Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What To Do About Barry Bonds

I'm a baseball fan and I appreciate a game well played, even if it is against the Cubs. I admit that I never cared much for Barry Bonds. His personality is just too abrasive. Yet, I have always marveled at his talents. Even before the steroid allegations, Bonds was one of the most gifted players of his era; perhaps of any era.

The allegations of steroid use always bothered me, but I felt that without proof, or at least credible evidence, Bonds deserved the benefit of the doubt. He denied using steroids and no one could prove differently.

Now, with the publication of "The Shadow Game," it appears that someone has built a credible case against Bonds. The book alleges that Bonds made a conscious decision in 1998 to break the law and violate the integrity of the game by using performance enhancing drugs (PED). It also alledges that he was an extremely heavy PED user for the next several years.

The case built against Bonds in "The Shadow Game" is credible, substantial and damning. After reading the book (or in my case, the exerpts in Sports Illustrated), there can be little doubt that Bonds not only used PEDs, but that he used them continuously and compulsively. There can also be little doubt that the reason he used PEDs was to surpass some of baseball's most honored records and to cement himself as one of, if not the greatest baseball player in history.

I make this second point for a very important reason. We are a very forgiving nation and many of us could understand, if not condone, a player turning to steroids in order to recover from an injury. It wouldn't be right, but there seems to be some redeeming quality to doing whatever is necessary to get back out on the field. In Bonds case, his motivation was purely selfish. He knew his actions would impugn the integrity of baseball, but he did it anyway to build his own legacy at the expense of the game.

Based on the allegation made in the book, it is likely that Bonds will be facing an investigation (and perhaps charges) from the IRS and from the Grand Jury in front of whom he perjured himself. His ex-wife may also want to revisit Bonds finances. The real question for baseball fans (as well as for Bonds legacy) is what will Bud Selig's reaction be. He hasn't commented on the book yet, but I have some suggestions for him.

First, baseball should launch an investigation into the allegations against Bonds. That would include having the Commissioner appoint a special investigator just like was done in the Pete Rose case.

I've heard the argument that Baseball can't do anything because it was not against the rules of the game to take PEDs until rather recently. I don't buy that for a second. It is also not against the rules to murder, molest children, or any other number of crimes, but I'm fairly certain that if there was credible evidence of such a crime against one of baseball's players, the league would take action to distance themselves from that player. This case is no different. Bonds is alleged to have illegally consummed drugs. That's a crime. The only difference, if there is one, is that Bond's alleged crime directly impacts the integrity of the game.

After a thurough investigation, and assuming that the allegations made in the book can be substantiated, then Barry Bonds should receive a lifetime ban from baseball (excluding him from HOF consideration) and all of his records from 1998 on should be expunged from the record books.

There are those who believe that the evidence against Bonds must be beyond a reasonable doubt in order to kick him out of baseball. Others believe that nothing short of a confession from Bonds would be adequeate to exclude him from the game. I disagree with both arguments. Baseball's responsibility is to the integrity of the game. As long as due process is followed, a circumstantial case that proved that it is more likely than not that Bonds used PEDs to the extent described in the book would be sufficient to ban him from baseball and do away with his records. Keep in mind, the case against Pete Rose was circumstantial, but was still strong enough to support his ban.

My fear is that baseball will not do anything to address the allegations made in the book against Bonds. If that happens, Bonds will likely pass Babe Ruth on the all-time HR list this coming summer. He may even pass Henry Aaron. If that happens, baseball's most sacred record will become completely irrelavant and the game of baseball will be viewed more akin to professional wrestling than America's favorite pasttime. I hope the Commissioner and baseball's big wigs have the foresight to avoid this outcome.

Barry Bonds could have been a legitimate hall of famer. Unfortunately, he put his own interests ahead of the interests of the game. I've always heard that no player is bigger than the game. If that's true, Bud Selig will do what is necessary to do away with Bonds and the entire steroid culture that threatens to take over the game we all love.


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