Barry Bonds is not a cheater (Asterisk)
On the field, the steroid user stood dejected in the middle of the diamond, eyes cast downward, head shaking. Meanwhile, the greatest offensive force in the history of American baseball rounded third and crossed home plate, greeted his son with a fierce hug, slapped hands with teammates, tipped his cap to the fans and retreated into the dugout.
That’s right when Barry Bonds hit his 755th home run, tying Henry Aaron at the top of baseball’s most hallowed list, he did it off a pitcher who has tested positive for using steroids. You’ve probably never heard of him, unless you’re a big time fantasy baseball geek or a San Diego Padres fan. Clay Hensley is his name, and he tested positive for steroid use in 2005.
“Who cares?” you ask. Not me. He broke a rule, he served his suspension, and he’s back. You see, in March of 2005, Major League Baseball began a mandatory performance enhancing drug testing program in the wake of a wave of steroid accusations. Every player in the major leagues has been subjected to steroid testing since then. Many have failed and been suspended. Barry Bonds has been tested multiple times, and has turned up clean every time so far. This is not to say that Barry Bonds never took performance enhancing drugs. This is not to say that Barry Bonds is a good person, a good role model, or even a good teammate. All I am saying is that despite all of the accusations and innuendo, Barry Bonds has never been charged with a crime, and has never tested positive for steroids, yet he shoulders the blame for a whole generation of perceived cheaters.
Let’s assume for a moment that Barry Bonds did take steroids. Let’s say he did it in 2001, when he hit his record setting 73 home runs. We know for a fact that several other players on his team were taking steroids: Marvin Benard, Bobby Estella, Armando Rios and Benito Santiago that season. Let’s put aside the fact that all those players sucked and never got better once they took steroids. The question that I’d like to ask is this: if Barry Bonds took steroids in 2001, what’s the big deal? Why does anybody care?
I think people get worked up about the steroid deal for several reasons. Some people think it is against the law. Some think it violated baseball’s rule book. Some people think it is morally objectionable. Still others hold the baseball record book in the highest esteem, and look back upon the past with rose-colored shades, as if the older generations of baseball players are waiting in line for sainthood.
Here’s my view on the aforementioned arguments. First of all, if Barry Bonds took steroids in 2003 (which has never been proven), it wasn’t against the law. The federal Anabolic Steroid Control Act was not adopted until 2004, and many performance enhancing drugs such as Human Growth Hormone were not criminalized until 2005. Second, Major League Baseball did not ban steroid use until 2005. As far as morals go, if it wasn’t against the law, and if it wasn’t against the rules, then who am I to judge? Sure, steroids are bad for you, but so are a lot of things.
Finally, as a lifelong baseball fan, I truly hold the game’s records in a special place. Numbers like 56, 755, 714 and 2632 will be forever etched in my mind. I even have a family member enshrined in Cooperstown at the baseball Hall of Fame (Tony Lazzeri, batted second and played second base on the 1927 Yankees, great-great-uncle.).
That said, no honest person can truly say that any era of baseball was free of cheating of some kind. Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs in an era when none of his contemporaries hit even half that many but on the other hand, Babe didn’t play against black, Latin or Asian ballplayers. They were banned from baseball. These days, white ball players make up about 20 percent of major league rosters. So Babe was playing against a handicapped field.
During Aaron’s era in the 60’s, most players abused amphetamines on a daily basis. In former pitcher Jim Bouton’s biography “Ball Four”, he estimates 90 percent of players took “greenies”, amphetamines that were readily available and designed to pump adrenaline into the tired bodies of major-league players during the strenuous 162 game schedule.
Today, even in a time when steroids are banned, players gear up on cortisone shots and addictive painkillers in order to perform on a day-to-day basis.
So what’s the point here? This “steroid” witch hunt is completely overblown. The culture in baseball has always encouraged cheating. Many former players quote the phrase “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’” when referencing the pressures exerted by management on players.
In baseball, there’s always a younger, more talented player right behind you, and an injury or a perceived lack of competitiveness can mean the end of a career, and therefore the end of a player’s ability to provide a living for his family.
And sure, Barry Bonds gets paid $20 million a year, but Marvin Benard, Bobby Estella and Armando Rios made the minimum, and were out of baseball a year later. A year ago, Clay Hensley was making $50,000 a year in AAA, living on the road 220 days out of the year. Can any of us truly say that we wouldn’t consider pushing the envelope to survive in our fields of work, especially if our window of opportunity to succeed was dwindling by the day?
I’m not saying that Barry is a saint. I’m not even saying he’s a good guy. I’m just saying that it’s a waste of energy and illogical to call Barry a cheater. He’s never been caught, he never broke the law, and he never violated the baseball rule book. What was the problem again?