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It is Time to Lay Off Barry Bonds
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 3, 2006



On opening day in San Diego yesterday, the Padres fans were merciless towards Barry Bonds, booing him, holding up signs referring to Bonds' steroid use, and even throwing a syringe onto the field to pay homage to Bonds' alleged juicing. While the Padres fans are probably justified in accusing Bonds of using steroids, and have the right as division opponents to boo whomever they want on the opposing (or even their own) team, the whole thing got a bit out of control, and rose to the level of debacle. Unfortunately for us all, there is no doubt that Bonds will face similar treatment in Arizona, Colorado, and Los Angeles this season, and probably every other ballpark in the majors as well.

 
Litte Man B 
But maybe we should take a step back and try to figure out what it is that these fans are booing. Is it Barry Bonds, first class egomaniac and not-nice guy? Well, yes. Barry Bonds himself said years ago that he wants people to dislike him, that he takes pride in fans of other teams not liking him, because it he takes it as a sign of how good he is (or something like that).

But what these fans are actually booing is Barry Bonds, member of the 700 home run club and soon-to-be second all time home run leader behind Hank Aaron. The fantastic combination of Game of Shadows, the new book about Barry's steroid use, and his quickly rising home run total have combined to make this a most untenable situation.

Many debates and arguments have raged on the Barry Bonds-steroids topic. Many points of view are valid, many are not. As I see it, the three main arguments on the steroids topic are:

- everyone is on steroids, but no one ever said they couldn't be, and this is part of the evolution of baseball.
- Bonds is on roids, and his career stats should be stricken from the record books along with everyone else who is on steroids.
- it doesn't matter who is on steroids, because they don't do anything for you – steroids can't help you hit a curve ball, or make you see the ball better, or help you run the bases, or keep your shoulders straight, or all the other things that make a good ballplayer, and you still have to work out for steroids to help you. Bonds is great because he is great, regardless of whether he used steroids.

As far as I am concerned, each of these points of view has an agenda. The first seeks to protect modern day player by making steroid use something that doesn't hurt the integrity of the game. The second seeks to make a villain out of all steroid users in order to protect players from previous eras whose stats have been somewhat dwarfed by modern players. The third argument seeks to protect major league baseball by admitting that players use steroids, but dismissing any possible effect their use could have on a player's ability.

I myself would like to present what I consider to be an unbiased perspective. I'll start with two propositions: Before you fall off your chair thinking that this is one of those "the above statement is true/the below statement is false" paradoxes, let me explain.

Quick, name the players in Major League Baseball who have taken steroids. Some are easy – the guys who have already been busted – Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro, Ken Caminiti, Alex Sanchez, Ryan Franklin, etc. And then there are the no-brainers, too obvious to even pretend we think they didn't do steroids – McGwire and Sosa, Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley, Brady Anderson, Gary Sheffield, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, etc.

Question – which of these players is as good as Barry Bonds? Answer – none.

Another Question – which of these players is even close? Same Answer.

Did Barry Bonds take steroids? It looks like he did. Let's accept this fact and move on.

Have other players taken steroids? Um, yes, it looks like they have. Accepted, let's move on.

Are steroids rampant in Major League Baseball? We would be fools to think they aren’t, or at least weren't. Whether you accept this fact is up to you, but the inevitable conclusion is yes.

 
Barry "Big Star" Bonds 
Now, back to Bonds. Have steroids impacted Bonds' game? There is no way to know for sure, but we do know this – Bonds allegedly began using substances in 1999, and his numbers since that point have been significantly, and undeniably, better than his numbers before. This much is clear. For this reason, I am of the school that thinks Barry Bonds career totals are inflated by the substances he has used. Fact is, without whatever he took, Bonds is probably not a .300 hitter.

Now, back to the rest of the league. Like I said, it is simply naοve to assume that steroids aren't everywhere. You think Canseco, Caminiti, Bonds, Giambi, Palmeiro, and Alex Sanchez are part of some unique fraternity? Not likely. It is far more likely that if steroids appear at either end of the stardom spectrum, and in between, then they have run the gamut. So where does this leave us?

I'll tell you. Barry Bonds may have been using steroids, but so have a large number of other players in today's game. And guess what? Barry Bonds is the only player who does what he does. By a mile. Barry Bonds is one of a kind good, leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else.

So, we are left with the question – if steroids are the sole explanation for Bonds' performance the last seven years, then why didn't Palmeiro, Sosa, Canseco, Giambi, McGwire, and Alex Sanchez all perform at the level that Bonds has. Because they weren't that good in the first place.

Look, all we can ask for is a level playing field, and we have it. Lots of players were on steroids, and everyone had access to them. Bonds didn't have access to some secret potion that no one else knew about – he did exactly what everybody else did, and he dominated the league in way that no one else has since Babe Ruth. Wanna discredit Barry Bonds because he did steroids? Then you have to discredit everyone else that played in this era.

The truth is, all things were equal, and Barry Bonds played on a different level from everyone else, and now that he is about to own the most sacred record in all of sports, fans everywhere want to tear him down because he did steroids.

 
Barry "Pretty Big" Bonds 
In truth, Bonds probably would not have as many homeruns as he would if he had not played in the steroid era. The dude has hit WAY more homeruns during the era of his alleged doping than he ever did before, and he probably would not have gotten to 700 if not for these last few years. But do we hold Bonds' era against him?

Did we hold it against Bill Terry that he hit .400 in 1930, the biggest offensive season in baseball history?

Did we hold it against Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman that they stole 100 bases several times each in an era marked by weak-armed catchers?

Have we yet taken away Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968 because the mound was too high and the strike zone was shoulders to knees?

Has anyone suggested recently that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and every other Yankees power hitter ever have their homerun totals reduced because they played in Yankee Stadium, with the generous right field home run porch?

When was the last time you heard someone try to take away Roger Maris' record because there were 162 games instead of 154 games in 1961? Seriously, I know this was a big deal for a while, but it is now a laughable relic.

The reason these arguments haven't been made is, even though all of these players played in eras which gave them a historical advantage over other players in baseball history, they are still the only guys to have done what they did. Maris needed 162 games to get to 61 homers, but its not like guys get to 60 homers all the time now because of the 8 extra games (1998-2001 excluded). Henderson and Coleman may have benefited from an era of weak armed catchers, but they were still elite – they were the only ones stealing a hundred bases in the 1980s. Ruth and Gehrig – find another Yankee left handed batter to do what they did – you can't. And right field remains as short as it has ever been. How many guys hit .400 in 1930? How many guys had an ERA in the 1-teens in 1968?

 
Barry "Big Boy" Bonds 
Which brings us back to Bonds. Bonds has over 700 homers, and he did steroids. So? This is the steroid era. If steroids are to blame for Bonds performance, why hasn't someone else hit 700 dingers? Sosa is younger than Bonds and has more homers at age 37 than Bonds did at that age. Sosa did steroids, so obviously he'll hit 700 right? Wrong – he's out of baseball. Palmeiro did steroids – he and Bonds debuted the same year. So he should hit 700 as well, right? Out of baseball. Mark McGwire had a better homeruns/at-bat than Bonds does. The best ratio of all time. He is less than a year older than Bonds, and almost certainly took steroids. Should be about to break 700 right? Actually, he'll be Hall of Fame eligible before Bonds even retires.

The point of all this is – you have to give credit to a player who plays on a level over and above every other player in the league for an extended period of time, and Bonds has done just that. That he probably used steroids to do it probably doesn't amount to much – in a steroid free world, Bonds would have been just as high above everyone else just the same. If what he is doing is so easily dismissable because of his steroid use, then why isn't anyone else about to pass Babe Ruth, or finish a season with an OBP over .500 or an SLG over .800? Why won't someone else hit 70 dingers, or walk 200 times?

Fact is, Barry is doing what he is doing because he is one of the five best players of all time, and he is making history before our very eyes. So, for all you fans out there in San Diego, Los Angeles, Colorado, Arizona, and the rest of the league, cool your jets, and let your assault on Barry Bonds go. You are all hypocrits anyway - one day you'll brag about seeing Barry Bonds in 2006, just as guys brag about seeing Ted Williams play even though they despised him, too. You are witnessing history, and steroids or no steroids, what Bonds is doing is amazing, and deserves full recognition.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.


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