Thursday, April 14, 2011

Barry Bonds

"Doctors ought to quit worrying about what ballplayers are taking. What players take doesn't matter. It's nobody else's business. The doctors should spend their time looking for cures for cancer. It takes more than muscles to hit homers. If all those guys were using stuff, how come they're not all hitting homers?"

Barry Bonds

I feel kind of indifferent to Barry Bonds.

There was a time, not too long ago, when Bonds was still playing — and being referred to, at every at–bat and often when he was in the field, as the home run king — and I wished the worst things I could for him.

No, I did not wish that he would die. I don't judge people for deciding to take their own lives, but if a person is alive (and, presumably, wishes to remain that way), I do not wish for his/her life to end.

But I did wish that his career would end, which it did.

And I did wish that he would be exposed for what he is — and he has.

Well, kinda sorta.

Bonds has been convicted of obstructing justice, but mistrials were declared on the perjury charges — all stemming, of course, from his use of steroids in his pursuit of the all–time home run record.

I never thought for a second that Bonds didn't take steroids.

OK, I admit I never liked him personally — but that is only because he is not likable. I have rarely, if ever, seen a professional athlete who was as universally disliked as Bonds. The only people who ever seemed to like him were the people in the cities where he played — and they always stopped liking him when he stopped wearing their team's uniform.

He started his major league career in Pittsburgh, kind of a scrawny fellow, but he was still something of a power hitter. His numbers weren't eye–popping — average for a power hitter, I'd say.

But he never had a season like the one he had in 2000. He was in his mid–30s at the time, and he became only the second man to hit 70 home runs in a season. Actually, he smashed that record.

In seven seasons in Pittsburgh, Bonds' best home run output in a season was 34. But in the next seven years in San Francisco, that was just about his low point. In fact, in every season from 1993 to 2005 (including the strike–shortened 1994 season), Bonds hit at least 33 home runs — and in eight of those seasons, he hit at least 40 home runs.

He followed the 2000 season with three consecutive seasons of 40–plus homers — at the point in a baseball career when just about any other power hitter you'd care to name experiences a sharp decline in production. The guys he passed on the way to the all–time home run crown — Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays — saw their numbers tumble in their 30s — although, to be fair, Aaron did have some great seasons in his late 30s.

But Aaron was consistent. He never had a pro season in which he hit 50 or more home runs — and rarely had a 40–homer season. He passed Babe Ruth primarily through sheer endurance.

Bonds, on the other hand, only experienced a dropoff in productivity starting in the 2005 season — the same season in which baseball put its current anti–steroid policy in place.

I never saw how anyone could believe that Bonds hadn't taken steroids — or hadn't been aware that he had.

I was glad when his career was over, and I wish major league baseball would put an asterisk (or a little hypodermic needle) next to his name in the record books because I believe his single–season and career home run records were obtained fraudulently.

What's more, I think Bonds should be banned from baseball and kept out of the Hall of Fame because his use of performance–enhancing drugs is a more blatant form of cheating than gambling.

But none of that will happen — because steroid use didn't even lead to brief suspensions before 2005. It wouldn't be fair to penalize him for violating a policy that didn't exist.

Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson will remain barred from Cooperstown because gambling was and is explicitly against baseball rules.

But Bonds will continue to be eligible for the Hall, even if baseball adopts an even tougher policy.

And his records will stand indefinitely.

But, as I say, I'm pretty much indifferent to Barry Bonds these days. He's yesterday's news.

And, for Bonds, that may be the worst punishment possible.

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