By: Norman Yallen
Barry Bonds was the greatest baseball player I ever saw. I remember the summer of 2001 like it was yesterday. I would go to Crestwood Valley Daycamp to play baseball, and when I wasn’t in camp I would be on the computer seeing how many home runs Barry had hit that day. Since San Francisco played after my bedtime my dad would slip the boxscore under my door and it would be the first thing I looked at in the morning. When he hit 71 I was ecstatic, but it was about the same time that I gathered that not everyone had the same feelings about Barry Bonds. I heard he was a jerk, that he wouldn’t talk to the media, that his teammates hated him, that his prickly personality left him with no friends. All of these sentiments confused me since I didn’t see what it had to do with how he could hit a baseball, or draw a walk, or impose his will on an opposing pitcher.
As I grew older, Bonds racked up award after award as the criticisms mounted. They said he couldn’t play well in the playoffs. He proved that wrong in 2002 as he led what was frankly an average Giants team to the World Series. Then, over the next couple years a much more damning issue arose. They said Bonds was a steroid user. He took two drugs called the cream and the clear. As someone who was an average Grade 4 science student, I didn’t appreciate all these obscure scientific terms. A great book, Game of Shadows came out and took me through the array of accusations Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, Bonds, and many other athletes were under. In short order almost every other baseball star from his era was also found to be guilty of steroid use. Today, no major league team will employ the man in any capacity. Surely someone could use his hitting expertise, or his plate discipline, or his base stealing. I have heard people call Barry Bonds many things but one of the few I have not heard is dumb.
Barry Bonds grew up with his father as a major league player. Bobby Bonds, his old man, played in the shadow of Willie Mays. He was actually supposed to be the next Willie Mays, but was unable to live up to the greatest center fielder of all time. So he played out his career in obscurity bouncing around from team to team, not being recognized for the player he was, a man capable of 30 homeruns and stolen bases, but for the player he wasn’t, Willie Mays. The media put an impossible onus on Bobby Bonds, and when he couldn’t live up to it he was criticized. Now, I didn’t know Barry Bonds as a kid, but I can imagine what he was thinking was, “Goddamn it, that won’t happen to me.” By the time he came up to the Pirates, he resolved to work to maximize every last bit of talent he had. He also resolved to not trust the media after seeing the way they had treated his father. So he went around the big leagues, becoming the best left fielder and one of the best players in the game. He made his way down to San Francisco, where he wore Bobby’s number 25.
By the time it was 1998 it seemed Barry Bonds best days were behind him. He’d been pilloried by media and fans across the country, and here was Mark McGwire all bulked up on steroids, and people were not only turning a blind eye, they were celebrating him. So Bonds took steroids, because evidently that was what it took to be beloved. He then went out and topped every last thing Big Mac ever did, but people would never treat him like McGwire. When the allegations came against Bonds people wanted to hear more. By the time allegations came out against players such as David Ortiz fans said they just wanted to forget. Bonds wouldn’t have the luxury of forgetting as the government brought perjury charges against him.
This week, a jury deliberates on whether Bonds is guilty of perjury when he told a grand jury he did not have knowledge of whether what he took was a steroid. Rafael Palmeiro wagged his finger in front of Congress denying steroid use, which when he tested positive was exposed as a bold-faced lie. Where are his charges? Federal investigator Jeff Novitzky, the man who put together the evidence against Bonds was given access to the anonymous list of players who tested positive for steroids in 2003. Since he was given access, some of that confidential access has seeped out. Where are his charges?
I fully expect the government to go after Rafael Palmeiro for denying, and for that matter Sammy Sosa for claiming not to speak English at his day in Congress. After all, we know he can speak English. Congress said that this was all about the kids, but please tell me what kids does it help putting the surly superstar in jail while the likable players roam free? I will be eagerly watching Roger Clemens’ trial to make sure he gets the exact same result as Bonds for committing a similar action.
The reason they go after Barry Bonds is that going after Barry Bonds is easy. He is the player with the least defenders and the least sympathizers. In picking the man who is easiest to go after and assign with the prime legal responsibility for an industry wide program, the United States government has announced themselves cowards.
Tomorrow or on a day soon, Barry Bonds may go to jail. Congress, and the prosecution, can applaud themselves. Steroid use in sports will be extinct, kids will roam free, and the bad man will be in jail. Their worldview and single-minded prosecution of one scapegoat is enough to make me wonder, who are the kids, the ones playing baseball in the sandlot, or the ones sitting in those federal chairs?