Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, the same paper whose reporters are the authors of a soon-to-be-released book on Barry Bonds.
We're not going to ask you how you feel about Barry Bonds. That is something between you, your clergyman, and the guy who draws your beer at Dexter's Midnite Lounge.
But in the landmine of public opinion re-stirred by the excerpts from Game Of Shadows, the book detailing Bonds' use of steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancers, by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, maybe a road map guiding you through the opinions of others would help.
Therefore, we provide this handy primer on tells in the Bonds opinion thicket. Print, clip and save -- probably over the magnet pictures of your kids on the refrigerator door.
- If someone mentions the name Kimberly Bell in the first sentence, he or she is a Bonds defender. Bell, Bonds' mistress through much of the time frame of the book, is being portrayed as the tramp scorned, willing to say anything to avenge her honor and fatten her wallet, when in fact any basic reading of the excerpt shows that her role was in corroborating facts already in evidence, and that she isn't the linchpin of the case against Bonds. Besides, the tapes she provided the federal government can't be dismissed as the standard sexist "just a girl with her ankles in the air" stuff, unless someone can show that they've been doctored. These tapes have been available for examination for months, and nobody has questioned their veracity to date, so Bonds' defenders can't make that go away without putting their hands over their ears and yelling to drown out the ambient noise.
- If someone uses the phrase "the integrity of the game," he or she is a Bonds attacker. In fact, there is plenty of lack of integrity to go all around here, from Bud Selig, through Don Fehr, through 30 owners and general managers and trainers and fellow players and media and, yes, fans. Nobody gets out clean, period.
- If someone says the authors did it for the money, he or she is a Bonds defender. In fact, they will be paid for their work, but cashing a check does not invalidate the evidence. Only proving it wrong invalidates the evidence, and nobody is doing that.
- If someone says this jeopardizes the legitimacy of the record books and the Hall of Fame, he or she is a Bonds attacker. But "jeopardizes" is a loaded word, not to mention dishonest, because the record books record numbers and leave the contextualizing to the person reading the numbers, and the Hall of Fame tells the story of baseball, period. After all, Ty Cobb, Cap Anson and Kenesaw Mountain Landis were roaring racists as well as important figures in the game, and Charles Comiskey was an exploiter and aware of gambling during the teens and '20s, and Gaylord Perry loaded half the balls he ever threw, and the so-called steroid era was preceded by the amphetamine era. In other words, baseball is a warts-and-all proposition, and should be viewed in that prism.
- If someone says "Well, what about McGwire and Sosa and Palmeiro and all the others?" he or she is a Bonds defender. And correct. This was a game-wide scandal, one which precedes Bonds by at least a decade. But Bonds seems to have joined the needle party with a clear head and firm intentions, and his great mistake, the one that separates him from the others, was in choosing facilitators who didn't pay their taxes and left the evidence lying around for every Tom, Dick and Fed to find.
- If someone says Bonds should be kept out of the Hall of Fame ... well, you know. Only Bonds didn't do these deeds in a vacuum. He hit home runs off pitchers who used steroids, and he watched home runs from left field hit by other men using steroids. If he's out, then logic demands that nobody gets in. In fact, given that pitcher Tom House told the Chronicle last year that he knew about steroid use in the early '70s, the "era" clearly goes back more than three decades, and let your minds wrap around that awhile.
- If someone says Bonds is a target because he didn't play ball with the media, he or she is a Bonds defender. That is wrong, because he became the target when Victor Conte and the BALCO elves left their work out to be seized. Bonds, though, is also the sexiest figure of the past eight years in baseball, so the magnitude of the story is far greater than if BALCO's biggest client had been, say, Benito Santiago, or Ryan Franklin. There are medioids taking great pleasure in his discomfort, and they have largely tipped their hands long before this, but the first rule of fame still applies -- Never Do Anything You'll Be Ashamed To Have To Explain Later.
- If someone says baseball has been betrayed as a sham and a fraud, he or she is a Bonds attacker. Now if you believe that, then every other sport save chess, curling or poker is equally suspect. Bigger/Stronger/Faster is coin of the realm in most athletic endeavors, and nobody typically quibbles about the price until it is too late.
- And if someone tells you, "I need a drink to make my head stop throbbing," take them up on it. You'll need it.