Log in

No account? Create an account
Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
A Few Considered Words on Barry Bonds 
Monday, August 13th, 2007 | 04:52 pm [baseball, commentary]
I’ve had nearly a week since Barry Bonds hit his 756th career home run to work out what I think about it. Not that I needed the time to decide how I feel about Bonds breaking the record—I’ve known how I feel about that for some time; more that I needed it to establish for myself what place in history we should give his accomplishment, and what we should do with him once his career is over, which, now that he’s claimed the record, shouldn’t be too far off.
The career home run record is the most recognized milestone in professional sports. Babe Ruth became the all-time leader in 1921 when he hit his 139th home run, passing former champ Roger Connor. Connor had taken 18 years to hit 138; Ruth passed him in only 8. By the time Ruth was finished, he’d hit 714 home runs. No one else even made it to 600 for another 34 years, until Willie Mays in 1969. It was 38 years after Ruth’s retirement before anyone else hit 700, and that was Hank Aaron, a little less than a year before he hit number 715 and took the career home run record for himself.
Hank Aaron finished the 1973 season two home runs shy of breaking Ruth’s all-time record. During the winter break he received death threats from a small but vocal minority of Americans who, 27 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in modern major league baseball, could not bear the thought of a black man hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth. In Tom Stanton’s book Hank Aaron and the Home Run That Changed America, Aaron is quoted as saying his only fear during that off-season was living long enough to break the record. When he broke the record in April 1974, his mother ran out on the field to congratulate him. Cannons were fired, two fans—white college students—jumped the wall and ran around the bases with him, patting him on the back and shaking his hand. His teammates and the media swarmed around home plate to meet him.
Aaron was the last Major League ballplayer to have played in the Negro Leagues. For much of his career he was unable to stay in the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his teammates. Despite the distractions of racism and segregation, despite the death threats as he approached Ruth’s record, Hank Aaron was one of the most outstanding players in the history of baseball. He hit more home runs than anyone else had ever hit, and a lot more, too, and did it with class. Hank Aaron was a hero.
“I don’t want them to forget Ruth,” Aaron said. “I just want them to remember me.”
Contrast the modesty of Aaron with the gargantuan ego of Bonds. “In the baseball world, everything is Babe Ruth, right?” Bonds asked during an All-Star Game press conference in 2003. “I got his slugging percentage and I’ll take his home runs and that’s it, don’t talk about him no more.” Someone apparently pointed out to Barry what an arrogant and self-aggrandizing thing that was to say, because three years later when he tied Ruth’s mark of 714 homers, Barry said, “This is a great accomplishment because of Babe Ruth and what he brought to the game of baseball and his legacy. . . . You can’t say enough of what he did and it’s an honor to be in the same class.” Humility from Bonds is about as convincing as sincerity from Hillary Clinton.
Just as when Aaron chased Ruth, there were those who reacted to Bonds chasing Aaron’s record with ambivalence or outright hostility. Some black political leaders claimed this was the result of racism, but I don’t think so. There probably were a few who objected to Barry Bonds breaking the home run record solely because of his race, but when the previous record-holder is also a black man, that objection becomes even sillier than it was in 1974. Besides, why use race as an excuse when there are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons to protest Bonds breaking the record?
Unlike Aaron, Bonds brought most of his problems on himself (unless you consider Aaron being more recently descended from African ancestors than his white detractors to be “bringing it on himself”). Barry Bonds used steroids to enhance his performance. Because his steroid use occurred before Major League Baseball had a serious drug testing policy, this is not an established fact. However, thanks to leaked grand jury testimony documented in the book Game of Shadows, the indictment of his former trainer on steroid dealing charges, and the fact that Bonds gained fifty pounds of muscle and his skull grew an additional hat size during the 1998-99 off-season, it is as close to a fact as any conjecture can be.
Testing positive for steroids, or even allegations of use, have ruined the careers and reputations of some of the defining players of the last twenty years of baseball. Jose Canseco cheerfully admitted to using steroids throughout his career, virtually guaranteeing he will never be elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. Canseco’s old Oakland A’s teammate, former single-season home run champion Mark McGwire, was recently denied election to the Hall in his first year of eligibility due to the likelihood that steroids played a role in his proficiency as a slugger. Rafael Palmeiro, never a player in the same class as McGwire or Bonds but still a noteworthy power hitter and possible Hall of Fame candidate one day, and also a former teammate of Canseco, tested positive for steroids and was suspended for 10 games under the new drug policy, effectively ending his career and killing his Hall of Fame hopes.
What, then, to do with Barry Bonds? He may retire as soon as this year, or he may play another season or two, in which case he could easily finish his career as the first man to ever hit 800 home runs in Major League Baseball. Can baseball really deny the all-time home run king a spot among the greats in Cooperstown? Fortunately, baseball doesn’t elect the Hall of Famers; the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) does. The BBWAA could permanently reject Bonds on his first ballot and not lose a wink of sleep. And that is precisely what they should do.
Before he began using steroids in 1998, Bonds was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Bill James, writer of the invaluable New Historical Baseball Abstract, rates him as the best player of the 1990s, and he probably was. Had he continued down that road instead of turning to banned substances to chase home run records, today, even with his well-known animosity toward the press, he would be one of the most praised and respected players in the game, and his election to Cooperstown would be a foregone conclusion. It is sad that the last eight years of his career should negate the first fifteen, but it can be no other way. If Pete Rose, holder of the all-time record for hits (a mark which may literally never be surpassed) is denied entry to the Hall because of his gambling activities, then men like Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro and Canseco, who damaged the integrity of the game far more seriously than Rose ever did, must be treated no better.
Baseball is tied to its history more than any other sport, and fans enjoy the feeling that they are witnessing some more of that history being made. That’s why many fans, even those opposed to Bonds breaking the record, eventually gave up and decided to forget about the steroid accusations and enjoy watching Barry hit some home runs. This was also the attitude of most of the media coverage. I found the general lack of outrage disturbing.
Bonds hit his record-breaking homer just over a week after the induction into the Hall of Fame of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., two men who embodied baseball at its finest. After seeing those two men enshrined at Cooperstown, bronze plaques bearing images of their faces hung alongside the one belonging to Hank Aaron, anyone who cheered when Barry Bonds hit number 756 should be ashamed.
Tuesday, August 14th, 2007 | 02:33 am (UTC) - Great piece!
Steve, this is a really good piece of writing. Thanks.
Tuesday, August 14th, 2007 | 03:57 pm (UTC)
I think you are assuming a lot of things about Bonds that have never actually been proven. The steroid accusations are just that – accusations. Nobody has proved that Barry Bonds ever knowingly used steroids. The only “evidence” against him is the leaked grand jury testimony where he supposedly testified that he used an arthritis cream that may or may not have contained THG.

He’s never failed a drug test for steroids. Steroids were not even banned in baseball up until the 2002 season.

Steroids don’t make you a better hitter. Steroids don’t improve your bat speed. They don’t improve your eye for the strike zone. What steroids do is allow your muscles to recover quicker. What they do is enable you to lift more weights and spend less time recovering between workouts. That’s it.

Bonds put on a lot of muscle. He obviously worked out extremely hard with lots of weights. Did he also knowingly employ the use of steroids while doing this? He says he didn’t. He is a superb athlete with good genes. Maybe he is just the type of person that putting on muscle is easy.

Though steroids won’t make you a better hitter, they will make you a better pitcher. A pitcher that is using steroids will be able to recover quicker in between days pitching. This explains why more pitchers have tested positive for steroids then hitters. One interesting bit of trivia is that Clay Hensley, the San Diego pitcher that pitched to Bonds when he hit the home run that tied the record actually tested positive for steroids while in the minor leagues. How many pitchers has Bonds faced over the years that were actively juicing on steroids? I know that Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron never had to hit against pitchers that were using steroids.

People don’t like Barry Bonds. I get that. I understand it. He’s an asshole. That doesn’t mean he’s less of a baseball player. Not only is Barry Bonds the greatest baseball player of his generation, he is one of greatest of all time. Any baseball writer that fails to put Bonds at the top of their list the first time he is eligible for the HOF has no business writing about baseball and should be relegated to writing about the WNBA for ESPN.

I also think you are overlooking what a great ball player Rafael Palmeiro was. He was a far better baseball player then McGwire. Not only did Palmeiro hit close to 600 home runs, he totaled over 3,000 hits as well. Palmeiro will most certainly be elected into the HOF and deservedly so.
Tuesday, August 14th, 2007 | 07:24 pm (UTC)

I won't argue that Bonds is an outstanding player, but if you honestly believe the guy didn't use steroids, or that he did but shouldn't be punished for it, then I don't know what to tell you. The fact that it wasn't a banned substance until 2002 is unfortunate and horribly negligent on the part of Major League Baseball, but it doesn't excuse Bonds, or McGwire, or Palmeiro, or anyone else who juiced.

And I'm not arguing that the steroids made Bonds a better hitter, but the added muscle they allowed him to pack on in only a few months undoubtedly contributed to the sudden up-swing in his power numbers. Bonds was always a great hitter and a slugger, but he was never a 73-homer-season guy.

I'm not saying he should be denied the Hall of Fame because he wasn't a great player, or because he was an asshole. I'm saying he should be denied the Hall of Fame because he took steroids to enhance his performance. Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro (who was an Oriole for a long time and I really liked) should all have to forfeit their places in Cooperstown for that, because training with steroids -- cheating -- is way more damaging to the game than gambling. If the all-time hits leader gets shut-out of the Hall for betting, why not the all-time homer leader for juicing?
Wednesday, August 15th, 2007 | 01:15 pm (UTC)
Why should someone be punished for something that was not even against the rules? It has never been established that Bonds was using steroids after 2002. Once again, steroids don’t add muscle. Lifting weights adds muscle. Taking certain steroids a certain way allows those that lift weights to recover quicker between workouts. This allows the steroids user to work harder. He didn’t put on muscles in only a few months. It took years for Bonds to build up his body the way it is today.

Bond’s upswing in his power numbers should be attributed to his decision to change the way he played the game. He used to be a true National League style, multi-dimensional player. He put an equal importance on all aspects of the game. Hitting for average, steals, hits, slugging, and homeruns were all equally as important. After watching the McGwire/Sosa love fest, Bonds decided to change the way he played the game. What would happen if he decided he only wanted to hit only homeruns like McGwire or Sosa? Well, we saw what happens.

I don’t understand why you think players that may or may not have used steroids should be banned from the HOF. Once again, steroids don’t make someone a better hitter. Steroids make someone a better weight lifter. I’m not even certain big muscles necessarily make one a better power hitter. Look at the players that have hit over 500 homeruns in their career. Most are not overly muscular. If anything, muscle mass slows a hitter down. Hell, look at Ruth and Aaron. Ruth wasn’t muscular. He was just fat. Aaron wasn’t muscular or even all that big. Hitting for power has more to do with bat speed and the efficiency of the swing of the bat. It isn’t about brute power. Look at Ken Griffey’s swing. It’s truly a thing of beauty. It’s no coincidence that he has hit close to 600 homeruns in his career.

Pete Rose wasn’t banned from the HOF for gambling. He was banned from MLB for gambling. Because he is banned from MLB, he cannot be inducted into the HOF. No player that has been banned from MLB is eligible for enshrinement in the HOF.

Thursday, August 16th, 2007 | 08:53 pm (UTC)
You're right in pointing out that players aren't barred from the Hall of Fame; they're barred from Major League Baseball. So let me rephrase: I think anyone who tests positive for steroids ought to be given the same sort of lifetime ban from the game that was handed down to Pete Rose, and Joe Jackson and the rest of the Black Sox, for gambling. In cases like Barry Bonds, who has never failed a steroid test but whom anyone paying attention can reasonably conclude was on the juice for a few years before baseball finally got around to testing for it, I don't think it's fair to ban him without 100% solid evidence, but I do think the BBWAA ought to do the right thing when the time comes and keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

The fact that it wasn't against the rules when Bonds did it is irrelevant. It was only not against the rules because the owners and the players union were both too greedy and complacent to do something about it. It took congressional hearings and the threat of government intervention to finally get the men who run the professional side of our national pastime to clean up the mess that they all knew was there.

I also agree with you that strength isn't the only important element when it comes to power hitting; bat speed and timing are essential. But strength is still an important part of the equation. I'm of average or below-average strength, and I can barely hit the ball over the fence in a little league field. A lot of that is due to my poor timing and slow bat speed, and the fact that I've never had to face serious pitching and improve my skills at all, but you can't tell me that if I weren't a helluva lot stronger, I wouldn't be able to hit the ball farther. It might not make a huge dent in my batting average, but it'd definitely help my home run total.

The other guys you mentioned -- Ruth, Aaron, Griffey -- were/are great power hitters without steroids, but none of them spontaneously gained 50 pounds of muscle and a hat size during one off-season, and none of them suddenly started smacking 50, 60, even 70 homers a season on the down-slope of their careers. What Bonds did is not only an insult to the great player HE was, but also to the Ruths, the Aarons, the Griffeys, all the players who achieved true greatness and did it honestly, without sneaking around and injecting themselve with steroids behind everyone's back, without fucking CHEATING, which is exactly what Bonds did, why his record is tainted, and why he doesn't deserve to go to Cooperstown.
This page was loaded Jun 24th 2018, 5:11 pm GMT.