A friend that works at the ESPN club called a few days ago. He brought up Barry Bonds and how one of the hosts at the club asked why we put up with Gaylord Perry’s admitted cheating but we’re down on Bonds for suspected cheating. He thought the guy made a good point. I think that comparison contains a major flaw.
What Gaylord Perry was doing could be detected and caught by the umpire or opposing manager and Perry was always taking the risk of getting caught. Perry’s deviousness was largely gamesmanship. He wasn’t out there cheating every time, because he would have been out of business. The well-known cheater can take the opposition out of their game by making them think too much about it. The hitters wonder what’s coming and the manager spends more time observing Perry than contemplating a hit-and-run situation.
For Bonds to be equivalent there had to be a component that allowed an umpire or opposing manager to lodge an investigation. The players association wouldn’t consent to such testing so Bonds was in the clear to do as he wished without repercussions. This got me to thinking though.
What if an opposing manager or umpire were allowed this equalizer? The opposing manager wants to challenge a player’s legitimacy and make him take a urine test. The umpire makes this offer to the player: You can leave the game and miss a week of playing time and forgo the urine test or you can take the test and stay in the game. If the test comes back positive your team forfeits the game and any game you played in between the time of the test and the results. So that it doesn’t get out of hand, managers are only allowed a set number of challenges per game or per year. That would make it difficult for steroids to proliferate without ever having to test anyone and it would make steroids close in relations to doctoring pitches. It would also side step the 5th amendment issue by allowing any player to leave the game instead of taking the test.
Today’s New York Times writes about the Mitchell commission looking into baseball.
Officials from the commissioner’s office declined to comment yesterday on any phase of the Mitchell investigation, including which players might be asked to appear. League officials and union officials both said they were unaware of which players had been or would be asked to speak to Mr. Mitchell. A union official said the union, in the past, had received copies of letters Mr. Mitchell sent to former players.
Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants slugger who is 13 home runs shy of breaking Hank Aaron’s career record, will most likely not be asked to meet with the panel soon, according to a person briefed on the investigation. Mr. Bonds is under federal investigation over possible perjury during grand-jury testimony in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative case, which involved the distribution of steroids to elite athletes in a wide range of sports.
Mr. Bonds’s lawyer, Michael Rains, said in an interview that Mr. Bonds would decline to speak to the panel if he would risk incriminating himself.
The investigation has left baseball in the uncomfortable position of trying to decide how to celebrate the moment if and when Mr. Bonds breaks Mr. Aaron’s record; it is highly unlikely that the questions surrounding his actions will be resolved by the time that homer is hit.
I’ve written much about Pete Rose and how gambling only brings the possibility of cheating, but do you guys remember how Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were both banned from baseball for a year in the early 1970s because they were hired by a legal casino? Mantle wasn't even playing ball anymore. What danger did he pose? What it is about Bonds relationship with BALCO that isn’t deserving of the same penalty? Why doesn’t a reporter ask Bud Selig if Mays and Mantle were treated unfairly and why Bonds relationship with BALCO gets a pass?
A few years ago reporters and columnists were pretty down on Bonds. Now that he is set to break the record there is a lot of moral equivalence going on. I think the sports media took their cue early on from the political media that reports every impropriety hoping to break a Woodward/Bernstein kind of scandal. Baseball reporters were at first indignant and called for a tougher response. But now that baseball has been ineffectual reporters have backed down.
The political media can ruin a Nixon but the government itself will never lose its power and influence. Scandal in Washington is followed by reconciliation and more news stories. But if baseball is shown to be tainted, people can just stop watching. The sports media makes a living off baseball and they have a big stake in creating an atmosphere of legitimacy.
Networks, reporters, newspapers, players, coaches, and owners are all in the same business and the tensions that sometimes arise between them are personality driven. The Boston beat writers can keep Ted Williams off their ballot costing him the MVP, but they won't do much more. Maybe the same reporters will keep Bonds out of the HOF. That will be interesting to see.
For now, Bonds trot to the Home Run record is the Emperor’s New Clothes.