Last Friday, on the radio program we discussed the Barry Bonds controversy and the Sports Illustrated cover story that documents his use and abuse of steroids and his association with some of the darkest figures hanging around the world of professional sports. Bonds continues to deny all charges–at least of “knowingly” taking or using steroids–but the evidence piles up.
No one can talk baseball like George Will, author of Men at Work and Bunts, and he addressed the Barry Bonds controversy in a recent column published in The Washington Post.
As Will explains:
By now even Barry Bonds, although notably thick-skinned regarding obloquy, might wish he had retired after 1998, his 13th season, when his achievements included 411 home runs, 445 stolen bases — he is still the only “400/400″ player in baseball history — eight All-Star selections and eight Gold Glove awards. He had already won three MVP awards and deserved a fourth, which was given to a lesser but less-obnoxious player. After the required five-year retirement, Bonds would have become a Hall of Famer.
Today, his numbers are much more gaudy. Before 1999, he hit a home run every 16.1 at-bats and his highest home run total was 46. Since then he has averaged a home run every 8.5 at-bats and had a season high of 73.
Those numbers are why most people who care about baseball wish that Bonds had never played and hope he never does again. The numbers, examined in the lurid light of what is known about the recent role of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in sports and about Bonds’s character and associations, invite suspicion and perhaps compel invidious conclusions.
Will’s own conclusion? He minces no words:
It is still unclear if there will be judicially imposed punishment in this matter. But condign punishment for a man as proud as Bonds would be administered by the court of public opinion and by exclusion from the Hall of Fame.
In any case, Bonds’s records must remain part of baseball’s history. His hits happened. Erase them, and there will be discrepancies in baseball’s bookkeeping about the records of the pitchers who gave them up. George Orwell said that in totalitarian societies, yesterday’s weather could be changed by decree. Baseball, indeed America, is not like that.
Besides, the people who care about the record book — serious fans — will know how to read it. That may be Bonds’s biggest worry.