As of this writing, Barry Bonds has become a full-on pariah in the fickle world of baseball. Of course, it hasn’t helped his cause that he still is home run free, and this early season drought compares quite favorably with an earlier slump, that occurred in 1998, supposedly the last season he played without steroids.
Let’s look at this matter, and consider some of the broader implications…
First, there is issue of forthrightness, and frankly, being a man. Wouldn’t it be nice if just once when a guy is caught doing something that is not deemed proper, but nonetheless is widespread, that we could hear a different response? How about something like, “Yes, I took steroids, as it was part of my overall program to improve my performance. After all, my pay is tied into production, so I was going to do all I could. That means strength and aerobic training, flexibility, batting practice, and chemical supplements. Yes I did it.”
Instead, we are subjected to absurd denials, that only make him look worse, while they insult our intelligence.
Next, our ambivalent attitude toward drugs is exposed. For thousands of years, most men accepted that their sexual performance would slow down a bit as they age. Surely, most of us did not like that, but that was the natural order of things—until recently. Now, drugs are available that can boost our performance. Is anyone complaining? And, yes, there are plenty of side effects of these drugs.
We take drugs to combat the side effects of other drugs, as well as taking drugs whose possibly fatal side effects somehow appear after they have been approved for general sale. We take drugs to remove wrinkles, yet mock celebs who overdo the attack on aging. We celebrate certain women who act and appear their age, but mostly don’t care for the “old bag” look.
We encourage everyone to take legal drugs when needed, but arbitrarily term others illegal, thus spawning a massive crime problem. And the distinction in the Bonds case is that if he took just about anything besides steroids, no one would mind.
Then, there is the notion of “cheating.” I have no idea what constitutes a “pure” athletic performance, and neither does anyone else. In the 1960’s and 70’s certain distance runners were withdrawing blood a few weeks before big races, training under the deficit, and then restoring the volume just before the event. This was called blood doping, and was outlawed by the Olympic Committee, although there is no conceivable way that it could be detected. How can you cheat with your own blood?
I can give you only one example of what most would agree is cheating: During the height of the Cold War era, there were actually female athletes that had to pass genetic tests to determine their gender. Most would agree that a man competing as a woman is cheating!
Ben Johnson lost his Olympic gold because of steroid use, but what if other athletes were using undetectable chemicals at the same time? Wouldn’t a better approach be to let them do whatever they want to their own bodies, especially because we cannot possibly test for every “cheat”? Heck, we authorize the murder of over a million babies each year because a woman can do whatever she wants with her own body. Are sports more important than human lives?
Finally, the Bonds affair exposes baseball as the excruciatingly boring spectator sport that it is, and I am saying this as one who played and coached the game. With barely ten minutes of action in well over two hours, and the team on defense having the ball, fans have more than enough time to be obsessed with records and stats. Indeed, it is only because of this obsession that Bonds’ indiscretions matter at all.
The fact is, we have no idea what artificial help—if any—Babe Ruth got back in 1927, and all you can do is simply compare the numbers, if you are so inclined. Once the discussion turns to asterisks after the records, we have entered metaphysics, and not sports.
One thing is certain: While Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire were putting up the numbers, Major League Baseball was more than happy with all the PR and excitement. I don’t think they will fool too many people with their Blue Ribbon committee, but that is standard operating procedure for dinosaur organizations, and baseball is nothing if not a dinosaur.
With so much going on in contemporary American society of such greater import, the attention being paid to this matter is nothing short of pathetic.