The Horse and the Ass
May 26 , 2006

Bonds says he's in the same class as Ruth.  It's an interesting proposition to try to insinuate that Bonds has any class at all.  This is a guy who slapped his first wife with an ultimatum to sign a prenuptual agreement on the day of their wedding.  This is a guy who is now claiming that hundreds of items of memorabilia that he himself authenticated are now counterfeit so that his own stockpile of memorabilia will have greater value.  This is a guy who refused to take literally five minutes of his time to meet victims of 9/11 before a ballgame.  This is a guy who claimed that white people had the cure for cancer but wouldn't give it to black people (this one I heard in person in the locker room when the Giants visited Baltimore in 2004).  Ruth certainly had his share of boorish behavior, but at least he wasn't a complete ass about it.

And let's get something straight: Bonds is not an alleged steroid user, he's an admitted steroid user.  He confessed to using steroids to a grand jury.  His closest confidants - his mistress for whom he was buying a house in order to hide cash income from the IRS, and his close friend and personal trainer - are both on record as saying Bonds used steroids.  One witness was in an affidavit, the other was on a tape recording.  Other players approached Bonds' trainer to "get what Barry was using" and were given steroids.  One of these players, Jason Giambi, testified under penalty of law that the stuff he was given by Bonds' trainer was steroids.  Bonds' numbers fully support the assertion from numerous sources that Bonds began using in 1999.  At this point you have to be totally unwilling to accept the facts and/or reality to believe that Bonds did not use performance enhancing drugs. 

That fact that his admission became public from leaked grand jury testimony is irrelevant.  In a court of law it's not irrelevant obviously, but his confession was given willfully under penalty of perjury and it's highly doubtful anyone would willingly admit breaking a federal statute just for grins.  I'm not saying that the court of public opinion is always right, but people are certainly justified in their distaste for Bonds.  But the notion that we can't call Bonds a cheater or a steroid user because it hasn't been proven in a court of law is laughably absurd.

We don't refer to Al Capone is the famous tax cheat.  We refer to him as the famous gangster, or murderous crime boss even though the only thing he was ever convicted for was tax evasion.  There is a difference between being convicted in a court of law and being convicted by the truth in the real world.  Victory in a court of law, especially in cases where someone has the wherewithal that Bonds has, often means simply that one had a better lawyer than the government did. 

And for those out there who bring up that somehow the negative reaction to Bonds is a race issue, what are you people going to moan about when he passes Ruth and he's still getting the negative reacions and press?  Where's the race issue now?  Bonds is chasing Aaron, not Ruth, for the record.   With the exception of a very, very tiny percentage of ignorant yokels, race plays no part in how people feel about Barry Bonds.  This isn't Aaron chasing Ruth.  The same people who are deriding Bonds as he passes Ruth with be deriding him for the rest of what is left of his career.  Who is the "white" media trying to protect when Bonds is trying to pass an African American who played and lived with strength and dignity?  Babe Ruth?  Hardly. 

Most sane people, when confronted by the overwhelming evidence that Pete Rose bet on baseball, gave Rose the consideration he deserved: a fantastic player in his prime, but someone who should not be involved in any baseball operations due to his repeated undermining of the integrity of the game.  People rightly wanted him out of baseball.  The same people detest Bonds because he is personally detestable and because he cheated.  Isn't that reason enough?  Gaylord Perry cheated his way to the Hall of Fame, and in no way am I suggesting that Bonds doesn't deserve enshrinement.  What I am suggesting is that people who say he's the greatest player ever need to get a clue.  And if Gaylord Perry were close to breaking a record like Cy Young's wins or Nolan Ryan's strikeouts, I have no doubt people would be expressing the same kind of reservations about him that they are about Bonds.

And for those who are asking rhetorically why the media isn't out to get McGwire, Sosa (hey, isn't he dark-skinned as well?) and Palmeiro like they are Bonds, you too need to get a clue.  They aren't "going after" those guys because they aren't playing any more.  How's that for easy?  And if you recall, that same media "went after" Jose Canseco when he made all sorts of outrageous statements about players using steroids... that ultimately proved to be plausible if not absolutely true. 

There's a flaw in the idea that the Steroids Era is somehow comparable to other eras in baseball where seemingly unreachable records were set.  The important distinction is that the decision whether or not to take PEDs was an option left to each individual, whereas facing all white players or using a deadball or pitching from 50 feet away was a uniform aspect that affected the competition equally.  For there to be a legitimate comparison, Hank Aaron would have to have been able to choose to hit against only white pitchers, or Sandy Koufax would have to have been able to choose to pitch from 50 feet from home. 

There are plenty of people who will tell you that the steroid era is a handy catchphrase where a lot of the offensive boom because of all the factors that went into it (livelier baseballs, harder, lighter bats, sophisticated weight training and [legal] supplements, smaller ballparks, body armor, a strike zone where the high strike has disappeared and pitching inside is discouraged etc.). Even if players didn't use anabolic substances they certainly benefited from these other circumstances.

But if you examine the non-steroid factors listed, it's extremely hard to make a compelling argument for any of them having anything close to the same impact of PEDs.   The high strike zone began to disappear in the late 70s, well before the current barrage.  Since energy transfer to a baseball is extremely inefficient - only about 32% of the energy generated - a maple bat adds only a few feet on a 400 foot drive over an ash one.  Ballparks aren't any smaller now than Ebbets Field, Baker Bowl, Crosley Field, Fulton County or the cookie cutters from the 70s.  Baseball in Colorado began two years before we started to see widespread home run inflation.  Most body armor is worn on the shins to protect against foul balls, having no effect on a player's approach at the plate and the number of players who do wear armor on their arms is probably less than 5% of the total player population. 
What we're left with is the greater percentage of artificial fibers in the yarn winding in the ball allowing for less moisture absorption and/or better nautilus machines in the clubhouse.  The effects these have had pale by comparison to the 30-40 extra feet of distance an avowed gym rat since 1992 like Barry Bonds, as an example, has gained by stacking carefully designed and tailored PEDs.  I would direct you specifically to a study authored by Bhasin, Woodhouse and Storer in the New England Journal of Medicine to the extent taking these drugs can have on performance.

After his spectacular Kentucky Derby run, Barbaro was considered a virtual lock to win the Triple Crown. 

Sometimes it's the difference between a horse and a horse's ass to show the difference between a champion and some guy who has great numbers.