We have demanded honesty from our athletes, now it’s time for us to be honest too. We never really cared much about steroids in the first place, and we’ll all owe a big thanks to Barry Bonds if baseball finally does clean up their act.
First of all, we never really liked Barry to begin with. Long before steroids came into the mix America was already convinced that he was a first class jerk, but still arguably one of the greatest players of all time. With or without the juice, Barry Bonds would have never gotten a break from the fans or media anyway. By blowing his body up to cartoonish proportions while rewriting the record book, he just gave us a reason to justify that hate. That is if you weren’t convinced by his arrogance, unfriendly behavior toward the fans and media or his inability to get along with his teammates.
But if we are really honest with ourselves, than we have to admit that we knew about steroids in baseball a long time ago, and we largely didn’t care. When Jose Canseco was in his prime, you had to be blind not to see that he was using the stuff. We knew it about Giambi too, and figured as much about a bunch of others. It was a nice sideshow and we didn’t see much harm in it.
America loved the increased offense, and based on what we knew about steroids, most figured that these guys would burn out and start pulling muscles long before they were able to seriously threaten our precious record book. Baseball fans have always been particularly protective of their record book, but no one had hit 50 homeruns since 1972 before the steroid era came about, and we were ready for someone to threaten the single season record. Roger Maris was never all that beloved in the first place, and we were ready for someone to at least threaten his place in history.
Meanwhile, Barry Bonds was going about his business, presumably clean, and doing nothing to endear himself to the fans or media other than putting up monumental numbers. He saw Canseco come and go, he saw Giambi reach prominence and watched as Sosa and McGwire did chase and eclipse Maris’ single season record. At the time, the outcry against steroids was minimal.
Debbie Clemens took HGH to look good in her bikini, why aren’t we more appalled by that? You can go to nearly any gym in America and find a hookup for the juice. It’s safe to say the odds of finding steroids in your neighborhood gym are much higher than the odds of bumping into a professional athlete there. For years Americans have been using steroids for cosmetic purposes and no one seems to care much. Steroids aren’t making most of these guys better at their jobs, they aren’t helping them to earn money, yet people are willing to risk whatever long term side effects might exist simply to look better. How could we not expect people to use them if it would make them better at their jobs and help them to earn millions more dollars over the course of their career? How could we not expect an aging minor leaguer whose career may be in the balance not to be tempted? How could you not expect someone who sees his competitors benefiting from the effects of steroids without punishment to not give in?
We weren’t just ignoring the problem we were excusing and condoning it. We basked in the homerun chase, we called Canseco a hack starved for attention and trying to make a buck off of his brethren. After all, all of the steroids in the world wouldn’t make me a major leaguer. Steroids don’t so anything for hand eye coordination, steroids won’t help you hit a curve ball. And we mostly suspected the hitters; few thought that steroids could help you throw a curve ball too.
And so we went on, happy in our ignorance. Believing that Sammy Sosa could gain 60 pounds of muscle over 3 years, believing that Brady Anderson really had become a 50-homerun guy by doing focusing exercises. We believed that Canseco’s account was overblown and we discounted the overall benefit of using them in baseball. Than along came the resurgence of Barry Bonds.
If you doubted the benefits of steroids in baseball prior to Bonds, he would make it impossible to ignore after unleashing his second coming on baseball and it’s record book. A perennial MVP candidate since he burst onto the scene with the Pirates in the late 80’s, Bonds was a smooth and consistent 5 tool player with steady yet modest power. Bonds always seemed to be in the mid 30’s in homeruns, but only hit 40 or more homers 3 times before 2000. His speed and wiry frame led few to suspect that he was using any type of performance enhancers prior to 1999.
After a modest drop off in production, Bonds came back with a fury and put up numbers between 2000 and 2004 that dwarf any other season in his already hall of fame worthy career. Bonds unlikely physique left little doubt as to where the power surge came from.
If steroids had simply been able to sustain Bonds numbers through that stretch, I’d be sold on their benefits. The improvement in his numbers at a point in his career when his body was seemingly on the decline makes the benefits impossible to ignore. And that is what we’ll have to thank Bonds for.
Whether you love him, hate him or fall somewhere in between, there’s no denying that Bonds was great baseball player even before steroids. On steroids, Bonds was the best of all time. The seasons that Bonds had between the ages of 36 and 41 stand above any other 5 year stretch by any player in the history of baseball. Purposely or not, Bonds provided the perfect case study of steroids in baseball. He was the control and the experiment, control had the benefit of youth and more protection in the lineup, and experiment still blew control away.
So thank you Barry Bonds. Thank you for not giving in to steroids earlier in your career. If you had started juicing at 30 there would be no more record book, at 25 you would have made a mockery of the book, your competition and baseball in general. Thanks for using the juice to presumably preserve your career rather than simply to enhance the talent you obviously had already.
But even more so, thanks for finally giving in and doing it in a big way. Without you we could have gone on in denial forever. Denying that more than good genetics were at work here, and denying that steroids helped baseball players “that much”. We never really cared about steroids we just hated you; by using them you simply justified that hate. But you also made us realize the problem that we actually had on our hands, and made us take the first steps in fixing it. And thank you for some pretty entertaining baseball too, artificially enhanced or not, those were some amazing seasons. With or without steroids in baseball we’ll likely never see anything like that again.
And if baseball does fix it’s steroid problem, it will have Bonds to thank.