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Sunday, July 14, 2024

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Games People Play 5.10.2006

By Rick Racela

Gaining Perspective about Barry Bonds
What do we make of the Barry Bonds situation?
Based on leaks about a west coast body-building empire, the thickened body mass of several ballplayers over the past decade, whopping offensive numbers put up by some of the game’s great sluggers and not-so-great sluggers, and hesitant or vague testimony at Congressional hearings, it appears obvious that human growth substances were utilized.
The answer, however, is not as simple as it appears.  What did the lords of major league baseball know and when did they know it?   Isn’t it true that the resurgence in the long ball led baseball out of its scary decline in popularity?
Last Sunday, Citizens Bank Ballpark fans, trying their hardest to ridicule Bonds, were forced to stand and gasp as the “Giant” launched a rocket shot into the McDonald’s sign on the facing of the upper deck.  It was a tremendous shot by a formerly skinny Pirate who had an apparent thirst to be among the game’s elite superstars.
It’s almost like America’s love of the automobile.  No matter how high gasoline prices soar, U.S. drivers continue purchasing monstrous SUV’s and trucks and continue paying at the pump.  Despite the steroid allegations and anger about cheating, the home run ball still mesmerizes fans everywhere.
It’s sort of like the bearded lady at the circus.  It’s a freak show, maybe, but still a crowd favorite.
Major league baseball was between a tightly wound baseball and a hard place when it was confronted with the late 90s boom in booming home runs and XXL jersey sizes, and I’m not talking about Wilbur Woods’s gut wrenching jersey size.
At issue is the integrity of the game versus the popularity of the game.  Greats like Denny McClain and Pete Rose were admonished for financial indiscretions and cavorting with gamblers and thugs.  That, we were told, was not in “the best interests of the game.”
You could argue that the designated hitter rule is not in the best interest of the game, but that’s another story.
What does major league baseball do about this era of pumped up bodies and inflated statistics?  Old time purists have often argued about the lack of quality pitching and pampered first class travel today’s players enjoy.   Back in “the day” day games in the hot sun were more prevalent in a radio era that never dreamed of cable.
The debate could rage for hours.  Who’s to say if the record keeping of the past era was reliable?  It appears that beat writers often admired more than critiqued the stars of the yesteryear.  Any journalism student can tell you Watergate changed coverage forever.  There’s a much more skeptical and investigative eye than the bygone era.
What is major league baseball to do? 
Bonds is among the immortals, now.  Like him or hate him, his name cannot be erased from the hearts and minds of followers.  Is he to blame for allowing the allure of fame and relative immortality to take over even his regard for his own body and health?
It’ll be tough to argue that the lords of the game should have stepped in long before the current, but far too late, investigation into performance enhancing drugs.  Shouldn’t this era of the late ’90s through the mid 2000s be asterisked as the time of popularized stimulants and performance enhancers? 
Are you content to leave it at that and let the historians chronicle this time as however they saw it?  Will you tell your grandchildren that it was a time when some players went too far to achieve glory and the keepers of America’s Pastime allowed it to happen?
And what of the true value of “records?”  Ken Griffey Jr. fans can argue that without painful and nagging injuries, Junior would have eclipsed the greatest of the greats. 
The game may actually be better with bar room sparring about whether Rose or the disgraced Rafael Palmeiro are Hall of Famers.  The debate is half the fun.  Ever try to sit with friends and reach consensus on an “all time team?” 
The Bonds issue is not immigration and is not Iraq.  It’s not about the cost of a barrel of crude or the impact of global warming.  It’s about human error and debate.  It’s about a game invented for fun and entertainment that has transcended into big business.
Perspective is called for.  Banter is welcome.  The numbers, the accusations and rightful places in the game’s history all make for great sports talk.  We’re imperfect, yet opinionated humans in an imperfect world. 
Keeps it from being boring, I guess.

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