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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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Tim Lincecum Fans 14, Two Hits Braves Giants Win Opener 1-0

The Freak: Tim Lincecum fans 14 Braves in 2 hit shutout (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tim Lincecum recovered from the worst month of his career in August but was lights out in September something that he continued on Thursday night in game one of the Giants-Braves NLDS series. The two-time Cy Young winner made his playoff debut at AT&T Park and shut down Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves in a big way.  Braves batters were doing the Tomahawk Chop all night into empty air against Lincecum who threw at pitch after pitch resulting in strikeout after strikeout, 14 K’s to be exact. This was the most thrown by a pitcher in his playoff debut and third in playoff history, only Bob Gibson with 17 and Roger Clemons with 15 have more.

Lincecum was dominating; he allowed a gap double to Omar Infante to lead off the first inning and a gap double to Brian McCann in the 7th.  He gave up just one walk as he sent down batter after batter. The Giants scored one run and it proved to be enough.  The run came after Giants catcher Buster Posey singled and stole 2nd. That call however was blown, replay showed Posey to be out but the umpire did not have the best angle to make the call and Brooks Conrad’s tag was up around Posey’s chest making it probably more difficult for the umpire than the camera. The Braves did not argue the call so the questions about it did not come until the break between innings.  Manager Bobby Cox did not have a good view and after the game said that since he saw no reaction from his infielder assumed that Posey was safe.

Buster Posey scores the winning run in the Giants 1-0 victory over the Braves (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Even so the base would have been meaningless had Infante not missed a ground ball that most Third Baseman would have handled. That grounder became a RBI single for Cody Ross.  It was not called an error but was a play that could have been made, instead it was the game.

Atlanta Starter Derek Lowe performed well but came up short getting the loss pitching 5.1 innings allowing 4 hits, striking out 6 and walking 4 in the outing.

On the positive side for the Brave Bobby Cox did not add to his MLB record of games that he has been tossed from. Had gone and gotten himself thrown out we would have seen three managers tossed in the playoffs.

The game was quintessential Giants’ baseball as once again a starting pitcher shut down an opposing team while the offense provided just enough juice to get the win.  Tomorrow Matt Cain goes up against Tommy Hansen in game two.  Somehow I think that the Giants win Friday to take a 2-0 series lead into Atlanta.

The first two days of the NLCS and ALCS have seen more games in which a team was held to two hits or less, Lincecum allowed two, Halladay had his no-hitter and Cliff Lee had a one-hitter.  Bottom line: 27 innings, 3 pitchers, 3 hits and no runs. That sports fans is impressive. This really is the year of the pitcher.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Mark McGuire, Tony LaRussa and the Dirty Secret of the Steroid Era

Mark McGuire’s Admission of Steroid Use Has Provoked More Debate About the Steroid Era

Mark McGuire admitted that he used steroids in the 1990s during his electric home run barrage that for a time anyway gave him the single season home run title.  The summer of 1998 was one that captivated baseball fans and America as McGuire and Sammy Sosa slugged their way to what many would think would be baseball immortality.

Jose Canseco’s Claims of Rampant Steroid Use in Baseball Seem to have Been Born Out

First came the allegations by Jose Canseco that he had McGuire regular shot up with steroids in the clubhouse of the Oakland A’s whose manager just happened to be Tony LaRussa. McGuire vehemently denied his former friend and teammate Canseco’s allegations in the book Juiced even last night in his interview with Bob Costas, however McGuire now suffers a credibility gap after his denials back when Canseco published his book and later.  The claim which can be boiled down to “Yeah I did steroids but not like that” doesn’t hold water to me as much as I want to believe McGuire who I really do think is a good person, fantastic ballplayer and a man who gave a lot back to baseball and his community during his career.  Canseco was heavily criticized for the tone of his book but the allegations seem to be more right than wrong.

Sammy Sosa Went From Hero to Zero After Steroids and Corked Bats

However, even as many dismissed Canseco’s charges and baseball turned its back on him others came under suspicion including Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds and pitching great Roger Clemons.  As one superstar after another either was accused, implicated or had their name come up on a list of players who had allegedly tested positive in a screening done by baseball the scandal grew in proportion to McGuire’s massive arms.  An entire era was tainted and every player even those who had not done steroids or other banned performance enhancing drugs were viewed with suspicion.

At the same time the self righteous attacks on the players by many in the media which in a sense rightly accused them of cheating missed a number of important issues.  The first in my opinion of is the responsibility of baseball’s management and ownership which had turned a blind eye to what the players were doing and the fact that these players were not the first to cheat in one way or another.  A secondary note is that for a time in the 1990s many of these substances had not been banned by the game and that some, especially HGH are legal in other countries and with the continual advances in pharmaceutical development may eventually be legal in this country.  Thus what was yesterday’s “banned substance” may end up being tomorrow’s “miracle drug” but the players who were then “criminals” or “cheaters” will still have their names sullied by a culture’s inability to keep up with technology.

Tony La Russa and Other Managers Have to Shoulder Some Responsibility for the Steroids Era

The responsibility of management is demonstrated by LaRussa who in his nearly two decade association with McGuire cannot have missed McGuire’s and others steroid use.  Baseball teams are somewhat like small elite military units, players, coaches and managers live in a very small world, a world in some sense protected by the clubhouse door.  Owners, managers, coaches and other staff in particular the physicians; trainers and strength and condition coaches know what is going on with their highly paid players. It would demonstrate the height of incompetence for a staff not to know what their players were doing.  The fact that many claim ignorance of what players tells me that they are either lying or so incredibly unaware of their surroundings that it would be impossible for them to manage at the professional level.  Add to this that LaRussa, a lawyer is no dummy; he knows people and can read what is going on and his claim that the first that he knew of McGuire’s steroids use was when McGuire called him yesterday it is hard to believe.  However, in defense of LaRussa I do believe as he told “Mike and Mike” on ESPN that he believed that he felt bound by some of the things going on in the game regarding players unions and other factors that he and others were slow to respond. Other managers, coaches and team owners, while not lawyers are certainly adept at knowing people; and could not have been unaware of the use of steroids and other banned substances by their players. Good coaches know when players are lying.

This is not just a player’s issue it extends to management and also to the players union, the media members who on a daily basis associated with players, coaches and managers and even ownership who turned a blind eye to the obvious.  If steroid abuse was a big deal that they thought was wrong they all, including the player’s union should have instituted stringent testing measures when the allegations about major stars began to surface.

Likewise there is baseball’s knowing tolerance of cheaters in the past, to include current members of the hall of fame.  It was common knowledge that in earlier times players were using amphetamines to quicken their response on the field, while others played drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs.  Then there were the players such as pitcher Gaylord Perry who in his biography after he retired from the game admitted using the “spit ball” which was never legal during his career and was still voted into the Hall of Fame.  To now throw these players under the bus while not holding ownership, management, coaching staffs, team medical staffs and even the media responsible for not policing this and nipping it in the bud is absolutely hypocritical.  If we want to apply a standard we have to be consistent in the way that we do it.  If Gaylord Perry can be in the Hall of Fame after admitting to using an illegal pitch why can’t the players who used steroids? I can see little moral difference between the two.

Now did McGuire and others actions harm the game itself?  In one sense yes, using these substances they did cheat, but they are not the first and will not be the last to do so. Likewise the fact that they used these drugs places the records that they set in the strange netherworld of trying to determine how much of their performance was effected by the use of these drugs.  Unfortunately there is no quantifiable way to do so.  McGuire says that he does not think that they did but apologized to the son of Roger Maris.  In another sense no, like the players who cheated before them and were not banned from baseball, who did not have their records questioned and who in some cases are in the Hall of Fame did no real permanent harm to the game.  Baseball still survived and maybe one day like Gaylord Perry they will be appreciated.  I doubt that will happen anytime soon but it may.

That is the dirty little secret.  I wish McGuire and all the rest of those implicated in any way with steroids had come clean years ago.  I wish that managers like LaRussa had not tolerated this or had come up and said that they did not believe it to be wrong if indeed as LaRussa says that he believes McGuire when he says that he did it because of career threatening injuries.  If that were to happen to me I am sure that I would use any means to stay in the game and I will not condemn McGuire for this.  Instead baseball ownership, management, the player’s union and the media have tried to have it both ways.  They turned a blind eye to what was happening and many are now crying crocodile tears and throwing the players who made them millions of dollars under the bus.  At least LaRussa has brought McGuire who regardless of his use of steroids is one of the greatest hitters to play the game back into the game to be a hitting coach. I commend LaRussa for doing this as it shows that men like McGuire do not need to remain outside of baseball.  I do hope that other organizations will have the decency to do the same with others of this era.

To me it matters not if any of them get in the Hall of Fame, however if they admit their use even belatedly they should be forgiven and allowed to be part of the game that for a time they were the centerpiece of its success.  Who can ever forget the magical summer of 1998 and how we all were enthralled by what took place on the diamonds that year?  Can anyone who watched the home run derby ever forget it?  I won’t and I still will never forget the day that McGuire broke the record even if the record is tainted because of his use of steroids.  The records are now tainted and nothing can change that. The reputations of McGuire, Sosa and others ruined. But for a time it was magic and it is now time to move forward as we cannot change the past but we can learn from it and make sure that it does not happen again.  Baseball means too much to America to remain stuck in an era that is now an unfortunate part of the history of the game.

By the way, only a few weeks left until spring training.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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