After an investigation and prosecution lasting more than 5 years, the Justice Department finally got a conviction in the case against Barry Bonds — for obstruction of justice, a minor felony. By some accounts, the federal government spent more than $5 million prosecuting this case and in the end, Bonds will likely do a few months in a minimum security federal day camp — if he does any time at all. It’s entirely possible he will just get probation.
The jury hung on three perjury accounts — 11-1 for conviction on one of the counts. Even if Bonds had been convicted of perjury, it’s unlikely he would have done more than a few months in a minimum security facility.
So, $5 million to throw a guy in a day camp for three to six months.
I don’t like Barry Bonds. I really don’t. By most accounts, he’s a thoroughly miserable person. His teammates all hated him. Everyone should read “Game of Shadows” if they want to get a good idea of what this guy did. He didn’t just do steroids, he did the whole shebang — HGH, Deca-Durabolin, Stanzonal, designer steroids, steroids developed specifically for beef cattle, Insulin, artificial testosterone, etc. — he took sports doping to depths it had probably never been taken before in baseball. I don’t think any of his records should stand, nor should he ever be allowed in the Hall of Fame … but $5 million to throw a guy in a day camp for a few months? Because he’s a jerk who cheated? Was it really worth it? I don’t see the argument that it was somehow worth it.
In the end, the federal prosecution didn’t really “prove” he did steroids. It just proved he was evasive and dishonest in his testimony to a grand jury about steroids.
So why did the federal government pour so much energy into going after this guy? I hate to say it, but it smacks of a witch hunt. As much as I don’t like Bonds and as much as I think he represents all that is wrong with sport, it does smack of persecution. He was a celebrity defendant, and could make careers if people could gain a conviction. Kind of like Martha Stewart. They convicted her of giving a dishonest answer to investigators about a stock tip. Big deal. And she spent a few months in a day camp for women. Anyone else they would have just blown it off. What a waste of resources that could have been spent going after real criminals.
Doping in sports is a tough one, because what constitutes “doping?” really. When ballplayers came back from Europe after WWII, they brought back a little pill they discovered in the military — “greenies,” amphetamines. When ballplayers felt tired or worn down by the long season, they would pop some greenies to perk up. Supposedly, amphetamines were widespread in baseball well into the 1980s.
I guess my attitude is comparing amphetamines to steroids is like comparing caffeine to heroin. Yeah, the amphetamines perked up the players, but it didn’t necessarily make them play better. It didn’t make them stronger or faster. It just made them less tired. Steroids actually physically changed the players and altered their capabilities. I’ve never bought the argument that steroids didn’t make player better hitters. It did. It “juiced” their statistics.
Here is a good example. Say without steroids, a player is a .250 hitter who hit 20 home runs and drove in 70 runs. Say during the course of the season, he made 20 outs on flyballs to the warning track. With steroids, those warning track fly balls suddenly become home runs, and now the player’s stats are: .283 batting average, 40 home runs, 100 RBIs. How many of Bonds’ 763 home runs would have been lazy fly ball outs at the warning track without the steroids? Dozens? Hundreds? We’ll never know.
Steroids inflate statistics. I think steroids are a problem in most professional sports — it’s obvious steroids are rampant in football and hockey; I mean how many 260-pound linebackers who could run a 4.4 40-yard dash existed 30 years ago? Hockey players are built like outside linebackers now.
But, hockey and football are sports defined by “moments.” Montana to Clark, the Ice Bowl, Bobby Orr flying across the goal crease, the Summit Series. Baseball tends to be defined by numbers: 56, 714, 73, 755, 61, .406, 4,256 … these numbers all mean something to baseball fans. Players get in the Hall of Fame not based on “moments,” but statistics … .300, 300 wins, 3,000 hits, 3,000 strikeouts, 500 home runs … these are almost automatic tickets to the Hall of Fame. And steroids bunged up all the numbers so they don’t mean as much. 47 players have hit 400 home runs. Before 1990, only 23 players had ever hit 400 home runs. Between 1990 and 2010, 24 players cracked 400 home runs. Hitting 40 home runs or more was done 133 times between 1921 and 1989. It was done 160 times between 1990 and 2010.
I think because of the assaults on these venerable records is why writers and purists care so much about steroids in baseball … as compared to football and hockey (and probably basketball). I personally think football and hockey should care more about steroids. Both these sports have seen a HUGE increase in concussions the last 10 years or so. Some of that is better diagnosis of concussions, but it’s obvious to me the increase is caused by bigger, faster players. If hockey and football are serious about concussions, they need to look at the size and speed of their athletes as a main cause.
Baseball created its own mess with the steroids. They knew the players were juicing, but they were so desperate for fans to return to the game after the ’94 strike that Bud Selig and the leagues looked the other way to it. I suspect the majority of players were juicing by 2000. They had to to keep up. Baseball basically turned into home run hitting contests in the late 1990s, with multiple teams hitting 200 or more home runs each year. Stolen bases and bunts disappeared as part of the game. The game actually changed. Everyone made fun of it when Congress called players to testify about juicing, but those hearings did have the effect of forcing baseball to take juicing seriously.
So, now after looking the other way for years, baseball has a big mess on its hands. What to do with all those records that were shattered during the Steroids Era (essentially 1995-2005)? The writers pick the players for the Hall of Fame, and they’ve shown their disdain for players from that era as McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro should have been in the Hall of Fame by now based solely on their numbers, but neither player is garnering HOF votes from the writers. Jeff Bagwell is another Hall-worthy player (.297, 449 HRs, 1,597 RBIs), based just on numbers, but he barely got any votes at all when he became eligible for the HOF because he’s a suspected drug cheat. Roger Clemens (who is facing his own perjury trial soon — ijiot, he wasn’t even subpoenaed, he chose to go before Congress and lie all on his own.) will not get in the Hall of Fame, nor will Barry Bonds. Not anytime soon. The writers are unforgiving.
I think MLB needs to get together and make a decision about these records. Like track and the Olympics, I believe any steroid-enhanced records should be stricken, when means Henry Aaron is the home run champion and Roger Maris is the single-season record holder. When A-Rod break’s Aaron’s record in another four years or so, it shouldn’t count because of his steroids use. When Albert Pujols breaks Aaron’s record in about seven or eight years, I suppose it will have to count because there’s no evidence Pujols ever did steroids (colour me skeptical, however.).
I think the writers care about steroids, but fans have developed “steroids fatigue.” Most fans stopped caring years ago because frankly, so many players were juicing that it stopped being scandalous. In Europe, they take drug cheating much more seriously than in America. If a Tour de France rider is caught doping, they not only are banned for two years, they actually get arrested and face criminal charges. This is why Floyd Landis can never go back to France. They will throw his butt in jail if he does.
So, in America, it’s asked why is it a big deal if players juice? Why should we care? It’s a fair question. It’s their bodies, it’s their testicles shriveling up into their bodies, not ours.
I think the biggest reason we should care, and I sort of hate the “think of the children” argument, but it’s the best one I can think of, is if you allow the PEDs to run rampant at the professional level, good luck getting a handle on it at the collegiate and high school … and middle school … levels. Collegiate players will be forced to juice to get drafted into the pros. High school kids will be forced to juice to get college scholarships. Middle school kids will be forced to juice to make the high school team. You’ll never control it (even if you drug test). So, nipping it in the bud at the pro level is the best place to start.