Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Closing the Book

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.


h. said...

I completely agree with you. I do not believe this to be the sort of infraction that major league baseball should be an asterisk behind. However, I do feel the community will hold this in a similar fashion to Pete Rose though the circumstances, by perspective, are remarkably different. Bonds should be allowed to keep his record however I do not feel he deserves a place in the Hall. To my mind, to an ego as large as Barry Bond’s this will be a much larger blow than when he was watching Sosa and McGwire dump baseballs out of the park and his decision to dope.

Anonymous said...

All other records from the steriod era count, so should Bonds.

I hate Bonds, but this Selig is really being stupid on this one.


brianS said...

Barry Bonds is sooo easy to dislike. But I can't get away from the feeling that a chunk of the animosity is explainable via racism.

I remember the Hank Aaron stuff fairly well. I was just a kid, and in outstate Minnesota (where diversity meant different kinds of Methodists along side the Lutherans, Catholics and Presbyterians), so I didn't really understand it all. But the man had to put up with an awful lot of overt and veiled racism in his approach to the Babe's hallowed record.

Obviously, Bonds is on the cusp of breaking another black man's record. But over the years, Aaron's image has fitted much more easily into a "comfort zone" for white audiences. Bonds' does not. He's never taken any crap with stoicism. He's never offered a minstrel-show caricature (think Sammy Sosa's self-portrayal during the Year That Saved Baseball). He's just damned hard for nervous white people to swallow.

shyestviolet said...

what a great point. I'm whipping the horses on the barry-bonds-is-a-big-fat-cheater bandwagon, but I had not yet thought of this. it's true-- from playing surfaces to bloody air vents, everything swings a game in some way.

so where do we start cracking down, or do we just admit that tweaking things is part of baseball's history, and should just be left alone?

an aside: I wonder what we'd do if we discovered a twin on the balco roll?

Beach64 said...

We have heard fans reactions, seen polls, heard how Hank Aaron won't attend but we have not heard from one person that I would really like to hear their opinions, Willie Mays. While Mays is the godfather of Bonds, he still would have an opinion on the state of the game and records that were passed. I don't know if he would answer the questions that are being posed to Aaron but it would be an interesting take on the subject.

Anonymous said...

"The fault lies with the owners and commissioner as much as it does with any player."

No. Some measure of fault lies with the owners and commissioner. But unless they were taking steroids, or forcing players to take steroids, or at the very least supplying the players with steroids, the vast majority of the fault lies with those players who chose to use them.

Place the most blame on those who chose to compromise the integrity of the game, not on those who, knowingly or not, could not or did not do something about it.

Anonymous said...

While walking around the West Bank today, in the shadow of the Dome, I found my mind wandering to baseball and steroids and basically came up with the exact same 4 points as ended the post.

Barry Bonds is both a tremendous horse's ass, and the greatest player of his generation. And he probably cheated, but pretty much the same thing could be said of Cobb. I personally look forward to seeing him smash #756, hopefully into McCovey Cove. Records are made to be broken.