Thursday, June 01, 2006

Metstradamus On *Bonds

Everybody has an opinion. You know that. And seemingly, everybody has an opinion on Barry Bonds. To set the record straight, I do not have an opinion on Bonds.

I have opinions on Bonds. Four of them, to be exact. And with the freak show that is Barry Bonds coming to Shea on Friday night, now is the perfect time for me to get some things off my chest regarding *Barry.

Opinion number one: There should not be an asterisk by Barry Bonds' records.

An unpopular opinion? Sure. Is Barry Bonds a flaming jerk? You bet. Is it unfair to put him in a different class than the McGwires and the Sosas and the Palmeiros, as Bud Selig has seemingly done with George Mitchell's investigation? From a baseball standpoint, sure it is. But you reap what you sow...and Barry Bonds has been so outright rude to so many baseball fans and media members that he is the one that's made an example of. And that is fair, because it's just like real life. If two people in your office were, say, bringing home office supplies for personal use...and one guy was nice to everybody and brought in doughnuts every so often and helped out and stayed late and always donated to everyone else's going away party...and the other guy was, well...Barry Bonds? Which guy is going to be referred to human resources?

But there shouldn't be an asterisk in the record books...because this isn't a Barry Bonds problem. This is baseball's problem. Baseball turned a blind eye to this for so many years to the point that it bordered on encouraging players to bulk up...Kevin Towers, who was the Padres GM when the late Ken Caminiti was "shooting" for his 1996 N.L. MVP season, so much as admitted it. Every asterisk that sits next to a certain player's achievement in the steroid era further exonerates baseball's role (or non-role) in creating Bonds and those like him. They asked for it...and they deserve it to live in black and white with no qualifiers.

How many asterisks are you going to have to put in the record book for Mark McGwire? For Sammy Sosa? For Rafael Palmeiro? And why stop there? How about Brady Anderson's 50 home run season of 1996? How about Lenny Dykstra's 1988 season where he went from skinny base-stealing center fielder to a barrel chested large-armed home run hitter? How about Rafael Santana in 1987...five home runs after one dinger in each of the past three seasons? You want to start putting asterisks all over the record book and make everybody dizzy?

Patrick Hruby from ESPN made a valiant effort to try to estimate how many home runs Barry Bonds would have hit if the alleged "cream" and the alleged "clear" weren't involved. But as Hruby says himself, there's no way to know. It might be that every home run after 1998 was tainted. It might be that none of them were tainted. More likely it's a number in between. Why try to outsmart ourselves figuring it out? Baseball have had other eras of these types. Do you want to put asterisks by the careers of Cy Young and Christy Mathewson, for example, because the spitball wasn't outlawed until 1920? That kind of cheating was no different from steroid cheating, except for one major difference...which brings me to my next opinion:

Opinion number two: The media, by and large, are taking the entirely wrong approach to Barry Bonds and steroids.

Nobody is going to come out and say that steroids and other performance enhancers are good for baseball (duh!) But a lot of the sports columnists I have read have leaned towards blasting steroids because of their role in skewering the record books. "We must protect the record book!" they scream. Well, nobody was worried about protecting the integrity of the record book when it came to Gaylord Perry, a hall of famer, who put vaseline on every ball that everybody threw...then rubbed it in everybody's face during all those old timers games by bringing vats of the lubricant out to the mound with him. How would everyone feel if Barry Bonds was allowed to participate in one of these old timers games, and brought a syringe with him to the plate while laughing at a 50-year-old Byung Hyun Kim? And what is the difference between the two?

Vaseline, when used in a matter consistent with the directions, has never been blamed for playing a role in killing anyone.

That's the difference. And that's why steroids are a big deal...not because of the "integrity of the record book". Let's put the focus on the potential of student-athletes dropping dead over a tainted record book.

Opinion number three: Barry Bonds cares.

And this opinion centers on the "Bonds on Bonds" show on ESPN. I've had arguments with this guy about this subject: Does Barry Bonds care about America's perception of Barry Bonds?

Even though he's stated many times that he doesn't, I say there's a small part of him that does.

Perhaps it's the part that shrinks as a result of steroid usage.

There's actually a large part of him that publicly cares this season, but a lot of that large part is driven by public Barry wants people to buy Barry memorabilia (which at one point was not sponsored by major league baseball...Barry Bonds pulled the license his name and likeness to MLB, which is why you never saw his name on any MLB video games, but now apparently that's changed) and since "Game of Shadows" came out, one wonders how much the sale of Bonds licensed t-shirts and jerseys have dipped. And notice that the defiant Barry Bonds has all but disappeared since the newest, and strongest, allegations. I will not go so far as to call him contrite, but the categorical denials of 'roid use by Bonds are no longer part of his game.

But it doesn't explain the show.

Why would Barry Bonds, who has always hated dealing with writers and television types and up until this season went out of his way to avoid them while on the job, all of a sudden allowed cameras to follow him around to his private life? I've heard that he's just doing it for the money he's being paid by ESPN. But his contract with the San Francisco Giants is paying him twenty million dollars this season. Will you ever see twenty million dollars in your life if you were allowed inside a bank vault? And if you had a job where you made twenty million dollars, and you hated being on television, would you be on your own reality show simply for the money...whether it be the money you get paid from the network, or the money that would roll in from the sale of merchandise as a result of doing the show?

It is a P.R. stunt, to be different a P.R. stunt than George Foster calling various media members out of the blue "just to say hello" the first year he was eligible for the hall of fame, after he was surly to them during his career. It didn't was just sad...but sadder still is a man who's stats alone make him a virtual lock for Cooperstown (or at least give him a better chance than George Foster) resorting to dressing up like Paula Abdul during spring training. You think that stunt was designed to create team unity? Well judging by the swarm of teammates that greeted him at home plate after home run number 715, I'd say the effects wore off.

So why? Why the show? Why the Paula Abdul stunt for the show? Why the forced smile at news conferences which cracks the muscles that suffer from apathy in his cheeks?

Because deep down, there's a small part of him that cares.

Final Opinion: Barry Bonds, at this stage of his career, is Mike Piazza...and that may work out in the Mets favor.

Stay with me on this makes sense.

Remember when the Mets depended heavily on Mike Piazza for their offense...and when Piazza took his requisite day game off after night game on...that lineup couldn't scare mice let alone opposing pitchers. Thusly, the Mike Piazza Mets never came close to repeating their 2000 Series appearance. With so much of the Giants budget tied up into Bonds, the rest of the offense is pop gun...has been for years. It doesn't do Felipe Alou any good to have Bonds play only 120 games a year (at most) with much of those games spent watching intentional walks fly by...with the likes of Pedro Feliz protecting him. Thus, Barry Bonds is playing the role of Mike Piazza.

Bonds' contract and age are too high (not to mention public opinion too low) for the Giants to trade him. And I'm not sure there wouldn't be a mini-riot if the Giants sent him to wear another uniform this season while getting probably next to nothing back. But with Jason Schmidt headed towards free agency, maybe he's the chip that gets used to help remake their team going forward. Schmidt is making half of Bonds' money (still pretty good) in this, the final season of his contract. And if there's a way the Mets can provide two, maybe three bats that don't belong to anyone named Lastings to the Giants to help them ease into the post Barry era in exchange for picking up the entire Schmidt contract for the rest of the season, then both teams should think about it. I don't know if the Mets would be able to do this, but there's still plenty of season left for the Giants to collapse and become more desperate. And in that, whacked out convoluted way, Barry Bonds may wind up helping the New York Mets.

But it doesn't mean you shouldn't boo him this weekend.


jabair said...

F bonds..

on a side note, and i hope i dont jinx this, what im enjoying the most during the 2006 season is that even on off days for the mets, the teams chasing them are losing ground...

(its OK to start keeping an eye on the standings in june..)

Tommy_Calzone said...

damn you jabair!!!

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Great job, Metstra!

I saw the following description of Bonds and thought it was perfect: Before 'roids, he was a damned good player. After the 'roids, he's a good player damned.

He blew it!

Toasty Joe said...

Hi Metsra, nice post. I'd respond in detail, but I am so burned out on the subject of Bonds, that I will simply give you my opinions in 4 quick points:

(1) Bonds did steroids - this should be beyond debate at this point;

(2) Although there was no TESTING until recently, steroids were banned by baseball pursuant to a June 7, 1991, memo from Commissioner Fay Vincent (no Bonds defenders ever talk about this - they prefer to say "Hey, he played by the rules in place at the time." Wrong);

(3) Thus, Bonds cheated, and in my book, you can't complain about a witch hunt if you're ACTUALLY GUILTY.

(4) Are there others who did it? Absolutely. And when you've got a mountain of evidence on them comparable to the mountain of evidence that the two SF Chronicle reporters dug up on Bonds, I'll be happy to take it into account. Until then, Asterisks Ahoy!

beezermess said...

You make great points and I have said before...Steroids doesn't help you hit the just makes it go farther...I hate the man with a passion, but he still had to hit the ball 715 times and counting...that said...Great post...
I like Schmidt, but I rather have Zito....

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm a big fan of your site, Metstradamus, so forgive me this little anti-steroid rant.

How can you on the one hand say that the spit ball is no different from steroid use and then a few paragraphs later criticize the media for not focusing on the fact that steroids have serious effects on health? And may I further add that spit is not a controlled substance that is also illegal, another factor, like Bonds' "alleged" perjury, to consider when blithely dismissing the impact of his worngdoings and baseball's response to them.

But the health issue is the main one--the success that results from steroid use puts pressure on young athletes and marginal professionals to damage their own bodies in order to stay competitive. It also effectively puts boderline major leaguers who are honest out of a job, because their fly balls don't carry 10 more feet on average, or they don't recover as quickly from 115-pitch outings, etc. Like Toasty Joe I'd be happy to shame and humiliate all the cheaters out there for no other reason then to make it possible for that guy whose been in the minor leagues for 5 years and has a wife and two kids and doesn't want to take 10 years off his life, to make it to the show without contemplating breaking federal drug laws. I also think small ball baseball is more aesthetically appealing than steroid-aided home-run ball. I dunno, I guess I'm just a dumb purist who doesn't like people breaking the law and profitting from the fair-play of their peers.


Another ridiculous misconception, that "steroids don't help Bonds hit home runs":

Steroids do not make an average joe barry bonds. Barry Bonds was great, but he was made greater, and for a much longer time than normal, because of his illegal, unethical, cheating performance-enhancing drug abuse. Think of all those Mike Piazza almost home runs that died on the warning track the past couple of years. If he'd been juicing (and who knows, maybe he was . . . another sad cost of this episode in baseball history is that we can't trust the accomplishments of any of these guys) those would have been home runs. Ball games lost would have been won. Now tell me that that steroids don't make a difference.

I must say, it is exhausting going over and over these simple points with people. Lots of sports fans and Bonds apologists confuse cynicism with "realism." I agree baseball players cheated in the past, but I don't see why that means we shouldn't care about them cheating now, especially since athletes' health, people's jobs, and yes, the integrity of the sport and its records is on the line.

I can't think of a more sophomoric justification "they did it then so it's ok now"-- for this kind of bad behavior--especially since what they're doing today (taking illegal drugs) is not at all comparable to any kind of "cheating" in the past (except maybe amphetamine use, which thye've taken steps to stop). I know it feels cool to sneer at the naivete of people who are still outraged by cheating--and I can't use that word enough-- or to affect a world-weary acceptance of it, but it is a sad and unethical pose.

In my experience playing sports at the semi-professional level most athletes feel the same way--they don't like cheaters.They don't like guys who kick their balls out of a bad lie in golf, or make bad line calls in tennis--it's the sign of a small, defective character. It's too bad so many fans don't get this.

Anonymous said...

ummmm. On rereading your post I do see you make the point of distinguishing between steroids and the spit ball--but I stand by all my other points.

Metstradamus said...


Thanks for the rant and the thoughtful reply. Yes, I only believe that the spitball and steroids are the same thing in the fact that both are cheating...and I only compare them similarly in terms of the asterisk. If steroid users get the *, then anyone accused of corking their bats, using the spitball, or what have you...also deserve the *. In terms of "preserving the integrity of the record book", steroids and spitters are the same thing.

But otherwise, steroids are a whole other ballgame.

And feel free to disagree with beezermess...I do that on a daily basis :)

Them Mets said...


What's your take on the notion that steroids are a problem not because of the record books, but because of the disadvantage they put players at who aren't willing to sacrifice their integrity and/or long-term health for a bit of glory?

To me, that's the real reason that the accomplishments of Bonds (and all the other steroidal "heros") should be downgraded. Their "accomplishments" make 40-HR seasons, as one example, look unimpressive. It makes me wonder if those records will ever be met or broken by a player who isn't "cheating," and it casts doubt (whether or not it's justified) on the integrity of someone like Pujols who has a chance to do just that.

Do you think that that's unimportant?

Metstradamus said...

Them Mets,

Valid point. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post long ago once talked of a pitching coach who said that the split fingered fastball would be most effective if the tip of one or your fingers was shorter. When asked if they would be willing to cut off a tip of their finger to make their career more effective, more than one pitcher had said they would consider it.

Think about that.

If someone is willing to do immediate harm to themselves to make their career better, what does that say about the willingness to take substances that have longer term side effects? Unfortunately, the message that Barry Bonds hitting 715 home runs sends is that it's all right to take these designer steroids to get to the plateaus you want to get to. As I've said, Barry is getting $20 million this season. If guys are willing to take an inch of their finger for that, then what wouldn't they be willing to do? They think that Barry's relative health up until the age of 42 makes it liveable to deal with what Barry is dealing with now. And that's a dangerous message.

You talk about a 40 HR season not being worth what it was...or being devalued at the expense of players who did it legitimately. Don't forget about all of the pitchers that have been caught 'roiding up as well. Everyone treats this as a hitting problem exclusively...and the numbers are inflated to be sure. But I'm sure there has been a response by pitchers using the stuff to catch up to the hitters. So again, what numbers really mean what? Perhaps a certain guy who hit 40 HR's in the steroid era did so by juicing...while another guy who hit 40 did it while clean...while hitting some of them against juicing pitchers. So in the long's impossible to tell what numbers mean what. Unfortunately, only each individual player knows for sure. And as much as a clean player wants to let the world know he's clean by being tested independently, that player's union will not let him do that. And the union is as much at fault as MLB for this mess, because where is their role in protecting the health of their players...or are they in it exclusively for the money too?

Which is why there really is no point to try to seperate legitimate numbers from inflated numbers. It's impossible and it accomplishes nothing on the whole, compared to what you can accomplish by sending positive messages for the future, which is what Mark McGwire said he would do...yet we haven't heard word one from him since those hearings. So I think it's important on an individual basis to get to the bottom of what really went on...not only for the individual player who's legitimate numbers have been unjustly devalued by his era, but for all of that player's fans. But on a whole, there's a better way to clean up the game...

They play this commercial a lot now where the guy is in the shower putting a q-tip in the permanent hole in his throat from smoking. Meanwhile, the anti-steroids commercials are tame by comparison. Perhaps one of these juiced up former ballplayers should do a commercial where he shows the world his child sized private parts to get the message across. No man in their right mind would use performance enhancers after seeing that. Unfortunately, that's the only thing it's going to take to really hit home.

Sorry I rambled on.

Them Mets said...

That's a really interesting analogy - so why is my gut reaction (and I would guess other people's) to say that cutting off the tips of one's fingers is stupid but not cheating, while using steroids is cheating? Let's take out of the equation the fact that steroids are illegal, since legality is not always a determinant of morality or fairness (see: jaywalking). Is this an irrational reaction, or is there a difference that I can't put my finger on? (Um, no pun intended.)

I think your point that it's impossible to separate the legitimate from the inflated numbers is absolutely valid. And sure, if you can't single out every steroid induced hit or strikeout, maybe it's unfair to single out one guy for special treatment. And, sure, as a result, MLB as an institution can't realistically asterisk Bonds' records.

But I think that for many fans, Bonds' career home run total (and McGwire's and Sosa's single-season records) will always have an asterisk to it. Just because we can't recognize every number that was due to an unfair advantage doesn't mean that we have to accept as legitimate the ones we do recognize.

I think we can (and should) in that way also send a message to the players that we would rather see them put up lower numbers without "performance enhancing substances" than see them perpetuate an arms race and break records in what is essentially an unfair way of aproaching the game.

P.S. I don't know if you were apologizing to me - I don't mind your rambling at all, and hope you'll excuse mine.

Metstradamus said...

"But I think that for many fans, Bonds' career home run total (and McGwire's and Sosa's single-season records) will always have an asterisk to it."

Bingo! And that's pretty much the jist here. Asterisks are clumsy and they're arbitrary. And like I said, when you asterisk some and not others who are just as deserving, you put the blame on the players and not the game. The game by it's own action/inaction deserves the records printed in the book unfettered by asterisk.

But we know. The stain is already there for whoever wants to put it there. It's up to the fans, individually and collectively, to make their own judgements...their own asterisks. For baseball to make judgements with asterisks strikes me as a tad hypocritical. Let the paying customer do it on their own time.

help-a-rascal said...

first off, love your blog. very well written with insightful commentary. on to bonds.

whether or not it is feasible to affix an asterisk to bonds' stats (it clearly is not), there will always be the mental asterisk that society as a whole will apply. that may not be enough for some out-for-blood purists. it is, however, a significant blemish that will hopefully forewarn future aspiring ball crushers that altering one's chemical makeup in the name of gaudy stats will have a price in terms of credibility.

but the thing that we must get used to is the affection of the great unwashed for all things big and shiny, especially if those things also go "boom." home runs are near perfect examples of such things. as such, we will probably always have to deal with some players going to ethically questionable extremes to gain the admiration of said masses. the way i see it c'est la vie, que sera sera, fuck it. i may believe in fair play, honesty, and integrity, but i also know better than to expect those qualities from the rest of society.

Metstradamus said...


Absolutely!!! And that's what we forget sometimes...the guys that play professional baseball...all they are is a cross section of society. It's foolish to expect anything more of them. It's reasonable to hope that baseball players at the highest level cease to make baseball sliding into head first for example. But it isn't reasonable to ask every major leaguer to put aside what makes them who they are...good or bad. We loved Mookie Wilson. We want everyone to be the type of person Mookie was. Not everyone can. And certainly not every baseball player can. They are, when you come down to it, and no matter how much money they make, still only human.

Metstradamus said...

And thanks Rascal for the kind words!!!

nLak..B) said...

why is there so much barry controversy? can't we just boo him and get it over with?

jabair said...

You do write alot!

Listmaker said...

love this post.

but the thing that really depresses me is that fans at shea had the same sign on sat. (babe did it on hot dogs and beer) that the fans in philly did. ny might be first in the standings this year but are merely treading water on the heckling front. depressing.

Metstradamus said...


I noticed that and also thought it was weak. The asterisks in the crowd were a nice touch though.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Good Job... not the usual crap.

FanReporter said...

A letter to BB, J Grim, Raffy, and Big Mac