07/23/2006: "Barry Bonds=Scapegoat"
BARRY BONDS: SCAPEGOAT
Written by Robert Bonnette
Email Robert Bonnette
It looks like the walls may be finally closing around Barry Bonds; amid rampant allegations and assumptions of steroid use, he is likely to be indicted by a federal grand jury for income tax evasion. So now you can add Al Capone to the list of people you can compare Bonds with; like Capone, the powers that be had to settle for nailing him on tax evasion because they werenít able to get anything else to stick. Of course, Barry has not been suspected of running a bootlegging operation or putting hits out on his competitors, so he and Capone really donít have much of anything in common. But as always, that hasnít stopped the usual suspects in the media from making this comparison.
The assault on Bonds has been in full swing since the BALCO investigations became public, and doesnít show any sign of letting up now. The talking heads have already rendered their verdict on Barry, despite there being no failed drug tests to substantiate any accusations, and have found him guilty as charged. Listen to some of the commentary about him, and you can sense the disdain in the voices of the writers, broadcasters, and even fans doing the talking. People hate this man, and that hatred has led them to convict him of crimes he has not officially been found guilty of, and to practically root for his possible imprisonment on tax evasion charges. They call into sports talk radio, write letters to newspapers, and send emails with their vitriol. No one gets people riled up like Bonds does.
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But unlike other hated athletes, his very performances in the field are being called into question. As lousy a human being as Ty Cobb was, and he was a lousy human being, no one called for him to be banned or have his numbers wiped from the record books. People got angry at Bonds because he reached second place in career home runs. Second place! Since when do we get mad at someone for finishing second instead of third or fourth? Usually we get mad because they didnít finish first; this is an entirely new thing here. Weíve allowed some hearsay and testimony from people with ulterior motives (like Bonds jilted ex-girlfriend and BALCO head Victor Conte, who was under indictment from the feds), and not a failed drug test, to decide that Bonds is guilty. Yes, I know heís about twice the size he was years ago, and that itís not middle age fat heís put on. But we had the same visual evidence about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, yet we all had no problem sticking our heads in the sand because they were nicer guys (at least on camera) and made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside while Bonds will just as soon curse you out as he will say something nice to you. Take a look at some before and after pictures of McGwire; the same transformation took place, only at an earlier point in his career. Yet we didnít really care until he more or less busted himself in front of Congress. Now we have self righteous writers like Rick Reilly at Sports Illustrated, the same guy who ambushed Sammy Sosa in the locker to try and get him to take a urine test then ripped him for not doing so (Would you go pee in a cup because some writer asked you to?), saying that Bonds entire career should be disregarded, even the years before he allegedly began taking steroids. What kind of nonsense is that?
And now the commissioner of baseball has reportedly decided that itís time to take action against Barry. There are strong rumors out there that if Bonds is indicted for tax evasion, Selig will slap him with a suspension, the length of which is yet to be determined. Of course the feds could end up giving Bonds a real suspension of a different kind, but thatís a whole other story. Bonds allegedly did not put down some money he made at card shows down as revenue so that he could be taxed for it. A lot of guys, especially retired players have gotten into hot water over this; it wasnít too long ago that former players Duke Snider and Willie McCovey got into a lot of trouble for this same offense. And while he did manage to escape an indictment just a few days ago for perjury, the grand juryís time is being extended so they can keep working. This looks more and more like a vendetta than anything else. The feds wonít leave him alone, and now Selig wants to take a shot at him as well. Selig wants to invoke the same rule that allowed baseball to ban the 1919 Chicago White Sox (also known as the Black Sox) for throwing the World Series and to ban Pete Rose for gambling back in 1989, the ďfor the good of the gameĒ clause. Basically, it says that we can throw you out of baseball if you do something that threatens the integrity of the game itself. That makes sense when youíre dealing with guys throwing games or betting on games while theyíre managing a team thatís playing in them. But suspending a player for something that took place off the field and does not affect anything on the field is just ridiculous.
Of course, the suspension wonít really be about tax evasion. It will be about steroids and the home run record. Selig and his cronies have been unable to nail Bonds for steroids, so theyíre resorting to this. In all honesty, when people look back on this in ten yeas they wonít remember that Bonds got suspended for tax evasion; theyíll think it was for steroids. Theyíll remember that Bonds was a suspected steroid user, and that he got suspended by the commissioner. I bet if Bonds goes to jail for tax evasion that a lot of people will think it was for steroids; remember, people donít remember that Pete Rose went to jail for tax evasion, either. They remember that Rose got banned from the game for gambling, and thatís about it. It takes some serious memory jogging to remember that he did time, and even more to recall that it wasnít for gambling. Iíd be willing to bet that are there are a lot of people who think he went to jail for gambling; the same logic will apply Bonds ten years from know, and Selig knows it. This suspension, should it come down, will be a backdoor method of taking down Bonds for steroids and stopping him from breaking the home run record. Donít believe anything else you hear.
The last thing Selig and his cronies want is for baseballís most hallowed statistic to be held by a man that most people (including me) believe to be a cheater. That is a marriage which would embarrass the sport for decades. It would be a Milli Vanilli situation; no one cares if you fake it unless you get in the history books. Then they have to acknowledge you, and knowingly acknowledging a fraud as if itís the genuine article is downright humiliating. Right now thereís no other way to stop it but to remove Bonds from the premises. He started out slow this season, leading many to think that he was at the end of the line and wouldnít make it. It looked like he may not have been able to pass Ruth; thatís how awful he was. But now heís up to 722 home runs, and if he finishes the season at 730 or higher he could break the record of 755 next year. The train is rolling now, and itís not going off the tracks. Unless someone takes it off the track, of course. At Bondsí age, 42 next week, it will be almost impossible to come back after a long layoff and resume the level of play necessary to get a good home run hitting streak going. He was out most of last season, and his batting average has fallen off considerably since his return. I would think that missing the rest of this season would mess things up entirely for him, putting him back at square one whenever he was allowed to come back, if heís allowed at all. Donít think thatís a coincidence, either; thatís the intent behind the whole thing. Any long disruption in play will all but end Bondsí chase to break Hank Aaronís record of 755 home runs, which is the desired result by everyone involved but Barry himself.
Barry Bonds has been designated as the man who must pay for the entire steroid era in baseball, mainly because people flat out donít like him. You would think that Bonds cooked up all the steroids in a lab, and then forced players at gunpoint to take them. There was rampant use of performance enhancers in baseball before Bonds is alleged to have started taking them, and there still is today despite anything Bud Selig says. Yet we hear more than twice as much about Bonds than we do about anyone else. Jose Canseco flat out admitted it, Rafael Palmeiro was busted, and Mark McGwire got in front of Congress and declined to talk about it. Yet those men are always mentioned as sidebars to Bonds. Ken Caminiti dropped dead a few years ago from steroid abuse and got a fraction of the coverage Bonds does now. The players whoíve failed actual tests get little to no mention, yet Bonds get the front page simply because someone else said he used them. And now Bud Selig reportedly wants to suspend him, evoking the ďfor the good of the gameĒ clause, if he gets indicted. I want to know just how suspending Bonds for an indictment on a white collar crime where he will likely plead out and write a big check helps baseball. I also want to know when weíre going to get a suspension from Bud for pitcher Bret Myers, who was arrested on charges of spousal abuse. Gee, whatís worse for baseball, having a guy indicted for tax evasion or arrested for beating his wife? I think we already know the answer to that question.