Thursday, August 11, 2005

Steroids, Baseball and Barry Bonds

I believe Major League Baseball would prefer if Barry Bonds does not finish his career as the all-time home run leader. As Chris Rock would say, "that's right, I said it. It had to be said." Sounds crazy? Take some time and listen to sports talk or read the sports pages and you'll find sports talk hosts, journalists and fans around the country who think as I think. It's a valid belief. The basis for the theory involves steroids, baseball and Barry Bonds. Here are my thoughts.

As early as 1994, then acting commissioner, Bud Selig acknowledged the use of steroids had been discussed in private meetings with owners. "If baseball has a problem" Selig says, "I must say candidly that we were not aware of it. It certainly hasn't been talked about much. But should we concern ourselves as an industry? I don't know, maybe it's time to bring it up again."

The last statement, "maybe it's time to bring it up again" is rather interesting to me. I find it ironic that for the 2005 season, the league has decided to enforce a steroids policy eleven years after it was privately discussed but not banned from the sport until 2002.

As many are aware, random steroid testing was performed on players during the 2004 season and based on the results of the tests (5%-7% positive returns on 1438 random tests), baseball felt that was enough to begin enforcing the policy in 2005. But why did it take two years after the drug was banned from the sport before the league began testing? My feeling is there was no compelling reason for baseball to develop a testing process until 2004.

Let's rewind a bit. During 2004, we were introduced to the ugly BALCO scandal, which I believe gave baseball another "blackeye" (remember the strike?) and played a part in the decision to push the testing. The scandal involved several high-profile baseball players including Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and Barry Bonds. One of the central figures in the scandal was Bonds personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who Bonds confirmed while testifying to a U.S. grand jury in December 2004 provided him with "the cream" and "the clear". According to Bonds, the trainer told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for the player's arthritis. Many have questioned the true ingredients of the substances but that's up to a grand jury to determine. Not baseball fans or the general public. As much as we'd like to be. Bottom line, the timing around the BALCO break and baseball's decision to enforce a testing policy cannot be ignored.

The BALCO scandal notwithstanding, here is another issue I have with Major League Baseball's testing policy. Back in 2002 when steroids were banned from the sport, that was the time to begin testing AND enforcement. Not THREE years later!! You can't convince me that an organization like Major League Baseball could not come up with a comprehensive testing procedure in short-order. Quite simply, all they had to do was copy the blueprint from the minor leagues, which had a successful testing policy already in place.

Some defend baseball by asking, "how could Selig enforce the policy without the approval of the players union led by Donald Fehr?" I can tell you how. By invoking the commissioners "best interests of the game" clause and ramming it down the throat of the union. Is commissioner Selig that afraid of the players union? Come on people, is the tail really wagging the dog?

For a little more background on the events leading to my position, let's not forget what occurred in the 2001 season. The Paul Bunyan of baseball, Mark McGwire, called it quits at the end of the season at the age of 37 years old. McGwire's body just wouldn't hold up anymore and he struggled mightily through the season, playing in only 97 games but still managed to smack 29 home runs. I guess when you have taken androstenedione for so long and have become that damn strong, you can't help but to jack a few here and there even though he hit below the "Mendoza" line for the year (.187). Side note: does this mean that "nutritional supplements" really can't improve your hand/eye coordination? But I digress.......

While the farewell tour of McGwire was taking place, over on the left coast (that would be California for those who don't know), Barry Lamar Bonds at the age of 36 years old was on his way to doing what many thought couldn't be done. That was breaking the single season home run record that McGwire had set just three years earlier of 70 home runs.

Some of you might have vivid memories when it happened. I know I do. It was October 5, 2001. Pac Bell Park against the Dodgers. Bonds hits number 71 off Chan Ho Park in the first inning. Then for good measure, Bonds jacked number 72 off Park in the third inning.

If you recall, in 2002, the league finally banned steroids. Meanwhile, in that same year, all Bonds did was go out and hit 46 home runs. That's not 73 but it was still enough to help him earn his second consecutive Most Valuable Player (MVP) award as a Giant and (at that time) fifth overall. More importantly, those 46 home runs gave him a career total of 613.

During the 2003 season, Bonds continued his dominance by hitting .341 and dinging 45 home runs and yes, captured his sixth MVP. This brings us to the 2004 season. Once again, Bonds had another spectacular season by hitting .362 and hitting 45 home runs. Did I mention that he won his seventh MVP? To put this into perspective, there are seven other players tied for second on the list of multiple MVP winners and those seven players won the award THREE times each. Bonds has won it SEVEN times!! Let that sink in for a second........damn, that's a lot. I can just hear the baseball historians taking a big gulp on that fact. Hey, historians and purist of the game, don't hate on Barry, hate the writers who voted for him.

Anyone with half a brain could anticipate that at the rate Bonds was hitting home runs, it wasn't going to be long before he reached 700 and beyond. And low and behold by the end of the 2004 season, he had a total of 703. Putting him only eleven home runs behind the great Babe Ruth; baseball's immortal figure for the last 75 years or so, who by the way, won only one MVP in his career.

Just like one of Barry's blasts into McCovey cove, the magical number of 700 is cracked and immortality is within reach.

To recap if I am losing you.

In a span of four years, Barry Bonds breaks the single season home run record, he's on pace to break the all-time home run record, he wins four straight MVP's, he continues to ignore the fans and piss off the media. I say, so what? We all know Barry Bonds hasn't had the greatest relationship with the media and fans over the years. There are less likeable figures in the history of baseball. Besides, I don't need his autograph. (Although it does fetch a nice penny on ebay). I don't care to see him interviewed on ESPN. (Although he is quite amusing). So fans, knowing this, stop hanging around the park after the game seeking an autograph. You're not getting one. Media scribes? Stop asking the same stupid questions you've been asking for years. I'm serious, please stop.

Even still, Major League Baseball can't be happy with where his record is heading . The record books are about to be changed forever. Say what?!?!? Not Bonds, anybody but Bonds! MLB has got to put their foot down.

And then "suddenly", to the delight of the league, some fans and the media, "someone" leaks information about BALCO and months later, under oath, Barry admits to using "the cream" and like the memorable words of Gomer Pyle, SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!!! Baseball announces plans to enforce its steroid policy most likely thinking, this is one way to slow his butt down.

Sorry to disappoint ya, but the way I see it, a knee injury slowed him down.