Barry-Bashing has seemingly become the favorite past-time for many baseball fans this season. Ranging from verbal taunts to outright vitriol, the reaction to a great ballplayer who has clearly engaged in the use of performance enhancing drugs has escalated to a level that, in this observer’s opinion, has surpassed all reasonable thinking.
You will find an array of answers from fans as to why they hate Barry Bonds so much, and almost all of them will include some mention to the words ‘cheating’ and ‘steroids’. We’ve seen a new clothing industry of t-shirts and hats develop based around Barry-Bashing, syringes tossed onto fields, the ritualistic booing whenever he comes to the plate, a pitcher intentionally throwing at him four times in a row, and the constant clever signage in every ballpark deriding Bonds’ and his pursuit.
One of the more popular themes of Barry-Bashers during his chase of Babe Ruth’s 714 home runs has been to sanctify the Babe in order to create a high horse for their stance that alleviates any guilt in their demonizing of Bonds. Another popular theme has been the idea of asterisking* anything and everything having to do with Bonds’ hitting records. To investigate the validity of such ideas we have to continue to ask the hard questions.
Should Bonds’ records have a special notation next to them? The
asterisk crowd loves to speculate on what Bonds’ home run total would
be if he wasn’t part of the ‘Roids era in baseball. The same crowd
crowed about Roger Maris having 8 more games in his schedule in 1961 than
Ruth had in 1927. Some speculate what Ruth’s total would have been if
African-Americans were allowed to play major league baseball in the
1920’s. Speculation and records will forever be a part of sports’
history, every era in that case can be asterisked.
Would The Babe Have Used Steroids?
have found the most interesting approach to bashing Bonds has been the
sanctifying of Babe Ruth in order to create a moral standard to judge
Bonds’ home run count by. The myths about Babe have always been
nostalgic ones that tend to skew the truth and overlook some of the
questionable characteristics that were part of the person he actually
was. Before fans hop on the Bambino bandwagon as they pelt Bonds with
proverbial stones, they should be aware of all things Babe. Are
Bonds-Bashers certain that Ruth would not have employed Victor Conte
and Balco in order to enhance his performance if he had the opportunity?
fact is, steroid experimentation has been around longer than most
realize. In the 1860’s the experiments actually became tangible when a
scientist, Arnold Berthold, started castrating roosters and re-injecting
them with their own testosterone while monitoring the difference in
their aggression and other behaviors. About twenty years later
scientists had figured out how to extract
testosterone from the testes
of mostly sheep and guinea pigs and inject the fluid back into
themselves. Their observation was an increase in mood with more energy
and more vigor.
According to author and researcher Robert I. Abrams,
by 1889 at least one well known ballplayer, Hall of Fame pitcher James "Pud" Galvin was openly injecting an elixir of animal testosterone known as the Brown-Sequard Elixir. The press welcomed the discovery with great enthusiasm as an article from that year’s New Haven Register exemplifies,
‘The discovery of a true elixir of youth by which the aged can restore
their vitality and renew their bodily vigor would be a great thing for
baseball. We hope the discovery is of such a nature that it can be
applied to rejuvenate provincial clubs.’ Another article in the local press touted the elixar’s effect directly on Galvin’s pitching, ‘If
there still be doubting Thomases who concede no virtue of the elixir,
they are respectfully referred to Galvin’s record in yesterday’s
Boston-Pittsburgh game. It is the best proof yet furnished of the value
of the discovery.’
is another story about steroids that has been around long before the
Bonds’ controversy and it has to do with the Babe himself. According to The Baseball Hall of Shame’s Warped Record Book, by Bruce Nash, Allan
Zullo and Bob Smith, "the Bambino fell ill
one year attempting to inject himself with extract from a sheep’s
testes. This effort by more than a few athletes of his era to seek the
healing and strengthening properties of testosterone prefigured the
craze for steroids. When Ruth fell ill from his attempted enhancement,
the media was told that Ruth merely had ‘a bellyache.’ "
Knowing about Ruth’s more written about follies, this story seems
far from impossible. While Ruth had many great qualities, the man led a
very flawed life. Ruth like Bonds always walked to the beat of his own
drum. He openly and illegally drank liquor during Prohibition; his
enthusiastic womanizing often bordered on the obscene, as it was not
unusual for him to employ a whole block of streetwalkers in a single
night; his appetite for the other sex showed little respect for those
closest to him as both his wives would find out as well as his once
good friend Lou Gehrig, who shunned him after finding his own wife drunk
and alone with the Babe during a cruise to the far east; both Miller
Huggins and Joe McCarthy had more than a few choice words for the Babe
on many occasions; and he never received a chance to manage, as owners
apparently took to heart a statement that Yankee president Ed Barrow
had made about Ruth when he said, "How can he manage other men when he can’t even manage himself?". Red Sox owner Harry Frazee justified his trade out of Boston by saying that Ruth was "one of the most selfish and inconsiderate athletes I have ever seen." One doesn’t have to research very long to find many more disreputable stories about Babe Ruth that bring his moral character into question.
The Moral Arena
But, what about the Barry-Basher? Where does he stand in the arena of morality? The baseball sphere has always been steeped in "Cowboy" culture. Media and fans seem to thrive on identifying the White Hat from the Black Hat. Players are either ‘safe’ or ‘out’. While Critique and debate generally lead to polarization, they rarely reveal the whole truth. In this
Barry-Balco-Babe-Steroids-Cheating-Home Run Record controversy, I think it’s helpful to decide on what exactly is fueling many fans’ incredible anger. Are most fans just acting like sheep, imitating the Op-Eds of the day? It’s one thing to dislike Barry Bonds for his arrogant and sometimes condescending nature, it’s another to dislike what many perceive as cheating, and yet another to dislike him for passing the fabled Babe on the record list. But, do any
of these dislikes diminish what Bonds is accomplishing? And more importantly, what’s really bugging so many of us?
For those who dislike Bonds’ attitude towards the fans and press, this is understandable. Many great ballplayers were not the "friendly" type. Ted Williams never took a curtain call in his life no matter how much Boston fans chanted for it, not even on his last at bat which was a home run. Among fans, players and media, Ty Cobb had hardly a friend in baseball. Negative demeanors often rub baseball fans the wrong way, but seldom do they cause an outcry like the one against Bonds.
Keeping Up With The Joneses
So, even if one abhors Bonds’ personality, is this reason enough to smear his abilities and accomplishments? At this point in the investigation the Barry-Basher will point to the words ‘steroids’ and ‘cheating’ and might even go so far as to criminalize what he has done. On the surface the reaction appears to be appropriate if one were to buy– hook, line and sinker– everything they read in the popular press. But then again, there’s a reason the press is not given the responsibility of a court of law. Are we members of a society that likes to deal with facts and fair trials? Do we still believe in the edict, "innocent until proven guilty"? Or are we a country that purports, "guilt by appearance or association"? And have we evolved beyond witch hunts and stonings?
where there is smoke there is usually fire. Let’s say we adopt a stance where we believe everything that has been written about Bonds and steroid use in baseball. It’s very easy to hate someone who we perceive got away with using prescription medicine without a prescription, especially if we have lived a law abiding life ourselves. But, if we are to believe all that has been written about Bonds then we must also believe all that has been written about steroids in baseball. In 2002 Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote an article in which 1996 NL MVP winner Ken Caminiti (now deceased) said, "It’s no secret what’s going on in baseball. At least half the guys are using [steroids]. They talk about it. They joke about it with each other. … I don’t want to hurt fellow teammates or fellow friends. But I’ve got nothing to hide." Former player, Chad Curtis in the same article quoted the number of players using steroids at 40-50%. Jose Canseco, last year in his book Juiced, reported that number as high as 75%. If so many players were enhancing their performance (pitchers included), then the perceived advantage Barry had on the field was actually him just keeping up with the Joneses.
Now, if a Barry-Basher wants to discredit all the players who were on steroids, he’s going to have to do a lot of speculating. It might be more apropos to direct one’s anger towards Major League Baseball and the popular Sports Media in general for allowing this behavior to run rampant for so
long with very little hard-core investigation and no drug testing policy in place.
The captain of MLB during the ‘Roids era was, and is still Mr. Bud Selig. While Bonds might be acting petulantly to protect his own hide like many of us would, Selig continues to try to pull the wool over Baseball fans’ eyes. He is continually diverting our attention away from his own culpability, and
through his own agenda directing fans towards an easy target. Selig continues to play dumb as to what was obvious to most intelligent observers over a decade ago. While a few in the Sports Media wrote critically, the majority became apologists for Mark McGwire when he pursued Roger Maris’ single season home run record. The response to finding androstenedione (at the time a legal but controversial steroid-muscle enhancer which has since further investigation been banned in all major sports) in McGwire’s locker during his Maris chase elicited columns mostly like this excerpt from ‘Hero Of The Year’ by Time Magazine’s Daniel Okrent.
"He didn’t much like being turned into a carnival sideshow, but he never let it distract him. When a reporter spotted androstenedione, a legal but controversial steroid, in McGwire’s locker, the slugger explained that he used it to protect himself from the muscle tears that so often plague finely conditioned athletes, especially those few so well muscled as he, and he left it at that. Though he was criticized, McGwire marched ahead, not even pausing to rip off the head of the reporter who’d gone peeking into his locker. What kind of a modern athlete would fail to do that? As for ‘andro,’ whatever else it does, it can’t help a player’s timing, his hand-eye coordination, his ability to discern a slider from a splitter. But even if andro improved his power by an unlikely, oh, 5%, then instead of 70 home runs, McGwire this year would have hit… maybe 67. Take 5% off a 450-ft. missile, and you’ve got a 427.5-ft. missile–long enough to clear any fence save center field in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium."
This type of rationalization was embraced not only by the media, but by most fans as well. Yes, many of the same Barry-Bashers were protecting McGwire’s accomplishments even when a large red herring (‘andro’) reared it’s ugly head. Could it be that projection and self-loathing is fueling much of the fans’ and media’s anger? We all knew it, so why did it take a congressional hearing for us to suddenly adopt a fervent moralistic mentality towards steroid use? Could it be that we all were enjoying the home runs too much to care? Could it be that McGwire was a white ballplayer and a likeable guy, so it was harder for us to bash him? Maybe baseball fans’ reaction to Bond’s pursuit of Ruth’s home run count is a microcosm of America’s renewed interest in morality as a whole. Iraq, Enron, Global Warming, Guantanamo, Immigration… there are so many complex issues that plague the conscience of the American citizen today. Maybe steroids in baseball is an issue where many feel they can discern right from wrong clearly because baseball has always tried to define itself through a refreshing lack of uncertainty. It’s a straight-forward game where three strikes means ‘yer out’, a foul ball is never fair, and a ball that leaves the park is a home run. But, the sociology of sports is a bit more complex than averages and home run totals. To see with any clarity what’s at the heart of Barry-Bashing it is imperative that we look beyond Bonds and the numbers, and allow our vision to open to all the players in the field including ourselves.
Let Him Who Is Without Sin Cast the First Stone
So, if we as fans are going to pelt Bonds’ with moral stones, then we also need to pelt Ruth and Selig and Canseco and posthumously Caminiti; and the fan who caught Bonds’ 714th ball– shouldn’t he have thrown it back on the field if he hates Bonds’ guts instead of trying to sell it for $100,000?; and let’s not forget the Houston crowd for cheering when Bonds got intentionally thrown at four straight times by Russ Springer; and while we’re at it let’s throw boulders at Derek Jeter for only selling his autograph instead of signing for free cause he needs the money?; and Gaylord Perry for admitting that he threw an illegal vaseline ball his entire career; and just about everyone else involved in baseball and possibly the world EXCEPT for the Bonds-Bashers because of course they are "holier than thou!"