With Drew Nederpelt
Bailing on Bonds
Barry Bonds on deck against Chicago Cubs
in St. Patrick's Day 2006 match.
Photos(s) by Drew Nederpelt
March 23, 2006
By Drew Nederpelt
Scottsdale, AZ -- The latest Bonds-on-steroids outcry
smacks of opportunism and hypocrisy. Of all the interested parties,
the only one seemingly concerned whether Barry's muscles are rented
or paid for, is the media. To make matters worse, the most recent
indictment of Bonds is the direct result of the media's own (two
SF Chronicle reporters) capitalizing on the Bonds polemic strictly
for monetary gain, embraced by the self-serving and pious baseball
There's no doubt the authors of the book that has rekindled the
Bonds-as-cheater discussion have much to gain from the new frenzy.
There's a reason court witnesses with an agenda are generally
considered unreliable. Those with legitimate claims who go to
the authorities are called 'whistle-blowers,' while those who
trumpet their allegations in the media are called 'opportunists.'
In fact, the book, Game of Shadows, which unsurprisingly features
a photo of Bonds on the cover, speaks of the player fleetingly,
a small part in "the systematic use of a wide array of illegal
drugs by other major leaguers, NFL players and track and field
athletes," according to Sports Illustrated.
All you need to know about the recent Bonds furor can be gleaned
in the 10-page excerpt reprinted in Sports Illustrated last week.
It's all there; the conversations, the BALCO raid, the grand jury
testimony of Bonds and others. It's nothing new, and if you care
you might ask yourself why the Chronicle (the one who pays these
authors' salaries when they're not writing books) didn't get the
rights to the book excerpt. After all, the authors have no prior
relationship with Sports Illustrated.
Where is the revelation that these reporters, whose book release
date coincides with spring training and baseball fever despite
having little to do with baseball, are simply out to make a buck?
Mark Sweeney making solid contact versus the Milwaukee Brewers
at Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, AZ March 20, 2006.
But the book itself could not generate all this hand wringing
and exposure without help. The cross had to be borne by a party
willing to carry it forth unequivocally. It's evident the commissioner
of baseball could care less about steroids. The only reason there's
a drug policy at all is the result of congressional threats. And
when Bud Selig was forced to establish a course of action he instituted
one that's the laughingstock of athletes the world over. The players
certainly aren't for rehashing the issue again. Says Roger Clemens,
"I worry more about the man's health than I do about him
hitting home runs or whatever this witch hunt we're on."
The ownership and management of the Giants aren't for another
kick at the Bonds-can; they're happy to pollute McCovey Cove with
as much horsehide as Barry can muster. The players union is against
it for obvious reasons. And the fans are not only against this
new inquisition, they're insulted by it. "I think it's disgusting,"
said Jason Brindle of the Bay Area, at Scottsdale Stadium for
the weekend of Giants spring training games. "It's about
it being early in the season and selling papers, and it's sad."
So that leaves the media. The latest book on drugs in sport is
a convenient jumping-off point for the punditocracy to fan the
flames for their own benefit. And it's the wholehearted subjectivity
of this same media's response to past drug indiscretions that
make their current outrage suspect. The media talking heads claim
that if a guy is cheating, well then, we have to know about it
and mete out the appropriate punishment, for the sanctity of the
game. Oh really?
Where was the media-initiated scrutiny concerning Mark McGuire
in 1998? MLB trotted out the Maris family to hand over the homerun
title and the media applauded in lockstep. Everyone in the game
and the media knew what was going on. McGuire was as big as a
house, supremely larger than he had been several years earlier.
But of course that's not enough. The summer McGuire looped number
62 over the left field fence at Busch Stadium, Jose Canseco, who
seems now to be the Nostradamus of nefarious drug use, says he
joked in 1998 that, "So many guys went rushing to hide their
vials in the locker room when the media showed up that it was
like watching roaches scurrying for cover after the lights go
on." It's impossible that the media was oblivious to the
widespread use of drugs in the game. In addition, McGuire's '98
bash-buddy Sammy Sosa's own body transformation makes Bonds' look
wholly unremarkable, and so anyone who claims that baseball and
the media weren't aware of steroids in the 90's is simply out
of the loop.
And the response in the largest media market in the world in
2004 when Jason Giambi was basically busted with steroids in his
So we know who's behind this latest shakedown, but why now? Leaving
out the issue of Bonds' abrasive personality, which would indict
the media on too simplistic of terms, we turn to the notion that
baseball is about numbers, and the self-appointed watchdogs of
baseball, the media and baseball writers, claim they have an obligation
to ensure the sanctity of the game and those numbers. After all,
baseball is the only sport where you should be able to compare
players from different generations using their stats. And of course,
the granddaddy of all records is the career homerun title, which
is under assault by, you guessed it.
Brian Buscher -- St Patrick's Day base hit in a late-inning rally
against the Chicago Cubs (note their green caps), March 17, 2006.
So those pundits, who haven't found it necessary to make an issue
of drug use in baseball over the past decade (or three) as they
were basking in the glow of fence-clearing bombs, have suddenly
found religion and begun the drumbeat for censure, suspension,
retirement or any of the other pointless responses to these latest
accusations against Bonds. What seems to be blatantly obvious
to anyone willing to be candid is that it's okay for baseball
players to use performance enhancing drugs, as long as they don't
break any records. Actually, it's okay to break records, just
not the Big One.
However, this argument too fails. Numbers in baseball have always
been subjective. When Roger Maris broke Ruth's single season homerun
record those overseeing the game determined that since Maris accomplished
the feat playing eight more games, his 61 trippers deserved an
asterisk. What is not widely known is that Ruth actually had more
at-bats than Maris. Yankee Phil Rizzuto retired from baseball
in 1956 and in every Hall of Fame ballot that followed was overlooked
for election into the Hall. In 1994 the Veterans Committee elected
Rizzuto into the Hall of Fame. Did he somehow get better in the
38 years since he retired? Obviously not. Those in charge of deciphering
the numbers subjectively and arbitrarily overrode them. So the
argument that there is sanctity in the numbers is weak.
What's amazing is that the fans are ahead of the pundits on this
one. While certainly Bonds may have used drugs to get ahead, the
fans have looked down the road and realized that nothing can be
done about it, and the drama generated by the media is blatantly
self-serving and not good for the game in the least. They know
that designer Human Growth Hormone is undetectable without a blood
test and baseball will never mandate sticking a needle into a
player's arm as long as there's a union. The fans realize those
thrown to the urine-testing wolves are players who can neither
afford the good stuff nor have access to it-in other words, the
minor leaguers. A sample of those suspended for violating the
drug policy implemented in 2005 reveals an overwhelming majority
of minor league players. The fans understand that to vilify Bonds
and demean his accomplishments without definitive proof of cheating
is to throw the modern record book into question and dynamite
the foundation upon which baseball as a pastime and an identity
rests. Strangely, the sanctimonious talking heads and media personalities
who make a living from the game are the last to recognize their
folly and have embarked on a crusade which will only serve to
wipe out the very thing for which they claim to fight.
Drew Nederpelt has written for the New York Press, and
about steroids in baseball for Yahoo!Sports and Scout.com, and
is a principal in literary agency Metropol Literary, based in
New York City.