Barry Bonds: Baseball's Scapegoat
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The long awaited and much ballyhooed Mitchell Report drives home not one but two disturbing truths. The first is that dozens of players with the wink and nod connivance of the MLB and union top cats, trainers, medical personnel, drug companies, and even federal watchdog agencies winked and nodded as dozens of baseballs biggest names pumped up their bodies with performance enhancing drugs.
The second and in some ways even more disturbing truth is that the dump for the deliberate blind eye to drug abuse crashed down on the head of one man, Barry Bonds. Though technically Bonds was not indicted by a federal grand jury for steroid use, the charge is lying to a grand jury, the real reason he's in the docket is that he is the most visible, high profile, and thus convenient scapegoat to take the blame for baseball's revel in its steroid filled home run bleacher shots that sent attendance records soaring and jingled cash registers.
Another bitter truth on top of that disturbing truth is that the Mitchell Report can name all the names it wants and make all the recommendations for cleaning up the sport that it wants, but other than Bonds no other MLB baseball player has or will wind up in a court docket for illicit use of steroids. Despite the hoopla, teeth gnashing, phony self-righteous indignation, and clamor to do something about the shame and disgrace of drug use in the majors, there's absolutely no guarantee that the MLB officials or owners will follow to the strict letter the reform proposals.
If anything the Mitchell Report instead of partially vindicating Bonds leaves him even further hung out to dry. None of the dozens of players mentioned in the report come anywhere remotely close to the public and media loathing that Bonds engendered. Long before the ink was dry on the first sentence in the Mitchell Report, the giddy orgy of Bond's vilification was brutal and relentless, and that was even before he was accused of any wrongdoing.
Baseball didn't say zilch about banning the use of steroids before 2002. It had absolutely any zero testing procedures that mandated penalties for those caught cheating until 2004. It did not scrub the use of the performance drug HGH until 2005. Even then, punishments were spotty and capricious. That is until the feds began to take a harder look at the use of the junk in the sport, and Bonds began to inch closer to MLB icons Babe Ruth's former home run record and later Hank Aaron's home run record.
The get Bonds hunt was then on with a full vengeance.
Bonds now began to run shoulder to shoulder with O.J. Simpson as the man much of the public loved to hate. He was a big, rich, famous, surly, blunt-talking black superstar who routinely thumbed his nose at the media. That stirred deep latent and not so latent visceral contempt and revulsion for him.
Bonds didn't help matters by seeming to take special delight in irritating the heck out of sportswriters, fans, and the baseball establishment. His surly shoot-from-the-lip, thumb-your-nose-at-the-sports-crowd defied, or defiled the pristine, story book, nostalgia dripped image of what sports heroes should be, and how they should comport themselves. It made no difference that Bonds is no bigger a jerk in his boorish, sulking, spoiled behavior than other legendary superstars. But coming from him it just seemed to rub nerves even rawer.
So here's a prediction. The Mitchell Report will grab headlines for a day. It will set the chops of talking head sports commentators, sports writers, and baseball buffs in full throttle. It will spark another round of angry calls from some public officials to crack down on drug use in the majors. It will draw solemn pledges from MLB officials to do whatever it takes to end the cheating. And just as quickly it will blow over.
What won't blow over is the fingerpoint at Bonds. He looms even bigger in importance. His trial will be billed as a sort of steroids trial of the century. All the dirt, real or manufactured, about steroids and baseball, meaning Bonds, will be piled on the publics and the legal table. A conviction will be even better. That would give MLB officials the perfect chance to distance themselves from the cheaters, or more accurately, the perceived grand symbol of drug cheating, Mr. Bonds. The only scenario that could be even more worthy of an A-list Hollywood script is for Bonds to come clean admit that he knowingly used drugs and do a public mea culpa for it. The owners, MLB officials, and many sports writers could then breathe a big sigh of see I told you so relief and skip along smug in the knowledge that an ugly, and tainted chapter in baseball's saga is finally past. Batter up!
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York).