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12.03.2004

The Flaxseeds of Discontent 

I said I wouldn't write about the BALCO situation until Victor Conte's interview aired on TV tonight, but I just can't stop myself. As Elbo, The Laz and I settled into the Haven last night for a post-launch party round of thee billyardes, we mused upon Giambi's leaked testimony to the BALCO grand jury. "Barry can't be far behind," I said.

Bingo.

If I were twelve years old with Barry Bonds posters on my bedroom wall, I probably would feel devastated. My innocence would be shattered. As a fellow blogger wrote this morning, "Hey Johnnie, there is no Santa Claus."

But I'm 35, not 12. I have known for many years that Barry Bonds is not my friend, my hero, or my role model. He is not "Superman." He is not even a nice guy much of the time, although a lot of athletes and sportswriters aren't, so big deal. (At least he's not a hypocrite about it, a la Sammy Sosa.)

He plays my favorite sport extremely well and often carries on his back the team I spend far too much time rooting for. If he has used performance-enhancing drugs to make himself better, shame on him, shame on the other players who've done the same, and shame on the players' union and the management for looking the other way for so long.

As Marty points out, it's not the end of the world. But it's also very important. Illegal performance-enhancer use is not good for the sport, and it's not good for the athletes (despite some protests that their harmful effects haven't been proven; hey, neither have the dangers of global warming, if you ask the right people). There are also calls for steroids and the like to be just as legal as sophisticated surgeries or vitamin/mineral/diet regimes. To be honest, I'm not sure where I stand on that. But until the law changes, I agree that steroid use is illegal, and it is cheating. If you don't like those rules, practice civil disobedience. But don't say those who break them shouldn't be held accountable.

Some people still twist themselves into pretzels trying to defend Bonds or construct elaborate scenarios in which he was duped. Please. Of course there's always a chance that he was -- just like there's always a chance that dinosaurs didn't exist and men didn't walk on the moon, but at a certain point you have to be logical about this. A man who is obsessive about his diet, his exercise, his sleep, who tells us his body is a temple and who has been taught from an early age never to trust anyone outside of family, he lets some childhood friend who re-enters his life many years later tell him which pills to pop and oils to rub on his chest, then tells a grand jury he didn't know it was illegal? "Why would Barry be so stupid?" is one common question you'll see out there today.

Why is Barry any different than the rest of us? Have you not looked inside your own soul and found at least the possibility of misguided, even dastardly things? How could the president of the United States lie about a blow job?

Complicated people -- and Bonds is a strange, complicated, fascinating man -- do things they ought not to. Ezra Pound wrote exquisite poetry and ended up in a cage ranting about Jews. Bill Clinton had a great mind, a connection with people, and both houses of Congress, but he couldn't keep his pecker in his pants.

Saying "I can't believe Bonds would do this" is like saying "I don't understand why Al-Qaeda hates us so much."

Now, asking if Bonds is "guilty" means many things. Is he guilty of lying to the public? Looks like it. Is he guilty of a federal or state crime? That's to be determined, but it's unlikely to come to that. Is he guilty in the eyes of every bleacher bum in every city in America the Giants will visit next year? Oh, you betcha.

Whoever is leaking these documents to the Chronicle is also cheating. These players were granted privacy and immunity for their testimony, and that promise has been broken. Everyone assumes the prosecutor's office is leaking, but I've also seen comment that the leaked testimony will discourage other athletes from testifying or cutting deals, which works *against* the prosecution. Hmm.

If (see, I'm still saying "if") Bonds finally admits to knowingly taking steroids, HGH, or "whatever," or if it is proven through some other means, he will have his honor stripped from him and perhaps his numerous awards. I will not argue.

Now, what does all this mean for the Giants, the team I will continue to root for well past the Tainted Age of Bonds? Here are a few open-ended questions:

* How complicit were the Giants' brass in allowing Greg Anderson to use the clubhouse as his personal dispensary?

* Will the news of Bonds' grand jury testimony affect the Giants ability to attract free agents this winter? Will, say, a Steve Finley or Jermaine Dye weigh his options and think, "Best not to get involved this year"?

* Why did the Giants guarantee Bonds's 2006 option in September? Didn't they have any clue this shitstorm was coming? The corollary to that question: will they try to squelch out of his contract?

* Will the legal, social or media pressure break down Bonds in 2005? If so, how do the Giants compensate for the missing offense?

This sounds cold, but part of me wishes Bonds would simply retire. I've loved watching him for the past 12 years in a Giants uniform, I feel privileged to have watched one of the best ballplayers in history (or should we now say "one of the better ballplayers in history"?), but I also don't want every accomplishment of my favorite team to appended with a big fat asterisk.

I would be thrilled if Bonds is somehow vindicated in all this, but you won't find me staying up Christmas Eve listening for the clip-clop of reindeer hooves on the roof.

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