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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Baseball's Barry Scandal
by Hal Vickery

At a time when fans should be looking forward to the coming of a new baseball season and speculating on their teams’ chances for the upcoming season, news broke of a story that has rocked baseball to its very foundations. The black eye to the game came in the form of a Sports Illustrated article excerpted from the upcoming book Game of Shadows by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.

The book exposes Barry Bonds as a fraud and a cheat. It also reveals that Bonds may have perjured himself in testimony before a Federal grand jury when he denied any knowledge of the nature of the drugs he was taking. The picture of Bonds that comes from Fainaru-Wada and Williams is one of a self-centered racist whose jealousy of the attention others received drove him to cheat in order to return the spotlight to him.

It isn’t a pretty picture of Bonds, but it is consistent with the picture that most reporters familiar with him paint. Bonds was not content to be the greatest all-around player of his generation. No, when he saw Mark McGwire’s run for the home run record in 1998 steal the spotlight away from him, Bonds’ response, according to Fainaru-Wada and Williams, was to go into a season-long rage against a so-called conspiracy to make sure the white man McGwire would become the single-season home run champion over black Dominican Sammy Sosa.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams indicate the Bonds had concluded that both were juicing, but his rage seemed to be directed solely at McGwire. Once McGwire had set a new home run record, it almost seems inevitable that Bonds’ rage would drive him to break the record in the same way that he though McGwire had done it.

As a result, Bonds allegedly sought out people with a knowledge of steroids and came across one Greg Anderson, who suddenly became Bonds’ personal trainer. Anderson eventually found BALCO, and Bonds found a way to avoid testing positively for any drug screens that he might be subjected to.

In interviews Fainaru-Wada and Williams have stated that their sources include testimony that is on the public record, sealed records to which they have obtained access, tapes kept by Bonds former mistress, and interviews with eyewitnesses to the events they describe. Thus far, Bonds only reaction has been through his attorney. He has said that he won’t read the book.

With such damning evidence, the reaction of the media has been interesting. Very few, but nevertheless some writers have still insisted that until there is a positive test for steroids on record, Bonds can’t be considered guilty. Such people sitting on a jury apparently would require a video tape of a killer doing his deed before they could vote guilty.

Others, such as WSCR’s Dan Bernstein and Terry Boers, called the publication of the article a great day for baseball. They immediately demanded action by Commissioner Budlight to ban Bonds from baseball and expunge his records.

On the other hand, probably the stupidest comment to come out of any of this came from WSCR’s Mike North, who last week on his morning show said, “I still think Frank Thomas used steroids.” Huh?

Some of the more realistic types concluded that even though Bonds might be guilty, we shouldn’t expect Budlight to take any action. They (probably correctly) assume that he doesn’t have the guts (or some other body part) to do anything about it. They reason that Budlight would just like it to just go away.

They further reason that Budlight and the owners had to know what was going on with McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and others but were content to look the other way as long as the profits came coming in. They are probably right. In the last decade, how many times have you heard, “Chicks dig the long ball”? This is simply a euphemism for the simple fact that casual fans, those who keep attendance rising every year, would rather watch balls flying out of the park than a 3-2 nailbiter.

Some have even noted that it took pressure from Congress for the MLBPA and the owners to come to the half-baked testing policy that is now in effect, a testing policy that does not include blood tests. They reason that it will take Federal indictments of Bonds and other players to push forward any kind of action on Budlight’s part.

Some feel that baseball’s response should be to open their own investigation. There have been two responses to this. One is that it is a good idea because it would justify any possible action MLB might take against Bonds. The other is that such an investigation would open up a can of worms, possibly exposing other players and putting a stain on the game that would take years to overcome.

After reading the drivel by Phil Rogers last week that because Bonds is tainted, and because McGwire did such a thorough hatchet job on himself in front of a Congressional committee last year that everyone believes that he used a lot more than andro to achieve his single-season home run record, that Sammy Sosa is the true home run king, a thorough investigation into the use of steroids by players should be held. And let the chips fall where they may!

The Bonds case is a classic example of the slippery slope. Once you allow something to happen, it’s only a matter of time before things get out of hand. MLB and Budlight chose to turn a blind eye toward those who were abusing steroids, in violation of the game’s own rules.

In 1991 Budlight’s predecessor, Fay Vincent, issued a memorandum to all clubs on baseball’s drug policy. It stated, “This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription.” [Italics added.]

But baseball looked the other way as players juiced and balls went flying out of the ballpark. The McGwire-Sosa battle in 1998 brought back many of the casual fans who had abandoned the game after the 1993-94 strike. Players like Bonds felt, for whatever personal reasons they minght have had, that they needed to take steroids in order to compete with the likes of suspected juicers like McGwire and Sosa.

Fainaru-Wada and Williams apparently also have evidence against other players that will be revealed when their book is published. Baseball is sure to take yet another black eye if this is true.

Baseball needs to investigate and expose the facts. It needs to deal harshly with people who used performance enhancing drugs. The problem is that baseball’s reaction when scandals threaten has most often been to hope it all goes away.

You can bet that the same thing will happen now.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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