The next few weeks will be rather unpleasant. Barry Bonds is nearing baseball history and soon every newspaper, blog, magazine, radio station, television show -- even that goth kid who listens to My Chemical Romance and complains that sports are "a mindless distraction from the miserable realities of life" – will be offering opinions on Bonds and his quest to knock Henry Aaron from atop the record book.
Most of it will be pretty standard, the same boring, recycled Barry Bonds crap we’ve been subjected to for years.
Bonds is a cheater. He should be made an example of. His record should have an asterisk. He should be paraded through the streets so we can throw rotten fruit at him.
The noise will come loudest from old, white-haired sports writers pining for the days when they could slug post-game beers with players, and when horse racing was the bee’s knees. We can look forward to preachy messages about purity and integrity of the game and columns by Rick Reilly about retarded children playing stickball in the streets. And it’ll be a massive orgy of hypocrisy that makes me sick.
People have always cheated in sports. It’s nothing new and Bonds wasn’t the first. He most certainly won’t be the last. Stealing signs, throwing games, corking bats, taking beanies, scuffing balls, betting on your own sport, signing a midget to draw walks (seriously) -- it’s all been done in baseball. You could write enough books about cheating in baseball to fill a library. And it’s not limited to sports. Peter Gibbons explained it best in Office Space:
"Illegal? Samir, this is America."
America, baby -- bigger, better, whatever it takes to win. It doesn’t matter how you make it to the top so long as you do.
But people want to wear their white hats and take the moral high ground. We want to pretend we aren’t guilty of doing the same things every day, that we don’t cut corners or search for shortcuts to greatness or fulfillment. Of course, we aren’t on national television and making millions of dollars -- or clawing our way to that final roster spot -- so it’s easy to claim "It’s different" when Bonds or other athletes get caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
Bonds’ biggest problem is that we don’t need a complicated drug-testing program to prove he’s an asshole. At this point, people simply hate Bonds. And it’s not an Alex Rodriguez, I’d-like-to-slap-him-in-the-face-type of hate; it’s a senior high school jock, I-wish-someone-would-kick-his-ass-and-teach-him-a-lesson-kind of hate.
But when you subtract the fact that Bonds is a total dick, how much different is he from his slugging predecessors, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, or any other major leaguer of the past 15 years who’s given us reason to doubt they’ve earned their success honestly? We didn’t hear much complaining or questioning when those two were in the midst of their homerun tears a few years back. Not Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy, two likeable superstars, the guys who were "saving baseball."
True, the steroid problem hadn’t yet breached the national consciousness. But those guys never got their due, they never suffered near the admonishment Bonds has been subjected to. And they never would have, either. Nobody talks about them now, nobody mentions that they too appear just as guilty as Bonds. Sosa just became only the fifth player with 600 career homeruns. Where is the backlash? Where is the booing as he travels from park to park? The specials on Sportscentre? It wasn’t the all-time record, but 600 dingers is one of the greatest benchmarks in sports. Rafael Palmeiro got it bad for a while, sure, but how long did that last?
Hell, Jason Giambi was recently painted as a borderline sympathetic figure by some pundits after openly discussing steroids with the media and being threatened by Bud Selig. People cited Giambi’s attempt at honesty, arguing he deserved some credit for that. It’s a good point, though I wonder what the reaction would have been had Bonds done the same thing. Something tells me they would have kept gnawing away at the big slugger, the perfect heel.
What’s most frustrating, of course, is that Bonds didn’t need the juice. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer before he ever shoved a needle in his ass, or rubbed flax seed oil all over his legs, or whatever the hell it is he does. Most people point to 2000 as the year Bonds’ steroid journey began, his 15th Major League season. Calling his numbers, to that point, impressive, is a gross understatement.
Three Most Valuable Player awards, 445 homers, 460 stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves and one ticket to Cooperstown, all ready to go. He could have put away his bat right then and there and still been regarded as one of the greats. Maybe that’s partly why we’re mad, because we see this immensely talented athlete who cheated when he didn’t need to.
He did it anyway. Why? Maybe he felt his game was slipping and he needed an edge (and got a bigger one than he’d ever anticipated). Maybe he wanted the money associated with mashers. Maybe he got caught up in the Sosa/McGwire mania and wanted a taste for himself. Maybe Bonds himself isn’t quite sure to this day.
But he was faced with a situation that every baseball player, every athlete, every person faces daily. How can I get better, gain everything I want, be the best? We all make different choices and you have to wonder what many people would have done in a similar situation as Bonds’; it’s probably not as cut and dried as most would like to believe.
What would some of Bonds’ harshest critics have done? What if they could make a deal with the devil and underhandedly improve on their craft and leave competition in their wake, if they could make the leap from bestselling authors to Pulitzer Prize winners? Would they turn it down without batting an eye? Would they remember making that deal would set a bad example for little Timmy and Tammy and do what’s "right" instead?
So how do we treat Bonds, the poster child for an era defined by substance abuse? Do we put an asterisk next to his name? Do we take away his single-season home run record? Ok, fine, but Mac and Sammy are next in line, and we all know, like Bonds, they’re probably guilty of some wrongdoing, so we’ll strike them too. Our new single season homerun king is Roger Maris. Then again, he played more games than Ruth, so let’s cross his name out…
At the end of the day, yeah, Bonds cheated, but sports often represent a microcosm of life and this serves as an excellent example. For some reason, in Bonds’ case, we’re particularly interested and, most intriguingly, surprised and abhorred. Maybe we’re exposed to it more today; maybe it irritates us because it fills the 24-hour news cycle. Or maybe we’re just kidding ourselves.
But what Bonds is doing isn’t anything new. Just like the bullshit hypocrisy you’ll hear associated with it in the coming weeks.