When the San Francisco Giants announced in a press release that they were going to honor Barry Bonds, I thought it was one big typographical error. I was sure they meant “a plague on his house!’’ rather than “a plaque at the ballpark.’’
But, no. The Giants did indeed recognize Bonds on Saturday, immortalizing in bronze a man who carried a suitcase of pharmaceuticals with him on the ride to the major-league career home-run record. I’m not sure when the fire department started giving out commendations to arsonists, but here we are.
The baseball world doesn’t know what to do with its uncomfortable past, but that can’t explain everything here. Time and space alone couldn’t have softened opinions on what Bonds and others did to the game. It looks like many of us have been medicated into an agreeable stupor, which would be the logical, insidious byproduct of the Steroid Era.
“The numbers are absolutely incredible,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Bonds’ production as a hitter.
There’s a reason those numbers are so incredible, Bruce. The guy reportedly was up to his eyeballs in the “clear” and the “cream,’’ the shorthand for two designer steroids. According to “Game of Shadows,’’ a 2006 book by investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Bonds also was using human growth hormone, insulin and several other steroids, including one used in cattle, when he broke Mark McGwire’s single-season home-run record in 2001.
This is the man the Giants were honoring.
That brings us to Sammy Sosa, another cheater who refuses to acknowledge that he cheated. The Cubs have steadfastly refused to honor him at Wrigley Field, saying they’d like to see him take responsibility for his actions as a player before they’d consider a statue, plaque or flag. That, of course, has led to cries of hypocrisy aimed at a franchise that raked in millions of dollars knowing full well that many of Sosa’s 545 home runs in a Cubs uniform were produced by more than Flintstones vitamins. But this is different ownership, and it can do what it wants. In this case, what it wants is the proper thing.
All it took was one look at Bonds’ gigantic head while he was playing to know that HGH was his best friend. But for the longest time, lots of people refused to see that, until it became painfully obvious that tons of players were juicing.
Curiously, though, public anger has subsided, to the point where many now believe that Bonds and the rest deserve glorification, not derision. It’s as if the Steroid Era was a remote, distant time that should be looked upon like a museum piece. It happened, they say with a shrug. And, boy, were we entertained!
But you know the warning about not learning from the past. As Tuesday’s All-Star Game approaches, there are whispers that performance-enhancing drugs are back in a big way. As of June 1, the percentage of hits that were home runs in the big leagues was 14.2, a record. During the Steroid Era, the number was 11.8 percent. All sorts of reasons have been given for the rise. Better coaching. More data to help hitters. More hitters taking uppercut swings. Juiced balls.
Are we really going to do this again? How much more sand do we want to dig out of our eyes and ears? When are we going to get it?
When in doubt, suspect PEDs.
“I think we are back up to large-scale use again,” one former player told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. “It’s all over, but folks don’t want to see it. Many longtime baseball people are still oblivious.’’
Here’s what Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio had to say about Eric Thames in April, after the Brewers slugger had gone 6-for-11 with three doubles and a home run in a three-game series at Wrigley Field. It’s not what you’d call subtle:
“He’s doing stuff that I haven’t seen done for a long time. You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez when he went to the Dodgers, Barry Bonds. … You’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever play this game. So, yeah, it’s probably a ‘head-scratcher’ because nobody knows who this guy is. And when he was here before, his body has changed. But, like I said, I’ll leave that to everyone else, and we’re just gonna try to worry about how to pitch him better and get him out.”
Thames responded by saying he had already been drug-tested plenty of times. You can look at Bosio’s statements as the unfortunate legacy of the Steroid Era. Same with Stephen A. Smith’s PED insinuations about Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta last season.
Major League Baseball has a stringent drug-testing program, but there are two things to remember:
• The science of cheating is always ahead of the science of testing.
• If there is money to be made, humans will do whatever they can to get their hands on it.
Under current rules, a first failed drug test brings an 80-game suspension, a second a 162-game suspension and a third a lifetime ban from the game.
Think about that. Baseball seems to want to rid itself of PEDs, but the Giants just honored one of the biggest drug cheats ever.
Confused? Me, too.