Barry Bonds should be asking himself if a fit of envy or jealousy in 1998 was worth jeopardizing his place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Bonds may have abused steroids a decade ago because he was, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, annoyed about all adulation heaped on St. Louis slugger Mark McGuire for breaking the single-season home run record with 70 bombs. Three years later Bonds broke McGuire’s season record with 73.
Yet was smashing the record worth it for McGuire? When I think about the Cardinals slugger I don’t recall him circling the bases victoriously after breaking the record. No, I immediately flash to the Senate hearing room where he kept repeating “no comment” in response to lawmakers’ queries about steroid abuse in baseball. Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa, who also zoomed past Roger Maris’ 1961 home run record with 66 homers, finishing second to McGuire, was even more pathetic, professing not to understand the questions he was asked about the allegations against him. “No habla ingles,” were his replies to senators’ questions.
But Bonds indictment for allegedly lying to a grand jury stems from his insistence that he did not take performance-enhancing drugs. Over the years Bonds repeatedly parsed his words, saying he did not “knowingly” take steroids. It was news to him, Bonds claimed, that a magic cream BALCO suppliers instructed him to rub on his body contained illegal and hard-to-trace ingredients.
Bonds’ feigned innocence is suspect considering his swollen head, oversized feet and ability to blast balls out of the park with half swings. He’s not the wiry outfielder who routinely knocked balls out of the park when he was a younger player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
I was saddened when Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record last summer. I was disappointed that a superstar like Bonds defiled baseball’s most cherished statistic. Why? Because Bonds did not have to cheat to break Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron’s all-time records. Bonds had the stamina, durability, hand-eye coordination and bat speed to hit loads of home runs. Plus he’s played the last 15 years of his career in home run-friendly parks, most recently at AT&T park, where the Giants have played for the past seven years, and Candlestick Park which favored left hand hitters because of the way the wind circulates inside the stadium. Bonds’ godfather Willie Mays had God knows how many home runs blow back into outfielders’ gloves because of the ‘Stick’s unforgiving winds that cursed righties in left field. Still, Mays hit 660 home runs during his career and chased down fly balls plus ran the bases with childlike exuberance. For me, he remains the greatest baseball player ever. And no one questions whether Mays’ home runs were the result of his using performance-assisting substances.
Can Bonds really look his godfather in the face and say that he didn’t take steroids – without parsing his words? This baseball fan believes Bonds and Mays have been living in denial about the probable steroid abuse.
What might Bonds say to Hank Aaron? Aaron is the epitome of grace and dignity who snuck up on baseball fans as he broke the Bambino’s home run record. Every year he’d show up and hit 35 to 40 home runs. By 1974, he was challenging the record that was never supposed to be broken – Ruth’s 714 career homers. Aaron took a lot abuse – hate mail, even death threats – for having the nerve to be a black man claiming an iconic achievement. But achieve Aaron did, with dignity and class.
Bonds by contrast is not a nice guy; he’s an arrogant SOB truth be told. But a baseball player’s ability is measured by what he does on the field. Bonds’ amazing body of work is tainted by the period he probably abused steroids in hope of producing numbers comparable to another now-disgraced slugger, McGuire.
To add insult to injury, someone’s gaining on Bonds’ record already. If Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez stays healthy and maintains his productivity – in extending his contract 10 years at $275 million, the New York Yankees management clearly believes he can – Bonds’ record will tumble in less than a decade. It took 33 years for Bonds to catch Aaron, and 39 years for Aaron to surpass Ruth. Bonds may not have much time to savor his amazing feat. And there will be the doubters like me who wonder if his workmanship is thoroughly authentic.
Bonds’ baseball legacy will have to take a back seat to more pressing concerns: Will he do prison time if he is convicted of perjuring himself before a grand jury? Was lying and deception worth risking a felony conviction?