“(Barry Bonds) was convicted of obstruction of justice on a reed-thin argument that he had tried to deprive a jury of the truth….Bonds appealed, and last month a federal appeals court in California appeared to signal unease with his conviction…

…“I don’t see how there is sufficient evidence” of obstruction, Judge Susan P. Graber said, “where the question was re-asked immediately and answered repeatedly.”…Larry Baer, the Giants’ chief executive, offers a straightforward bottom line: “It’s silly to make Bonds a pariah.””, Michael Powell, “For Barry Bonds, A Decade of Inflated Blame for the Steroid Era”, New York Times

Baseball

For Barry Bonds, a Decade of Inflated Blame for the Steroid Era

Barry Bonds threw out the first pitch before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series last week in San Francisco. Credit Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

By MICHAEL POWELL

Welcome back, Barry, you old rogue.

The former Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, recovering from hip surgery and looking sleeker than he had in years, hobbled to the pitching mound before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series last week in San Francisco and tossed out the first pitch to raucous applause. By doing so, he took another step back from the baseball wastelands, where he has roamed for more than a decade as the peerless outlaw of the Age of Steroids.

Last March, at the team’s invitation, the Giants said Bonds would appear at spring training as a hitting instructor. Bud Selig was not amused. He was about to commence his celebratory final round as commissioner, and Bonds was an unwelcome reminder of Selig’s many embarrassments.

Selig talked angrily by phone with Giants officials, according to people in Major League Baseball.

I hope Giants executives giggled into the receiver.

Baseball’s bonfire of the hypocrisies has burned bright. This past summer, the former manager Tony La Russa, the Great Enabler, was installed in the Hall of Fame. Over two decades, La Russa pulled off a feat of nonobservation of the human condition. He oversaw the careers of the grandest hulks of the age of injectables, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, without noticing anything amiss.

Bonds, sleeker than he appeared in his playing days, was recovering from hip surgery. Credit Harry How/Getty Images

I assume that during his time managing the Oakland Athletics, La Russa avoided the players’ bathroom, which by Canseco’s telling was his favorite spot for trading steroid shots in the buttocks with McGwire. (O.K., in fairness, I don’t recall the sainted Joe Torre blowing the whistle on his players, either.)

The divisional round of this year’s N.L. playoffs featured Matt Williams, the Nationals’ manager and a former Giants third baseman who was named in baseball’s 2007 report on steroid use and told The San Francisco Chronicle that he had used human growth hormone to heal an ankle injury.

The Orioles arrived in the American League playoffs riding the broad shoulders of Nelson Cruz, who served a 50-game suspension in the 2013 season in connection with performance-enhancing drugs. The Cardinals ran Jhonny Peralta out to shortstop; he, too, took a 50-game P.E.D. sabbatical in 2013.

The Dodgers, who had a playoff cameo, featured McGwire as their hitting coach.

Selig, who became acting commissioner in 1992, presided over all of this. He led baseball into its age of darkness and — pushed by congressional hearings and federal investigations — back toward the light. Now he cultivates a reputation as the Man Who Restored Baseball’s Good Name.

The political columnist George Will got an early jump on the Bud love, saying a decade ago: “When people ask you, ‘When was baseball’s golden age?’ The answer is, ‘You’re living in it.’ ” To nod your head in agreement requires swallowing an overdose of forget-what-you-know pills, or perhaps affixing your bow tie a touch too tight.

Baseball enjoys a legal immunity to the antitrust laws that govern American capitalism. Building on that advantage, Selig tried repeatedly to bring the players union to heel, weathering the longest strike in baseball history and canceling the World Series. His predecessor as commissioner, Fay Vincent, accused Selig, who owned the Brewers at the time, of colluding with other owners to drive down salaries.

Having defaced the game, baseball owners needed to recoup. So they suffered sudden-onset blindness toward steroids. By the middle to late 1990s, players had ballooned, and home runs were flying off the bats of once-bantamweight players. Owners clapped, beside themselves as attendance climbed.

Selig refined the shakedown of municipalities in a fashion that would bring a knowing smile to the face of a loan shark. He led by example. When he wanted a new stadium in Milwaukee, he pledged in the beginning to build it with his own money; in the end, he hired an army of lobbyists, and the public footed most of the bill.

Then he sold the team and made a splendid killing.

All of which, by way of a choleric digression, brings me back to Bonds. I seek no cans of whitewash. I harbor few doubts that Bonds ingested, shot up or applied vaporous substances that left his body as bloated as Popeye’s. As Bonds launched moonshots into McCovey Cove, I hollered at the television set, angry that the chemically induced were pushing Henry Aaron into the home run shadows.

These are dangerous drugs. Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, two potential Hall of Fame players who ruined themselves on the chemical shoals, have sought counterbalancing drugs to try to restore their hormone levels.

Yet Bonds was our saddest case. Graceful and fast, with a flicker-quick swing, he dominated. But he apparently could not tolerate the sight of those meat-slab hackers, Sammy Sosa and McGwire, going around the country conducting home run derbies.

So he allegedly began to use. Give a chemical advantage to good players, and they become very good. Give an advantage to the likes of Bonds, and he becomes a figure out of Greek myth. His production soared so high as to force a recognition that something was askew.

In time, the sport’s grandest player became a symbol of its fall. He was convicted of obstruction of justice on a reed-thin argument that he had tried to deprive a jury of the truth. That, surely, could be said of most defendants. People tend not to want to admit wrongdoing.

Bonds appealed, and last month a federal appeals court in California appeared to signal unease with his conviction. “I don’t see how there is sufficient evidence” of obstruction, Judge Susan P. Graber said, “where the question was re-asked immediately and answered repeatedly.”

Larry Baer, the Giants’ chief executive, offers a straightforward bottom line: “It’s silly to make Bonds a pariah.”

Baseball at its apex is a reverie, a slow unfolding of athletic art. Two deeply entertaining and punchless post-steroid-era teams, the Kansas City Royals and the Giants, will face off in the World Series. Even if the playoffs now are numbing and endless (another Selig legacy) and television viewership is plummeting like a rock, I’ll tune in for fine baseball.

But before we sing another round of that saccharine “God Bless America,” let’s pause and bow to baseball’s reality these past few decades.

Welcome back, Barry.

Posted on October 21, 2014, in Postings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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