.  In a sense despite a widespread suspicion that he was using steroids the players and media recognized him as the best in the game. Then they didn’t seem very concerned about the possibility that he might have cheated. Now many in the media who made their money promoting Bonds condemn him as do many fans that have since abandoned him.  To me it is hypocritical.  Yes I think that he cheated but that takes little away from his pre-steroid accomplishments.

Because of the alleged steroid use and the subsequent investigation, trial and conviction he will be remembered as a cheater. However morally he is no different than all the players of the Steroid eras who abused PEDs but who were nowhere close to his skills and performance.  Bonds was certainly was an amazing player. His overall numbers would very well be lower without steroids especially the home runs, but he very well may have been the greatest overall player since his Godfather Willie Mays even without them.  Not many players can say that.

Bonds biggest problem was that he displayed a sense of arrogance toward the game and the law, the same arrogance that made him such a fearsome hitter even before steroids. The same is true with Roger Clemons, quite probably the greatest pitcher of the modern era. Like Bonds before him Clemons’ refusal to deal with the issue of his alleged steroid use forthrightly before Congress; will likely end in some kind of criminal conviction and Clemons in his first 14 seasons was certainly a Hall of Famer. I won’t go into his statistics here but they are also covered in Zack Moore’s article.

Are there men that cheated in the Hall of Fame? Yes one of the most flagrant being Gaylord Perry who admitted after his retirement and before his election to the Hall of Fame that he threw the “spit ball” which was illegal his entire career.  Players who “corked” bats were common but most were never caught because unlike today their bats were never inspected.  Pitchers used the spit ball, emery boards, diamond rings and sandpaper to alter the baseball to give it extra movement.  Since all ballplayers are human beings I have no doubt that had the technology to produce PEDs been available between the end of the Dead Ball era in 1919 and the late 1980s when they arrived on the scene that players would have abused them in order to increase their performance, win games and extend their careers.  Likewise they would have been cheered as much as the home run leaders of the 1990s were until they were exposed.  All one has to do is take a look at those who are known to have cheated as documented in this ESPN article http://espn.go.com/page2/s/list/cheaters/ballplayers.html  a number of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

My contention in this article is not that Bonds did not cheat the evidence certainly looks like he used steroids which were banned when he allegedly started using. Instead I would say that Bonds has been unfairly singled out by people in the government, the media and even in the game that would rather tear down a man than to place his actions in the broader context of the game, the era, human nature and history.  This will happens to Clemons too but not many others.

Meanwhile the government bails out financial institutions and industries that have defrauded the American public and helped impoverish the nation. We excuse the illegal and unethical lives of politicians and Presidential Candidates so long as they our on our side of the politic spectrum or failing that against the party that we oppose and we give churches and clergy who harm innocents a pass and say that the accusers are persecuting the Church. We worship celebrity and idolize people with talent or looks but not much else but we will do our best to destroy athletes who break the rules of their game.  Isn’t that somewhat hypocritical.

To put things in context I am 51 years old and coming up on 30 years in the military between the Army and Navy. In order to get the highest category of score on my Physical Fitness Test I have to perform at almost the same level as I did as a young Army enlisted man, ROTC Cadet and Officer. Likewise I have to meet almost identical height, weight and body fat standards.  On the physical side I can still outperform many young men 20-30 years younger than me. I deal with nagging injuries to my knees, shoulders and have a very fragile ankle that I have sprained or broken so many times that it is not even funny.  I suffer chronic pain. If someone had a way other than Icy Hot and 800mg Motrin to ease the pain and help my performance I cannot say that I wouldn’t take it, I probably wouldn’t break the law if it was illegal to use but if it wasn’t illegal but merely questionable I might use it.  I have another 5-7 years left before I expect to retire and like Mickey Mantle said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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