Friday, October 3, 2008

How Barry Bonds Is Becoming a Martyr

People will accuse me of writing this article just to antagonize readers into commenting, etc. In fact, the idea for it was proposed in just such a fashion. Superficially, that's not an outrageous accusation.

I mean, I am an irrationally die-hard San Francisco Giants fan. As such, I have every reason to invent defenses for Barry Lamar Bonds. The only difference between the ultra-competitive Giants teams of '97 through 2003 and the atrocities that have been fielded since is a healthy #25.

Barry was a force of chemically-enhanced nature for the team I love. His presence made everyone in the lineup offensively better by several orders of magnitude. Every at-bat had the potential to right the course of a game gone awry. Without him, the Orange and Black went from perennial contender to de-clawed kitten. So why wouldn't I or any fan in a similar position blindly defend him?

Because that's not really the reason I write here.

As I've said before, I'm just interested in the catharsis of knowing that one sane and honest argument is floating in cyberspace. If I blindly defended, criticized, supported, or otherwise commented on anything, it would defeat that purpose.

And that's why I'll defend Barry from all the steroid abuse - it's just dishonest. Not every single person, but the majority. Most people dislike Barry for various and good reason. My problem is that they spew their venom under the guise of self-righteous indignation, claiming he destroyed the purity of the game.

That's just false. One person cannot ruin a game as big and old as baseball. Not even Bud Selig.

The indisputable fact is that a very significant percentage of the entire league was on something, along with Barry. And he was not the first. See Mitchell Report (and by all accounts it barely scratched the surface). Many of his fellow users were pitchers - starters and relievers. After all, if the primary benefit to use is reduced recovery time, then relief pitchers are as logical candidates as sluggers. They face the most extreme daily stress potential.

Roger Clemens, Jason Grimsley, and Eric Gagne lend credence to both ideas.

The fact that the percentage of use was so high is very significant. It severely discredits righteous indignation over destroying baseball as the real reason for all the abuse lobbed Bonds' way. Why only Barry? He didn't start it and he wasn't the only one. He is just, to date, the best chemically-enhanced ballplayer we've seen.

Why not Mark McGwire? Why not Sammy Sosa? What about Brady Anderson? Or Jose Canseco? Why not any of the other guys who are implicated and suddenly became prolific sluggers?

Or how about Clemens? He's just as implicated as Bonds and dude threw a broken bat at a guy. Not only that, he explained it away by claiming he thought it was the ball (I'm gonna need an explanation for that explanation i.e. why the hell would you be throwing the ball at a runner).

The high percentage also means that an enhanced Bonds usually performed against other enhanced athletes. Consequently, enhancement is a fatuous reason for diminishing Barry's accomplishments when compared to his contemporaries. The reality is, he had no artificial advantage that they did not possess themselves.

Of course, equally true is that comparing his numbers to those of other generations is meaningless. But I'd argue that's true of every generational comparison - how do we normalize stats generated against 8 all-white teams with those generated against 16 integrated teams with those generated against the diluted talent of 30 teams?

And normalize we must for the comparisons to have any real meaning (and that includes considering the evolution of training, travel, salaries, etc.).

Here's the thing. I'm defending Barry Lamar from this particular attack and only this attack. I'll be the first to admit that there are many honest and valid reasons for disliking Bonds. By all accounts, he is an unbelievably objectionable human-being. There are just too many stories from too many people who have too little reason to lie to doubt this allegation.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone argue differently - not even Krukow or Kuiper.

He is selfish. He is boorish. He is arrogant. He is dishonest and disloyal. He is, apparently, cheap despite being a multi-millionaire many times over. That would indicate he ain't particularly bright.

Fine. All valid reasons for slamming the man and far better ones than the steroid nonsense (the old adage in baseball is "if you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough"). I wouldn't marshal even a token defense. The guy is easily the best, most valuable Giant of my lifetime and I still wouldn't consider picking him as my favorite.

Barry Bonds has made his bed through his abhorrent behavior. He continues to do so. It is the public's right to force him to sleep in it. Furthermore, the public should do so because it may discourage future stars from repeating his mistakes. But we should do so fairly, for the right reasons.

And that's not what we're doing. We are forcing him to sleep in a much larger bed made by many more people. That is unfair and, as such, ineffective. Unfair criticism is easy to discredit and easier to dismiss.

Which is just what Barry and the rest of the superstars are doing.

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