Sometime next month, the major league home run record will likely be broken. It will invite considerable media coverage, but not the kind that usually accompanies a historic milestone. This coverage will be fueled by controversy, and judging by the preliminary angles, mostly negative. And one word will be repeated over and over: cheater.
It will be applied to Barry Bonds, who has become Sarah Good in professional sports’ latest witch hunt. We know that Barry Bonds cheated. He’s admitted as much, though he says he did so unknowingly. But cheating, and lying about it, isn’t unusual in baseball’s history. Corked bats, spit balls, rain delay tactics and even Metrodome air-conditioning vents – all have been used with little more acknowledgement than a wink.
Using steroids is somehow different (though I would challenge this inconsistency as well). It has ignited the white-hot zealots’ flames and Major League Baseball has caved to every demand. That’s fine concerning the implementation of long overdue testing procedures or strict penalties. But the heat has kept MLB from taking any responsibility. For the record, MLB didn’t have a policy against steroids, didn’t have a test for them, and didn’t have any enforcement in place. Taking steroids was slightly more legal than a catcher blocking the plate, which at least is technically against the rules, even if it isn’t enforced.
Rather than admit this oversight and turn the page, MLB used the crisis to blame players, which had the pleasant side effect of vilifying the players’ union. Bonds is at the top of the wanted list, so instead of celebrating a milestone, we’re left to debate whether the commissioner of baseball should attend.
Damn right he should attend. It was on his watch that the problem flourished and it was on his watch that owners and players made millions of dollars while looking the other way. Bud Selig should hand the home run ball to Bonds, and use the post-game attention to say what we all know:
- The fault lies with the owners and commissioner as much as it does with any player.
- The records for this jaded era will stand, just like they did for other jaded eras, like when African-Americans weren’t allowed to compete.
- MLB has implemented the most comprehensive and strict system in professional sports.
- And most importantly, let’s all get on with our lives.