The Morning Report
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Barry Bonds has his 755th home run. Thanks much, and back to the minors you go, Clay Hensley.
Whoopie for San Diego. Bonds ties Hank Aaron, right here in our own backyard, and it’s smiles and high fives all around. The Padres faithful were mostly polite and appreciative, Barry was magnanimous in the post-game press conference, his children had a fine time, and everything was just hunky dory. Alone with his thoughts and Grinch-like, stood Commissioner Bud Selig, hands in his pockets, not about to celebrate in any way, shape, or form.
Ambivalence runs amok. The media, like the rest of us, is all over the place on this one. In one corner, Bonds is the greatest slugger of all time; in another, he’s a cheater, a liar, a crook and an adulterer. A perjurer and tax evader too.
Just hours after Bonds touches home plate, along comes ex-Padres catcher, and former Bonds teammate Brian Johnson, to throw cold water on the fire. Or perhaps butane. In fairness to Johnson, ESPN had the interview in the can some time ago, and chose the occasion of number 755 to air it on its “Outside the Lines” program Sunday.
Johnson said this: “It was kind of a cloak-and-dagger society. Guys that were taking knew of each other and talked about things among themselves…What I saw was that guys who were taking would never admit it, would never allow anybody to see. But it was pretty obvious to all of us that they were taking…Some people sold their soul to the devil and other people didn’t.”
The subject of race is also to be debated. Not the pennant race, of course, because Bonds’ San Francisco Giants have no such ambitions at the moment. Come to think of it, the Giants are the only team in the National League West uninvolved in the primary reason for playing the game in the first place.
But this story is about the other type of race too. You know, where color of skin comes into play. That race is an element of the equation. It’s a complicated equation, but race is a factor. To ignore it is just plain silly.
Look, Bonds is no Jackie Robinson. He’s no Martin Luther King, Jr. Arguably, Bonds is no Henry Aaron either, but there are people in this country who rile against Bonds because of the color of his skin.
Yahoo Sports baseball writer Jeff Passan, and others have touched on the race issue to a degree, and I have no answers as to the whys and wherefores. I wish I did.
Some might argue that since Aaron is a black man too, how can this possibly be about race? That’s a good question, actually, and all I’m saying is that the feeling exists. There is something out there. To ignore it is just plain silly.
Meanwhile, the baseball commissioner has no asterisk up his sleeve this time. He has George Mitchell’s investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in the sport instead, and it’s coming to a Barnes and Noble near you in the not to distant future. No doubt Selig has seen the previews.
My personal feeling, and please remember this is commentary, is as follows: I’m with Brian Johnson and Bud Selig. Sorry, but I am. I think Bonds is a cheat and a liar. I know he’s a San Francisco Giant, and I don’t want him homering against my team. I will neither cheer nor boo, but I don’t want him homering against my team. I don’t want him singling or doubling or making a game-saving catch against my team either.
I would have preferred Henry Aaron keep his record.
And you know what else? These are really bad drugs we’re talking about here. Really, really bad. Forget home run records for a minute. We’re going to see heart attacks and strokes and cancer and unexplained early death.
New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi admitted his drug use, and even apologized for it. When he was playing badly, the Yanks wanted out of his contract. When Giambi began to hit the baseball better, away went their protestations.
When the Angels were being widely criticized for signing Gary Matthews, Jr. to a gaudy $50-something million contract last winter, team owner Arte Moreno was publicly horrified to learn of Matthews’ name being linked to performance enhancing drugs. When the player got out of the gate fast in April, smacking the baseball every which way but loose, nothing but quiet from Mr. Moreno.
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa had Jose Canseco in Oakland, and Mark McGwire, in two clubhouses, under his command, and suspected nothing. The Padres had Ken Caminiti, and general manager Kevin Towers admitted years later to having an inkling. He did nothing, but he had an idea.
A little co-dependency between baseball management and its employees here? Ya think?
If you’re excited about Barry Bonds and his 755 home runs, and tickled that he tied the record in San Diego, enjoy yourself. No one’s stopping you.
If you think Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi and Ken Caminiti will be the only sluggers to come out of the proverbial medicine closet, and that the cheating and reckless treatment of the human body have gone no further, that’s your prerogative.
I merely suggest you prepare yourself for what is about to occur. Bonds will hit another home run, stand alone at 756, and eventually ride off into the sunset.
Non-star players like Tigers shortstop Neifi Perez, who just received an 80-game suspension for his third offense, and ironically, Clay Hensley, who was cited in 2005 for a drug infraction of his own, will continue to test positive for banned substances. Superstars like Barry Bonds will not be so blemished. Go figure.
More players like Brian Johnson will step forward, as will others like Jason Giambi and Jose Canseco. Then Senator Mitchell will publish his report, and the earth will shake beneath all of baseball. Luckily, San Francisco has some experience preparing for such things.
— HOWARD COLE