FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Barry Bonds is Not on Steroids

by DAVE ZIRIN

It was the ultimate slap in the face: Barry Bonds on the cover of Sports Illustrated last month with The Asterisk resting on his head.

The Asterisk is the most dreaded of statistical addendums. It howls that the marked achievement emits a whiff of the tainted.

When Roger Maris surpassed Babe Ruth and hit 61 home runs, AL Commissioner Ford Frick – who as a young man was Ruth’s biographer, food-taster, and boot-black – affixed an asterisk to the mark because Maris had played in 162 games, to Ruth’s 154. Frick removed it after fans from the Bronx started bringing signs to the games telling Frick to “Kiss our Asterisks!”

When the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA title last year, their second in five years, and the clock counted down to zero, the play-by-play announcer yelped, ‘This one has no asterisk!’ referencing the fact that their first title was won during the 1998-1999 strike shortened season.

For Sports Illustrated to hang the asterisk on Bonds was to publicly call history’s greatest baseball career into question.

For the entire 1990s, Bonds averaged 34 homers and 36 steals, but that was just for warm ups. At 37, in 2001, he hit a record 73 home runs; at 38 he batted .370 with an ungodly .585 on base percentage; at 39 he won his sixth MVP, hitting 45 home runs in only 390 at bats.

Now he is poised to pass Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron to become the all-time home run champ. We should be marveling at his accomplishments, planning the tales to tell our children about the mighty Bonds. Instead, a concerted effort led by the Bush administration and MLB owners, is leading an anti-Bonds PR campaign that Cubs Manager Dusty Baker likened to “McCarthyism.” While Bonds and Yankee Jason Giambi probably won’t be confused with Ethel and Julius Rosenberg any time soon, there is enough media and congressional hot air to steam an army of dumplings.

Reports about Bonds’ body: how wide his back, how big his jaw, how thick his legs – basically dissecting the man like an animal – pepper the papers. Never mind that Bonds has maintained that he has never taken any banned substance. Never mind that other than the 73 home run year, Bonds – like Aaron – has never even hit 50. Never mind that Bonds’ trainer, indicted for steroid distribution, has maintained Bonds’ innocence even though such a juicy snitch would keep him out of the clink. Never mind that unlike Giambi, who showed up at training camp this year looking like Aly McBeal, Bonds has maintained his current physical shape for a decade, and even gained 6 pounds this off season. Never mind how common it is for all athletes, like Michael Jordan to Shaquille O’Neal, to thicken with age.

Never mind all of that. The greatest case for reasonable doubt lies in Bonds’ very late career success. His unparalleled middle-aged majesty screams his innocence. Steroids and rapid “unnatural” muscle growth puts tremendous pressure on the joints and tendons. Admitted steroid users like former MVPS Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra and banned substance user Mark McGwire all saw their bodies break down as they hit their mid 30s. In the end, they limped away from their careers and were put down like Seabiscuit in Elmer’s Glue Land. Bonds has thrived as he hurtles toward 40, not unlike Jerry Rice, Bret Favre, Reggie Miller, and Randy Johnson. To go by the rumors that surround him, Bonds’ ankles should be snapping like toothpicks every time he jogs to first base.

But the media has been crushing Bonds without evidence because he has never played their game. If Jordan was the Tom Hanks of the NBA, Bonds is Sean Penn, beating down the paparazzi and challenging perceptions of greatness against our will. To some, this is his greatest sin: not the power numbers, but that they threaten the place in history of the immortal Babe Ruth.

I heard one sports radio chatterbox remark, “Even if Bonds isn’t on steroids he is a freak, with his trainers, and supplements, and work out regimens. The Babe would drink a keg, eat a steak, and hit three home runs, Let’s see Bonds do that.” Therefore Bonds’ very commitment to not being the oozing glutton that was Ruth is a knock against him. This is also revisionist history. Ruth was known to have all kinds of 1920s home remedies injected in his system for increased potency (I assume in the field). Ruth has also never been tagged with an asterisk despite the fact he never had to play against competition with black skin, or travel farther than the Mississippi to play. I would love to have seen Ruth face Satchel Paige in a sweltering San Juan double header. Bonds has produced in an era of the global talent pool, cross-country travel, and intense media scrutiny. But none of this will prepare him for the glaring intensity in his face this year. Whether the anti-steroid furies are motivated to “protect the game”, crush the players union, or target Bonds – the fact remains: muscle enhancers cannot slam a 95 mph slider into McCovey Cove. Barry Bonds can – and Ashcroft, Selig, and Bush can kiss his asterisk.

DAVE ZIRIN is the Editor of the Prince George’s Post in Prince George’s County Maryland. He can be reached at editor@pgpost.com.

His sports writing can be read at www.edgeofsports.com.

 

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Obama’s Legacy
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Christopher Brauchli
Parallel Lives: Trump and Temer
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail