As Barry Bonds attempts to tie the Babe’s 714 home run total, there has been a lot of discussion leading up to this moment about the validity of Bonds’ accomplishments, specifically the years he allegedly took steroids, from 1999-2004. Barry Bonds is a lightning rod figure in baseball, which no doubt encourages such discussion amongst fans, the media and the players about whether Bonds’ home runs, and the single season record of 2001, during the alleged steroid years should be allowed.
I think it helps to look at baseball through the eyes of history to help guide it in the present. Barry Bonds and other steroid users are not the first players in baseball to cheat in order to gain an upper hand against their opponents. Ty Cobb filed down his cleats, turning them into little daggers. Woe to any infielder who got in his way. Gaylord Perry now resides in baseball’s Hall of Fame because the grease ball, not his fastball, was his best pitch. Numerous players have used corked bats. Sammy Sosa not only was “juiced” but used corked bats as well!
Baseball’s owners, and their overwhelmed puppet commissioner, former Milwaukee Brewer owner, Bud Selig, brought on this mess by looking the other way when reports of players began to surface that they were becoming juiced on steroids in the early 1990’s. Three things occurred to finally garner the attention of Selig that steroid use in baseball was a serious matter and needed to be tended to. First, Barry Bonds hits 73 home runs in 2001 just three years after Mark McGwire (another alleged steroid user) broke Roger Maris’ mark. Maris’ mark lasted 37 years and Ruth’s 60 held up for 34 years. One of baseball’s most cherished records had been reduced to mockery.
The second occurrence was the 2004 State of the Union Address given by President George W. Bush who demanded that professional sports “get rid of steroids now.” Thirdly, a year after President Bush called for an end to steroid use, Congress opened hearings investigating the illegal use of steroids in baseball.
“(Players) are not bigger than the game, and they are certainly not bigger than the law,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., a former major leaguer and the opening witness. “The same goes for the owners. For over a decade, they turned their heads when it came to steroids. They helped put the game at risk.”
With the United States government breathing down their backs, owners and the players union decided they had better work together to create rules against the use of performance enhancement drugs and attaching stiff penalties to those who break the rules, including a lifetime ban for a third offense.
So where does this leave us in the Barry Bonds chase for Ruth’s and Hank Aaron’s home run totals? I think we should follow the lead of the Philadelphia Phillies fans. During last Sunday night’s game which was broadcast on ESPN, the notoriously brutal Phillies fans, reviled by both visiting and Phillies players, let Bonds have it. They booed him at bat, they booed him in left field, and they booed him in the on-deck circle. They even booed him during batting practice!
Then, in the top of the sixth inning, Bonds hit home run number 713 off of Jon Lieber that reached a third deck sign in right field. The ego-bruising Phillies fans, who had shown nothing but contempt towards the Giant slugger all night, gave him a standing ovation.