September 13, 2005
Transaction of the Day
Barry Bonds' Return
Activated LF-L Barry Bonds from the 60-day DL. [9/12]
I guess I'll lead off by saying that I don't know Barry Bonds. I'd be genuinely surprised if any of us do.
Who are we supposed to believe when we discuss Bonds? Someone like Ray Ratto, or someone who's described Bonds to me as a man with two commitments--his children and his job--that he takes extremely seriously? Myself, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone I haven't met, virtually or in the flesh, and I'm especially willing to give that benefit to those whose personality we know merely from a collection of jock sniffers and the more dim bulbs manufactured by our nation's journalism schools. Add in the race angle, and I'm confident in saying that we know Barry Bonds about as well as we know Alexander the Great.
As for Bonds' involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, I won't disagree that there are doubts, nor would I suggest that there shouldn't be. But I guess when talk drifts over to how we celebrate records and how they're set, I cannot help but think how Rickey Henderson was treated for setting the stolen base record while not saying anything particularly offensive afterwards, or how his setting the runs record was effectively overlooked. I think back on the glum "celebration" that was perfunctorily executed in 1997 in memory of Jackie Robinson, a bit of badly manufactured schmaltz used as a crutch for an industry more concerned with finding a marketing hook to erase memories of '94 than anything else.
These things bring me to the conclusion that, however sad it may be to acknowledge, race still matters. I think it's fair to say that any coming celebration of Bonds had already been subverted by people far too ready to diminish his achievements. As a result, I would not worry overmuch about the fanfaronade to come. It promises to be an odd, awkward moment of...probably not celebration, but perhaps simply acknowledgment. Not that I suggest we throw Bonds a pity party over it, but it was probably already certain to be exactly that, an acknowledgment, and PEDs make up only a small part of what was already going to be an unfortunate and perhaps ugly narrative.
For me, steroids is like cocaine was in the early '80s. It's a spectacular issue, which is to say, it is a spectacle. I don't think we can say with absolute confidence what either substance (or amphetamines) do to player performance. I don't think we can prove that any of these things perverted the game, or that they reflect anything more than that the game is played by our fellow men, prone to the same temptations, the same errors of judgment and the same mistakes. Perhaps my view is overly broad, but if the game does have a problem, however large or small, it's been identified and it's being fixed. Would that all social ills were so readily addressed, however belatedly, tentatively or imperfectly.
Bonds is caught in a bind: he'll never overcome reasonable doubt, so instead of being presumed innocent, he will always be condemned by a large number of people, for reasons as varied as reasonable doubt to conditioned dislike to overt racism, to name a few of what might be an unlimited range of possible responses to Bonds setting the home-run record. My problem is that I will never escape my doubt: to what extent Barry Bonds was condemned from the start, and how too-ready the media was to go for a rope.
If Bonds is guilty--if--then he joins a long list of tainted men in the game's pantheon. If he's guilty, he's a great player and a reflection of his time. And lest we make too much of contemporary wrongs relative to someone like, say, Cap Anson, he would be merely guilty of a stupid little thing, the full measure of which we'll never know, and not something fundamentally evil (the full measure of which we'll also never know). But that's me: beyond a certain curiosity for trivia, I could care less about the record book. It is already a product of an injustice, from before your birth or mine.
Which leaves the last question of the day, the one that I would suggest matters most: can Bonds help the Giants win now? As our own Will Carroll has noted, he's ready to play. He may start a dozen or 15 of the remaining games, perhaps more or less depending on how much the games continue to matter. Should the Giants get to within five games by the time that four-game series against the Padres comes up on the schedule at the end of the month, I probably wouldn't be alone in fearing for the Pads' odds. Bonds at even a fraction of the importance of being Barry is still a massive lineup upgrade on some combination of Todd Linden, Dan Ortmeier and Edgardo Alfonzo, even if he's intentionally walked every time up. I don't know about you, but that's the story I find exciting: what happened on the diamond last night. For that, I'm glad.