At the risk of being accused of shirking, I'm going to let you, the readers, write the column today. I was finally able to weigh in, a week late, on the Barry Bonds steroid revelations Friday, and, as always with hot-button issues, the letters came pouring in immediately.
And also as always, they were more interesting than what I had to say.
I will also risk creating a postmodern feedback loop and point you to an entertaining discussion thread about Friday's column at Baseball Primer.
Jenny Poore: My sticking point is that true heroes like Hank Aaron should never have to share the same [record book] pages with people who we know cheated. If they do then where's the incentive not to cheat?
Joe Hooper: You are way off about Barry Bonds. You make a good argument for not striking his name from the record books altogether. But there needs to be an asterisk. It's not fair to the other players whose names share the page.
Bonds cheated. Maybe he could have hit all those homers without the juice, but he didn't give himself the chance. What does it say to kids if you let his records stand untarnished? Also, do you really think he still deserves to be in the Hall of Fame? Point of comparison: Pete Rose! He broke a cardinal rule of baseball, but did not actually cheat on the field. Bonds did both.
Robert Chester: I understand your logic concerning the history of cheating in baseball. It's there, it always has been, and it always will be. However, given baseball's tendency to punish high-profile instances in the past, don't you think that Bonds should at least be kept out of the Hall of Fame in the same way that Pete Rose and Joe Jackson have been?
Nobody questions whether Pete Rose should be in Cooperstown for his performance on the field, but many others firmly believe that he should be denied entry because he jeopardized the integrity of the game. He still has the career hits record.
Similarly, if Barry Bonds is kept out of the Hall for at least a couple decades after his retirement, his legacy would be appropriately tarnished yet he would still hold the home run record and no one would question whether he should have been admitted based on his performance before 2000; rather, they would simply be making a statement that would encourage people to think twice about their actions or at the very least tell the truth when confronted with overwhelming evidence, which neither Bonds nor Rose did.
King replies: For what it's worth, I believe Rose and Jackson, both of whom I believe were guilty of the things they were accused of doing, should be in the Hall of Fame. I also believe Bonds should be in once he's been retired for five years.
Dave Scheff: While it doesn't address the record-book question, if it's true that lots of players are using steroids, and he's still that much better than they are, surely it says something about Bonds' talent, drugs or no drugs.
Russ Wellen: It's time baseball faced facts. The players want something more than what natural supplements and OTC protein powders provide. Therefore, baseball or the players association or somebody should be pouring money into developing muscle growth drugs without side effects. While I personally long for the days when baseball players (especially) looked like the man on the street, I think that also the public wants their athletes to be superheroes. We cannot hold back progress.
Kevin Madigan: If Barry and Jason Giambi were aberrations, then it might make sense to talk about asterisks in record books, etc., But the fact is that significant minorities or outright majorities of elite athletes in all sports have been using these kinds of substances for decades. The playing field is rather level. The key is that Barry probably did not break the rules of baseball. Baseball and the players knew its rules were such that an athlete could take 'roids and be within them, though possibly outside the law.
Randy Schwartz: All the folks calling in mock outrage for a laundering of the record books need to acknowledge their complicity in this situation. I include in this group fans, sportswriters, the players union and fans themselves. Anyone with eyes and common sense has known all along that Bonds was juiced. But they had to know, too, that other players were as well. I mean really: Sammy Sosa didn't go from a slug to a slugger because of his indomitable work ethic.
But enough with the hindsight, already. There seems to be an obvious solution to this nightmare. While it isn't perfectly fair, it is the fairest of all possible outcomes for fans past and future, for former and current players, and for Bonds himself: Every record he has achieved should stay on the books. And he should never be allowed to play major league baseball again.
Not only would this help avoid the nightmare prospect of revisiting every single one of Bonds's accomplishments and determining its net impact, but it would also keep him from breaking the two records people really care about: 714 and 755 [career home runs]. It would also acknowledge what Bonds has done while fixing him in posterity for what he has been: a fortunate son blessed with remarkable gifts who wasn't satisfied and saw fit to cheat.
Patrick Files: I don't know if it's right or wrong, but what I think is this: You can be strong enough to lift a house, but it doesn't mean that you can put the bat on the ball. And Bonds puts the bat on the ball better than any other strongman in baseball history.
Matt Brukman: While the specifics can be negotiated, I do think that at least some of Bonds' feats should be stricken from the record book. Yes, he did do all those things, but he committed a fraud in the process.
Mind you I'm advocating striking anything before 2003, unless more proof comes to light, nor am I advocating striking anything that occurred before steroids/growth hormones were barred. That would be ex post facto and truly Stalinist. I'll even give him the benefit of due process and wait until public statements are made, either via trial or voluntarily, before demanding revision. When Bonds went to the grand jury room, he was told that the proceedings were secret. Without the promise of secrecy, I doubt he would have discussed his use of "the cream" and "the clear," so it would be unfair to hold those statements against him at present.
Julie in Chicago: Here's my problem with people who want to keep Bonds' name in the record books: I agree that steroids don't make you see the ball any better, don't make you more disciplined at the plate, don't sweeten your swing. However, we'll never know how much of his strength at the plate was attributed to steroids and how much was his own natural ability.
Some would argue that we should give him the benefit of the doubt. I would say that he lost the right to that benefit when he decided to cheat. I, for one, would like to see Roger Maris reinstated as the single-season home run king, as he's probably the last player whose integrity I didn't have doubts about.
Patrick Davitt: I want to take some issue with your paragraph that [describes the players union having resisted testing for years on constitutional grounds]. I believe that the union's opposition to testing goes beyond privacy issues. The larger issue for players was that they didn't want the testing to be controlled or administered by MLB.
I know Don Fehr and Gene Orza have taken a lot of media heat for their attitude on this issue. But testing is essentially a bargaining chip to be negotiated as part of the larger contract and the really big issue of give-and-take over salaries. In that context, Fehr and Orza would be derelict in their duty to players if they publicly went along with commissioner Bud Selig's unilateral demand for testing. I am sure most players want the drugs out, but I'm equally sure they don't want Selig or his henchmen to be in charge of it.
It's interesting that most of the media commentary, yours included, puts the onus squarely on the players alone to get testing happening. Since testing is a component of the CBA between the union and MLB, I'd like to see a few commentators also call on the owners to publicly disavow any intention of controlling or administering the testing process, and to guarantee player privacy.
Mike: I liked your take on how pervasive and invasive drug testing at the workplace is. I teach school and if they tested me and my teaching buddies, well, would you like sweet or unsweet tea? Cuz we would all be waiting tables. I knew there was trouble 10 years ago when Brady Anderson showed up after the strike with giant biceps and hit 52 dingers. I think the ball was juiced then and is still juiced. I say let 'em shoot the juice, God will sort 'em out, and so will the fans.
Bill Rickman: There is no proof. Let me say that again: There is no proof. Barry's prosecutors don't have a case, so they leak the transcript of other players saying, "Maybe." The public reacts on cue, and here we are. The "It must be, just look at him" reasoning is cheap and small, and speaks to an already existing bias.
Let there be proof and I'll be first in line to criticize Barry. How about you standing up for a guy who is being flogged in the public square after being set up by leaks from government investigators? Haven't we had enough of this? Or maybe you'd like Ken Starr to take over the investigation.
Larry Magruder: When a racehorse is given Lasix before a race, the fact is noted in the guides so everyone (i.e. gamblers) knows the score. Treat Mr. Bonds the same way. I agree Bonds is a special player who would be a Hall of Famer even without the steroids. But he would not be threatening the all-time home run record of Mr. Aaron (nor the Babe's perhaps) without the steroids. Put a hypodermic, not an asterisk, next to his records and let the reader come to his own conclusions.
Rob Rushin: It's all just entertainment anyway. Always has been, but now more than ever, sports are just another realm of the entertainment industry, just another product. In the service of entertainment, we all happily accept artificially altered bodies on the screen and in magazine spreads, and no one is wringing their hands over the unfairness of it all.
"Is (name your starlet here) really more beautiful than Marilyn or Liz or whoever? Why, it's an unfair comparison! Imagine how much more beautiful Marilyn/Liz/whoever would have been if they'd had access to collagen lips or saline boobs! Why, it's a travesty! What will we tell the children?"
So, if Barry and Jason and Marion [Jones] et al. juiced themselves the better to entertain us, it was their choice to do so. Sure, it pierces the illusion of some spectacular God-given greatness, and the practices (steroids, implants, etc.) are grossly unhealthy. But why is the behavior of athlete entertainers any more concern than the behavior of actor/musician/writer/etc. entertainers who use a broad range of "enhancers" to help them do their jobs? What makes sport so sacrosanct? It's just a TV show.
King replies: I don't know that sports are sacrosanct, but the answer, in my opinion, is that sports sell themselves as fair competition. That's the primary source of the entertainment in sports. In the showbiz of Marilyn and Liz, no bones are made that what's being sold is fantasy and illusion. It's all entertainment, but there really is a difference.
Ned Jaeckle: I think we passed the point where anyone could honestly doubt that Barry Bonds uses steroids some time ago. What the "revelation" should do is increase everyone's respect for Henry Aaron by a factor of 10 or so. He played in an era when neither the players nor the ball was juiced, he faced pitching staffs that were not diluted by expansion and when guys like Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal pitched in four-man rotations. Unlike Ruth, he also played in an era when competition wasn't diluted by excluding an entire racial group.
King replies: It's debatable that expansion really dilutes anything, since the pool of available players has been expanding right along with the major leagues, and perhaps expanding at an even greater rate. But it should be noted that during Aaron's career (1954 through 1976), the major leagues expanded from 16 to 24 teams. Aaron even finished up with a team that did not exist before 1969. Otherwise I agree with Jaeckle's points, and would add that Aaron played most of his career in an era of cavernous ballparks, and with a pitcher's mound higher than today's. If it's possible for someone like Aaron -- widely regarded as being among the all-time greats -- to be underappreciated, he's underappreciated.
Jeff Lowell: I was praying you wouldn't bring up the one issue you did: spitballs.
Spitballs? Really? That's your best defense of Bonds? Players trying to carve out a little edge in the game by pushing the rules is one thing. The job of the other team and the umpires is to find these things and police them. Shooting up with steroids isn't something you can take care of on the field.
Hank Aaron thinks it's a problem. That's good enough for me. Unlike you and I, he has something at stake. You went out on a limb praising Bonds when it was clear he was cheating, but that limb broke. Time to lead the charge for striking Bonds's records.
King replies: I didn't defend Bonds. I defended the record books, which exist to document what happened, not to make judgments about whether what happened was fair. That's a job for the readers of the record books, in my opinion.
Joan Carol: I have to say I'm puzzled and perplexed about the whole Barry Bonds/steroid thingy. Even if Barry really believed his "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy, do you really think he continued his use of "the clear" and "the cream" this past season? Would he have been so reckless? If so, how do you account for his continued dominance? Also, why is the beam of outrage directed so intensely on Barry? How about other "doing great for their age" superstars like Roger Clemens? Or the bulked-up, hairy Boston Red Sox sluggers? I don't understand.
Previous column: How should we think about Barry Bonds?
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