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February 23, 2005

Prospectus Today

Bonds

by Joe Sheehan

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I'd like to say I meant to take two weeks off from this space, but I didn't. I got caught up in working on the Roundtables and finishing my contributions to a second BP book that will be coming out later this year. I also got caught up in the joys of sneezing and coughing, as well as ark planning and development.

OK, I confess: I watched a lot of college hoops, too. I love the game on so many levels. It's become a reasonable substitute for baseball in the winter months for me. I put out a Top 25 to a handful of friends, immerse myself in my Full Court package, work on my bracketology, weigh the merits of the new RPI, try and forget just how bad the 'SC program is…

Plus, hoops helped keep me distracted while waiting for Baseball Prospectus 2005. After editing the annual for seven years, I still haven't gotten used to waiting to read the book, as opposed to seeing it all in December. That I have a Strat league draft on Sunday has heightened my need for it, leading to me jumping up from my office every time a car goes down the street, as I hope against hope that it's a delivery truck carrying the tenth edition. The book began shipping Monday, so if it shows up on your doorstep, drop me a line.

The good news is that I picked the right two weeks to disappear. An offseason that stretched into February finally went a little dead after the Magglio Ordonez signing, leaving two weeks of relative silence. The biggest…"stories"…of the past couple of weeks are that the Red Sox don't like Alex Rodriguez and that Barry Bonds doesn't play nice with the media, which kind of makes you wonder what #3 could possibly have been.

Yesterday's Bonds press conference seems to have caused quite a stir. I'm not sure how yet another example of Bonds' unwillingess to play nice with the media is such big news. It would have been a story had Bonds answered a whole bunch of questions with packaged answers and not once gotten riled up. That Bonds and the assembled reporters parried for an hour, with the former getting agitated and defensive and the latter pushing buttons is just the expectation.

That Bonds is the face of the baseball'n'BALCO situation is fortunate for the media, which can get away with a lot more rolled eyes and lowered standards than it might otherwise. Bonds' relationship with the media is a huge part of this story, and it makes it hard to take the coverage without a whole quarry of salt, because there's not even a pretense of objectivity any longer. The two parties dislike each other, and that impacts the coverage. Bonds won't provide information, so the media substitutes his disdain for it and hand-waves the rest.

The fact is, Bonds was correct in much of what he said yesterday. The media does keep running back to the same stories over and over. There are larger problems in our society than athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. Whether steroids are cheating isn't the black-and-white question it's been presented as, not in a game that turns a blind eye to the kind of amphetamine use baseball has seen. His blanket accusation that everyone in the room had lied at one time or another was unfortunate, almost certainly erroneous, and provided an easy way to paint Bonds as a bad guy.

I wrote this in December, but it's worth mentioning again: Bonds is facing these questions in part because he was betrayed by the system. His grand-jury testimony, and that of others, was leaked to the media. That is the biggest crime in this situation to date, and almost no one has addressed it with the same gusto as they have the connections between Bonds and his personal trainer. Where are the investigation and the indictments for that crime?

As far as that testimony is concerned, I don't think you can have it both ways. I don't think it's fair to treat it as Grand Jury Testimony where the stories are good, but then decide that where the story isn't as good, the person is lying. That's what Bonds is facing here: not only was his testimony leaked, but people have effectively been accusing him of perjury for two months since then. His explanations for his use of the clear and the cream have been dismissed, his performance record seen as tainted.

That would make me prickly, too.

I just did a radio segment this morning on the situation, and one of the things that came up was how Bonds' press conference differed from that of Jason Giambi's. Well, it did, but what good did Giambi's vague apologies and practiced humility do him? The coverage in the aftermath centered on all the things he didn't say, and was largely negative. He didn't give the media what it wanted, and he paid the price.

I refuse to jump on the bandwagon. My position on steroids in baseball is the same as it's been all along: we don't have enough information, and the hysteria over the issue is a media creation. The things we do know for sure--that survey testing in 2003 showed 5-7% of players were using steroids, that random testing in 2004 actually coincided with a higher level of offense, that the players who have been known to test positive, or been associated with BALCO, are far from an All-Star team--would not lead to the conclusion that steroids are a rampant, game-warping problem.

I have to say that it's no fun to hold these opinions. I would much rather be able to make definitive statements and reach satisfying conclusions about Bonds, about performance-enhancing drugs, about how baseball has been affected. I can't. I do not have nearly enough information to reach these conclusions, and I have no problems saying that no one else does, either. We don't know who took what substances when, save for a small handful of examples. We don't know what effects taking steroids has on baseball performance, and I'd argue that the limited information we have is conflicting at best.

At the end of today's interview on WHTK in Rochester, the host--who I should mention was very good about allowing me to make my case despite his disagreeing with it--said that he believed that Barry Bonds had been on steroids for some time, and that many other people do as well. He's right about that, as far as it goes: many people believe that Bonds used steroids.

The issue is that it's just a belief. If we're going to have these conversations, we need more than that. We should expect a higher standard than, "Well, he's a jerk, and he got bigger, and he hit a bunch of home runs, so he did it." Until we have more information, all the information, and can analyze this issue with the same rigor that we do this trade or that free-agent signing, it's incumbent upon us to make that most dissatisfying of statements:

I don't know.

--

With the book on its way to stores around the nation, everyone here at BP is revving up for a month of signings. There's a Web page in development that will list them all, but for my part, I wanted to mention that I'll be in Las Vegas next Thursday night with Will Carroll, as well as Dave Cokin from ESPN 920, signing books and talking baseball. The week after that, I'll be in New York City for events on the 9th, 12th and 14th, meeting and greeting with Steven Goldman and Chris Kahrl.

There are few parts of this that I enjoy more than meeting and talking to BP readers at events like this, so I hope you'll be able to come out and spend some time at these, or at the BP book signing nearest you next month.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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