March 8, 2006
BASEBALL: Bonds The Cheater?
A few very quick thoughts on Barry Bonds, steroid user:
1. Yes, there's a difference between allegations and evidence (more of my thoughts on the presumption of innocence here and on its application to Bonds and steroids here), but unless and until (a) fans, bloggers and outsiders get access to documents and witness testimony or (b) some official proceeding is held, this investigation by two Big Media reporters is the best evidence we're likely to get. At this point, the burden shifts to Bonds and his bitter-ender defenders to do some serious, detailed explaining.
2. Next time you wonder if Mark McGwire was a bad role model for kids, remember that he turned out to be a bad role model for a 35-year-old with a first-ballot Hall of Fame career already behind him.
3. More on Bonds' unique, apparently unnatural aging pattern here. And my thoughts on whether steroids help in baseball here.
I have been waiting to unload on this subject and this seems to be as good a time as any.
Let me start by making it clear, I DETEST Barry Bonds. That being said, I have a real problem with Bonds, McGwire, Palmero, Sosa, etc…, being labeled as cheaters.
They played by the rules that were in place at the time. If a speed limit on a street is lowered the people that drove on it previously at the higher limit are not speeders.
Make no mistake, I believe even the new rules that have been put in place are too lax. I believe that everyone is entitled to a mistake, but the second offense should be a lifetime suspension.
To say that these players should be excluded from the HOF does not follow the established precedents with regard to actual cheaters and substance abusers.
Take maybe the greatest, most out in the open cheater of all time, Gaylord Perry. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he doctored baseballs to gain an advantage. No, he was not a first ballot HOP'er, but that had more to do with his career W-L record.
Great substance abusers of all-time? This list is to long to even try to get them all, but a few highlights, how about Mantle, Ford and Ruth for starters. All were famous for their drinking binges. They all reached legendary status.
Then there is on-field cheaters. Consider the headhunters, Marichal, Drysdale and Gibson as examples. All three were know for intentionally hitting batters and made no bones (no pun intended) about it. Gibson would throw at a hitter that dug into the batters box too much. Gibson was so dominate in one season that they lowered the height of the pitchers mound. There is no asterisk in the record book beside his numbers for that season.
My point here is that you play by the rules that are in place at the time and later rule changes should not change the status of the players involved in whatever caused a rule to be changed.
All of these players belong in the HOF. I would accept the argument that they should not be first ballot inductee’s, but even that rings kind of lame when you look at the history of the Hall. Under the same umbrella, Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame as well. Continue his ban on MLB activities, but include him in the Hall for his on-field accomplishments.
I don't really have an ax to grind on this subject. I think baseball shot itself in the foot a long time ago by not dealing with a serious problem and now the reprecussions are only beginning to hit the fan. They created their own bed of nails and now they have to lie on it.
To compare Bonds to Gaylord Perry or Bob Gibson is laughable. I will concede that Perry did "cheat" but hitting guys with a pitch just means they get a base (I realized that intentionally doing it now is "cheating" however it does get you ejected). Bonds pumped his system full of drugs that, while not excluded under baseball's non-existant drug policy, were illegal in the United States. If cocaine wasn't covered under baseball's policy would it have been OK for Bonds to snort a line off of homeplate every at-bat?
Boozing it up at the bar and intentionally shooting drugs that will improve your muscle mass, increase recovery time, improve reflexes, enhance eyesight, etc. are hardly the same thing. They are all-together different types of substance abuse. Bonds was using drugs to be bigger, stronger, faster and better conditioned than he would have been or COULD have been under normal conditions. He was absolutely and without question a different player than he would have been without the drug use.
I don't know if this keeps him out of the HOF or not. Pete Rose is out for something he did after he was done playing. Bonds (and many others) changed the nature of the game on an at-bat by at-bat basis by their actions. Simply because baseball willfully chose to ignore them despite wildly available evidence that steroid/HGH use was going on, to me, does not make these actions acceptable.
Bonds, likely, will never miss a game despite all this.
I've have little doubt Bonds and Co will roll into Cooperstown. Barry likely on the first ballot, Muscular Mark after a 2-3 year delay. A perjury conviction would change the equation. But nothing has materialized there since rumors emerged with the initial BALCO leaks. Based on the book excerpts you would think the Govt had a case, especially under the Fitzgerald standard. Regardless, Barry continues to laugh all the way to the bank, and he will do the same at his HOF induction.
I think the only real choice Selig has is to draw a line in the sand with the onset of the new testing agreement last year, and only punish those (like Palmiero) who are found to have done steroids since. And I think in the long run, most HOF voters will probably have to do the same.
The integrity of baseball from 1996 to 2004 isn't really recoverable, and any effort to do so is doomed to failure. The important thing is to get the game cleaned up going forward.
Barry Bonds lied about using drugs. That puts him out of the Hall for a lack of character, same as Sammy Sosa. Note the articles all refer to drugs being legal in other countries. They were including Corko in the scandal. When Sammy told Congress "To be clear, I never used illegal drugs", he was telling the truth. The drugs he took were legal in Haiti and Antartica if nowhere else. He is out of the Hall. Bary is out of the Hall. Pete is out of the Hall. Mark is in because he didn't get caught lying.
The bottom line is still, none of these players violated the rules of baseball that were in place when they played. Raffy got caught and I hope they catch Barry, but until they do this is a none issue.
What's going to happen to the record books?
Here's my take on this; check it out -->
Pass it on. Thanks.
To say that doing something that tears at the fabric of the game of baseball, of competition in general and integrity of both personal and general natures is a non-issue solely because baseball stuck it's collective head in the sand for several years is ludicrous. If baseball continued to have a non-existant/effective drug policy would it be OK with you if players continued to juice themselves up? These drugs and categories of drugs he (and others) were doing were illegal in this country. Does the non-rules of baseball supercede the laws of the United States? The argument you support makes no sense on any sort of grounds.
Record books are not going to be changed. It would be opening an ugly Pandora's Box of troubles.
I highly doubt he will be prosecuted for perjury. If he was going to be charged he would have been charged already. Perjury is a very difficult charge to prove.
As far as the Hall of Fame goes, 5 years from retirement is a long time from now. Some of the voters will discount the accomplishments of that decade but in time Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and even Palmiero will likely be elected.
I doubt most of the juice guys will get in--the media members with vote withhold their votes for all sorts of grudges (see Conlan, Bill).
Jim, you didn't pay attention to everything I said. I think that players caught juicing should be banned for life on their second offense. If you catch him breaking the law, prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.
My point is he did not break baseball rules, so baseball should not attempt to enforce rules that were not in place. Baseball has always looked the other way on many issues. After the horse is out of the barn is to late to close the door.
It is very possible that Mr. Bonds did not break any laws in his steroid use. If all he used was the cream and the clear, he probablty did not. A law banning those drugs was not signed until October 2004 and went into effect in early 2005.
Sure, I'm aware The SFC writers alledge that Bonds used Wintroll, HGH, etc. But, at this point, they have really only relayed a tale of his use. We'll have to wait for the book to see the evidence.
I did read what you said and other than banning players after a second offense you said this is a non-issue but clearly it is an issue. How does this impact his HOF status? It obviously does because there are guys with votes saying they won't vote for him. How does it impact the historical view of this era of baseball? Seems like it makes it pretty freaking bleak. This goes along with keeping baseball a white only sport (clearly the worst offense of baseball, but one they share with pretty much the rest of society) and maybe the Black Sox scandal as the worst black eye in the history of a sport that is well over 100 years old. How that comes off as a non-issue is puzzling.
Also, if you have read the SI piece and/or heard any of the numerous interviews conducted over the past couple of days it is fairly clear that what Mr. Bonds was doing was far more than the clear and the cream. Certainly this is alleged but these are 2 well respected investigative journalists (not sports reporters) who have spent nearly 100% of their time over the past 2-3 years on this topic and they wrote an entire book about it. I think the only thing they don't have is a photo of him doing it and if that is what you needed to convict people in this country no one (almost) would be in jail.
The sheer lack of ethics and respect for the game and one's integrity is bad enough to make this a huge eyesore legality and rules (non-rules) issues aside. This is not spitballing or beanballing. This is tampering with your physiology to make yourself something you are not capable of without the juice for the sole purpose of hitting dingers (and presumably winning games). I have given Bonds and numerous other players who have odd numbers (Brett Boone leaps to mind though there is no evidence against him) a wide berth on this topic. I am betting this is the tip of the iceberg and things will only get uglier before they get better.
It is a non-issue from the standpoint of baseball rules. Individual voters will vote there own way and that is fine, but this group of players should not be judged any differently than any other player of their era or any other era.
If Mantle, Ruth and Ford played today, they would have been run out on a rail for their abuses. This IS the same issue. No baseball rule has been broken and until there is life goes on. As I stated earlier, I hope baseball catches Bonds and anyone else juicing, but until they do, back off.
I agree with maddirishman. Bonds and the other cheaters did not violate baseball rules, so sadly, the records have to stand. Baseball is no different than football, which probably has far more drug enhancers, and any other pro sport, where many will do anything to get ahead. Some thoughts on this not spolken much of:
1. The MLBPA, and the skunk leader, Don Fehr, have lost sight of their purpose: To protect the ballplayers they work for. Although many feel it is to maintain the cash cow that Marvin Miller started, why is that idiot Fehr not realizing that the steroid users are seriously jeopardizing their health and lives. Isn't that supposed to mean something?
2. What does Selig do when Aaron's record falls (if it does). If I were Bud, I would sit down privately with Aaron, and follow his lead.
IN a sense, Aaron got the record instead of Mays due to the stadiuyms they moved to later in their careers, but it's n ot cheating, as it was approved.
However, were Koufax and Gibson cheating, when they took advantage of the higher mounds they were given? That was a clear violation of the 10 inch high rule, and the teams as well as the pitchers knew it. Of course, the opposing pitchers also had that opportunity.
I hate the idea that Bonds holds, or will hold, just about every important offensive record there is (including being the most offensive player since at least Kingman, and probably Hornsby), yet took advantage bothers me, but there is not much that can be done. Jeez, and we owe it all to Canseco. Go figure.
I think everyone can (and does) agree that Bonds is a prick. That said there are several issues involved in this whole matter:
a) Was Bonds steroid use within the rules at the time - The answer is obviously yes.
b) Was he somehow singular in his use of the steroids. Clearly no. Not only the famous but manner lesser mortals were definitely using. To single out Bonds, McGuire, Sosa, and Palmeiro is unfair insofar as many others were doing the same.
c) I recall reading Jim Bouton's Ball Four 35 years ago. He mentioned in the book that if a pill was available that would allow him to win 20 games a year but would take 5 years off his life he would take it. My guess is that many of the players of that era would have done the same. They didn't take steroids because they weren't available, not because they were angels.
d) HOF credentials - In the case of Bonds, through the 1997 season he was easily the greatest player of his generation (comparisons to Griffey are a joke, Bonds was clearly superior). He should be shoo-in based on that alone. Regarding judgement of the balance of his career, as well as those of McGuire, Palmeiro and Sosa are difficult. However, it seems to me the only valid way of judging them is to discount their performances in the same way we discount pre 1947 performance because they did not play against black players, we discount Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg because they played the bulk of their careers in Wrigley Field. Ballpark adjustments are well developed now so players in the past can be fairly compared. The challenge for baseball analysts is to come up with some way of adjusting the 90's and early 00's performances to reflect the inflation due to roids.
One other final comment that I don't see made - One would assume if the hitters are juiced the pitchers are as well. To what extent do they cancel each other out? I don't know the answer to that. It does though make you wonder why people always comment on Bonds' late career performance (and assume roids) but never talk about Clemens' performance over the same age period.
I still laugh at all the people who say that the guys who took steroids were not cheating. Last I checked, it was, is, and will continue to be illegal to take steroids unless one has a valid RX from a doctor in the course and scope of medical treatment.
If these guys were getting coked up to all hell before each at bat, would you say the same thing because baseball had not outlawed coke?
April's almost here though...
I appreciate the comment that because steroids were not specifically outlawed does not mean they were not cheating. The comparison to cocaine is not valid because cocaine is not performance enhancing, or so I'm told. However, bending the rules (read cheating) is a well established baseball tradition. An earlier reference was made to Gaylord Perry and he is certainly the archetype. But stealing signs, watering down the basepaths to slow down Maury Wills, corking bats, etc. etc. are all legend and to some extent even honored. However, a fair distinction can be made between these isolated incidents and the systematic cheating that is steroids. I don't think that detracts from my previous post but I certainly agree it is cheating.
I think the baseball writers who are so outraged ought to investiagte how it is that the writers themselves awarded the MVP to Bonds four straight times, despite widespread allegations of his steroid use.
Maybe they can rescind the award? As if.
The other thing to remember is that Barry didn't just use those substances, but he lied about it for years, which prevented baseball (arguably) from dealing with a serious issue. Obviously baseball knew enough to deal with it, but that won't be their story. If Bonds and the other players had come clean when first asked, the rules could have changed much sooner.
If baseball intends to ban Bonds, it will say that it's not even about the steroids, it's about the cover up that prevented MLB from dealing with the issue. This gets around the fact that no policy existed at the time.
Also, the hall of fame isn't a right conferred on players for hitting a certain number of HRs. It is a privilege and honor bestowed upon some for service to the game. Barry's contributions, though considerable, are arguably more than overshadowed by the ways in which he's hurt the game.
I agree with others that the records must stand. Like it or not, they beat the system.
In '04, Selig challenged Bonds. He said if there was anything Bonds had to admit, he'd better come out and admit it, and if Bonds maintained his innocence and it came out later Bonds had used, there would be repercussions. Expect to see that fact raised a lot with whatever MLB decides to do.
If simple illegality without violation of baseball's rules was enough for a ban, there'd be a lot of players from the 1920's--with the list headed by the Babe himself--who would be out for their boozing when it was clearly illegal. Baseball's rules at the time that any alleged bad actions took place has to be the framework on which any ban is contemplated.
A lot of baseball's cheating legacy seems to fall a lot more into the "gamesmanship" side of cheating. Watering basepaths, letting the grass grow in the infield, stealing signs, etc. They are such a far cry from what went on in this era of baseball that mentioning them in the same context is not plausible. This is a whole realm of ethics outside the context of baseball and to some extent sports. It involves individual players, management, unions and a huge collective. As the books continue to be written (I am betting the Bonds book is one in a long line) the image of this era will look worse and worse as time goes on. The idea that Bonds and others have not been caught simply because they have not tested positive for steroids and the like (a long and arduous subject in and of itself) is, given what has been written and what will continue to come out over time, ludicrous. That they (or Bonds most specifically in this case) have been or will be caught for using drugs not banned by baseball perhaps makes it a non-issue for the concept of what to do about the past (I agree it is fundamentally difficult to punish someone for infractions of rules that did not exist) but it clearly makes it a huge issue for the historical context of baseball. Baseball, more than any other sport by a long shot, plays to its past. As ugly as this looks now it will look far worse in 20 years.
On the practical side of steroid use it seems clear that the hitter is far more advantaged by taking performance enhancers than pitchers. While throwing harder does corellate to greater success it is far less of a guarantee (if you are Rick Ankiel you can throw as hard as you want but it still doesn't matter). For a person with major league level hitting skills enhanceed strength, reaction time, speed and eyesight are nearly 100% guarantees to improved production. Also pitchers have a different aging curve than hitters so success after age 34 for pitchers is not necessarily unusual.
Seen from a players perspective, I can understand their befuddlement. Greenies were written about in Ball Four, which was only the most talked about book of the year, and was an enormous best seller. That was well over 30 years ago, and greenies, or Mays' red juice, or whatever, remained a part of the game. So a player might well wonder why the bother? And they may be right. If MLB and the NFL adopted Olympic standards, and enforced them the way the Track and Swimming people do, we might see something different in attitude.
The biggest rule breakers in sports are the gamblers, since it is an expressly written no no; Drinking during Prohibition was so flouted as to be ridiculous.
There were all types of perfomance enhancers that some atheletes took unfair advantage of. Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Stan Musial were very well paid. Their off season jobs were basically workign out (in Ted's case, fishing and working out, in Cobb's case, making lots of money and working out). Most other players couldn't afford to do that. So they took unfair advantage (I am being a devil's advocate here, it's not really unfair) to make themselves stronger.
Mays used some sort of amphetamines, does that mean he used an unfair stimulant when others were simply tired? Yes it does.
Somehow steroid use does seem so much more wrong. Remember the scene in the original Star Trek, with Khan, the genetically enhanced superman, who commented, "Change technology, you make some sligh changes, but when you change man," you are doing something far more fundamental.
So my take on it is that we have to hold our noses, and let the records stand; we didn't invalidate the Reds beating the Black Sox in 1919, Landis just made sure things were clean after that. That is all that can be done. And for sure, Selig is praying Bonds retires, but that would be classy, and Bonds never had any.
The comments above raise a question: it's clear that--assuming that the reports are all true--that Bonds has effectively benefited from performance enhancers more than any player in baseball history, in that the chemicals took a player who was already great, and made him arguably the greatest of all time, without any short-term health consequences (such as we saw with Giambi and some others) other than what might be expected of any athlete reaching the end of his career. Does that fact make BB any more culpable than, say, a journeyman player who has been using for the past five seasons and who has enjoyed only a moderate increase in performance as a result, along with a decline in health? They're both cheating in the same way--one is just getting a better result from that cheating.
Anyone who used is certainly culpable regardless of what the impact (to whatever extent that is quantifiable) on their performance the drugs had. I think what this new book will show is that Mr.Bonds useage was unusual by the standards of what was going on. Perhaps the extent of what he was doing was or will be part of his undoing. It's harder to hide 10 things than 1.
As far as I can see, no mention of the number one culprit: MLB. MLB could have indicated their concern about this problem early on. Through the bully-pulpit alone MLB could have made it clear that steroid use was a no-no. MLB could have pushed for a rule against steroid use and instituted a strict testing program. If the players's union blocked them, they could have publicized that their interest in steroid testing was being blocked by the union. Instead, MLB created a situation in which cheaters prospered and clean players were put at a significant disadvantage.
What can MLB do today? First, they can confess that the problems of the steroid era were largely the fault of MLB, that there is no way to untangle the statistical aberrations at this point (or to find out who was and wasn't guilty), and that the only thing to do now is move forward. Second, they can make clear to players that admitting past steroid use won't have severe repurcussions, and they can work to make that true. Third, they can arrange for Bonds to request a cancellation of all planned celebrations this summer (perhaps in connection with a limited confession of past steroid use). This, undoubtedly, would have to be done under threat of a Dowd-style investigation.
Here's how I list the culprits: (1) MLB who incented cheating by guaranteeing no one would be penalized; (2) the players's union who made any discussion of testing a complete non-starter; (3) players who took steroids - they knew it was wrong but were only pursuing their dream; (4) the teams who must have known which players were taking steroids but who also had an obligation to win; and (5) the players who didn't take steroids who had everthing to gain by turning in the cheaters but chose to keep quiet anyway.
I'm interested in hearing people's thoughts.
DO, San Mateo
There are some interesting things about the Bonds career, other than the obvious. Yes, he had the big power surge in 2001, and aside from doing a lot of weight lifting, we assume he took lots of designer drugs to up the totals. Then the home runs dropped off again to his former levels, maybe a few more a year than prior to 2000.
So we as baseball nuts really went ape over several states that are Ruthian: the obp and the slg, and the home run rate, which went from something like 16 (Aaronian) to 8 (Ruthian). Not to defend Bonds, who wouldn't want it anyway, but consider what even the jaded sportwriters out to get him (more because he made their lives harder frankly) say: He was a Hall of Famer before. Yes he was. Not just the 3 MVPs, which should have been 5 or 6 (I'm sure Mickey could sympathize), but his OBA jumped, as did his walks. So pitchers grew very catious of a batter who, while prickly, was also the smartest player in the game.
Patience is something best learned by the old, and only Ted seemed to have the ability to wait at a young age. Bonds' slugging would also go up as his at bats grew more productive. You walk lots, you are only swinging at strikes, at good strikes, you are going to be more productive. Why Vlad can't see that is beyond me.
Not to say Bonds did not use, since I think he did (but of course we don't know, and he did pass the drug tests, which means anythign from he didn't use to he used such sophisticated stuff it coulnd't be found), but except for some more home runs, especially one year, when he was pitched to, his numbers seem to show a rise in his intelligent use of pitches, the lack of pitchers willing to challenge him, and the defiance of age. Also, how was Bonds able to get more and different drugs than anybody else? How was Bonds able to get drugs that couldn't be traced, and not anybody else? He leaves mmore questions than answers behind.
Yes he was a user IMHO, but nonetheless, why did his home run numbers stay in the 40s? And prior to 2001 he was already one of the 15 greatest who ever played the game, maybe one of the ten greatest. In that, he is like Mantle. Great, greater, and greater still, yet somehow it took an entire career for people to realize it.
And I still blame the Union more than any other entity for not caring about the health of its members.
To follow up on this Barry Bonds story, let me show you what He did in the 7 seasons before the so-called steroid or substance use:
1990: National League Most Valuable Player
1990: National League Gold Glove at OF
1991: National League Gold Glove at OF
1992: National League Gold Glove at OF
1992: National League Most Valuable Player
1993: National League Most Valuable Player
1993: National League Gold Glove at OF
1994: National League Gold Glove at OF
1994 ESPY: Outstanding Baseball Performer
1994 ESPY: Male Athlete of the Year
1996: National League Gold Glove at OF
1997: National League Gold Glove at OF
He averaged .310, 38 HRs 110 Rbis, 100 Runs scored, and a .430 Obp not to mention 36 stolen bases per season, to go along with His gold gloves. That's including a shortened 1995 season with just 110 games played.
He earned a Hall of Fame vote before 98 began. I suggest to anyone reading this post, that Bonds was primed with all of his experience and skills, when the McGuire breaking record occurred. That without any supplements of any kind, Bonds still would've crashed at least 50 - 60 Homeruns, regardless.
To put it simply, He was just LOCKED IN, PERIOD.
Leave Him alone!
"He earned a Hall of Fame vote before 98 began." Yes. "Leave Him alone!" No. He is a lying, cheating, nasty piece of work. There is no way he would have "crashed 50-60." Stop talking out your ass. One of the best ever? Yes. Does he deserve the current abuse? Absolutely. When he stops pimping his kids we can discuss giving him the benefit of the doubt. He could not keep up with McGuire, period. He knew Mark was cheating/doping. His response was to out dope him. That will be his legacy. Grow up.
Is the idea of performance enhancers anything out of the ordinary for Major League Baseball? Hardly. Especially if it wasn't illegal at the time. Do you realize that pitchers sneaked vasoline and threw spitters? That umps called balls and strikes for the catcher and rewarded the catchers with favored calls? That coaches and managers steal signals? That players hit many homers with rubber in their bats? That players like George Brett used pine tar to high on the bat? This idea of gaining an advantage is not only the norm in baseball, it is almost as traditional to baseball as hotdogs, peanuts and beer! Comeon!
Barry Bonds has yet to test positive for steroids and until he does so he should be left alone. These books, accusations, and reports are targeting Bonds because he is so close to the record. What about all the other "juicers" in MLB, both hitters and pitchers alike? In no way am I saying Bonds is innocent and not a cheater, but it is unfair to investigate him and not investigate all of baseball. Barry Bonds has the natural talent, you can see that in his stats before the steroid era, and with or without steroids he is still a one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
So what needs to be done? Barry Bonds should retire and the MLB should just move on past this steroid problem. If Bonds doesnt retire and he breaks the HR record an investigation is necessary, but it should be conducted on all of baseball not just him. At this point it looks as though Bonds will not retire so it this season could end up being very controversial.
As with the HOF, Bonds should not be penalized because of a few questionable seasons, after the dust clears he should be given a fair chance unless he is found guilty of steroid use during the banned period. After all he was a great baseball player.
We will just have to wait and see how it all plays out...
The bottom line is bonds cheated period.
He never hit 50 homers in any season before he took steroids.
All of a sudden a guy goes from 45 homers to 73 in a season? Give me a break.
He's a good hitter, not a great hitter. Let's see, what's his lifetime batting average-- not even 300--
Steroids give quicker bat speed and more strength. This is a fact.
If the acceleration is increased just a little bit on a 90 mile an hour fastball, you have fly balls that would have been outs, suddenly clearing the fences.
All his homers after 1999 shoud be erased and he should be kicked out of baseball for lying to the grand jury.
Look at Pete Rose- 4000 base hits - one mistake and banned from baseball.
If Babe Ruth took steoids he might have 1000 lifetime home runs- maybe Ted Williams would have hit 500 in a season.