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3.07.2006

The Book on Barry 

As most baseball-lovin' people on God's green Earth probably know by now, Sports Illustrated is publishing an excerpt from the upcoming book that details Barry Bonds's illegal performance-enhancing-drug use. PEDs, we like to call 'em down at the gym.

My dad called me on the cell phone to tell me as I was speeding down 101 to a lunch appointment. Now that I'm back at my desk and can read the excerpts of the excerpts, I have a few comments.

First, no big surprise. Ever since the Chron published Barry's grand jury testimony that he thought the cream and clear were flaxseed oil, it's been pretty obvious. Not stand-up-in-court-as-a-felony-conviction obvious, but come-on-Barry-you-think-I'm-an-idiot? obvious.

Second, one could still argue that the Chron reporters have constructed a house of cards built on whispers, innuendo, revenge, anecdote and circumstance. It's within the realm of possibility, but the realm is shrinking faster than a polar bear's ice floe. Messrs. Fairanu-Wada and Williams may have felt pressure to publish their book without dotting every i and crossing every t, but this is not a vast anti-Barry conspiracy.

If you still feel like arguing that Barry wasn't a PED-head, be my guest. Also include 250 words on why you feel global warming is a canard.

As with our melting ice caps, glaciers and hotter temperatures, it's time to move on to the secondary debates. With global warming, it's how fast things will melt and how much can we do to stop it. With Barry's PED use, it's how much it actually helped him and whether we as fans should still reward him with our loyalty.

To the first point, I don't know enough to say that his cheating helped him hit 73 home runs instead of, say, 48 home runs, in 2001. I don't know if anyone will ever be able to make statements with any sort of specificity. There are strong dissenting voices who say performance enhancement is not all it's cracked up to be. But if Bonds and many other star athletes are risking careers, reputations, and millions of dollars on this shit, it can't all be marketing hype from slick drug dealers...can it?

To the second point -- Barry The Big Cheater -- I have been and will likely remain very torn on the steroid-as-bogeyman frenzy. All the comparisons to other kinds of cheating (spitballs, corked bats, stealing signs) have some kind of resonance, but they're far from apples-to-apples. Perhaps old-school use of amphetamines is a better comparison. (They were probably even more widespread for a longer period of time. Is anyone asking for Willie Mays's records back? No.)

There's also the argument that world-class athletes will always do whatever they can at whatever cost to gain an advantage, often quite legally, such as pay nutrition experts to fine-tune their diets, or use computer-analyzed exercise equipment and blood testing. How is the highly sophisticated use of designer drugs any different, except that one is deemed legal by society and the other illegal? (That's a big "except," unless you're a rock-ribbed Libertarian.)

In fact, the is-Bonds-or-isn't-Bonds-a-bad-guy debate is less interesting to me than another question that the Chron reporters have again surfaced: how complicit were the owners and the power structure?

According to the excerpt I read, the Giants' brass was aware of Bonds's activities and turned their heads away so fast they're still suffering from dizzy spells. (Ah-ha: perhaps this explains the A.J. Pierzynski trade.) It was serious Ostrich Time for Magowan et al, and probably for many other owners around baseball.

Because so little is known about PEDs and their effects on the human body, we often try to untangle the meaning of their use -- or abuse, if you prefer -- with imperfect analogies. (See global warming, above.) Here's another: once the Abu Ghraib torture became public, reporters weren't satisfied with a few turnipseed soldiers thrown on the sacrificial bonfire. Several outlets have been systematically digging to find how much of the abominable behavior was officially sanctioned or given the nudge-nudge-wink-wink treatment.

Baseball's PED users weren't explicitly following orders -- and they weren't torturing anyone except opposing pitchers -- but let's hope reporters don't stop digging until they find out what the owners knew, when they knew it, and whether they mean to apologize.

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