Okay, so what if Barry Bonds surpasses Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list. Big deal, you might say. But it is a big deal. We're talking 714 home runs, one of the most venerated milestones in all of sports compiled by an enduring American icon.
To a baseball fan born before 1970 or so, it was the record to end all records, an impossible standard that, at one time, represented more than twice as many home runs as the next guy on the all-time list. That Willie Mays briefly threatened it, and Hank Aaron eventually broke it, doesn't diminish the impact of that 714 mark, just as Bonds' total doesn't dim the light that still shines on the Babe's career.
In fact, in Bonds' case, it's just the opposite because I believe Barry Bonds cheated in order to get where he is today. Say what you will about Babe Ruth, but nobody's ever called him a cheater. He played by the rules.
Barry Bonds admits that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Knowingly, unknowingly, it doesn't matter. Anyway, it shouldn't. You mark your card wrong in golf, you're disqualified. End of story. It doesn't matter if you did it on purpose or by honest mistake. And nobody ever questions whether or not you deserve to be disqualified because the rules are the rules and there's a time-honored integrity to the game.
Baseball seems to have lost that integrity, and if the game's leaders don't do something to reverse, reject or recalculate the records that are now being broken by players who have admitted to breaking the rules, they're sending a message to our young people that cheating pays.
Already, that message has taken hold. Just look at the numbers. Between 1999 and 2003 — the most recent period for which statistics are available — there was an astonishing 65 percent increase in the use of steroids among male high school athletes. Why? Because these kids see superstars like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and others growing rich and legendary with these drugs and figure they can cash in on some of the same. Because we don't hold these ballplayers accountable.
Now, I'm a baseball fan, so I know how difficult it would be to toss out certain records compiled by certain players in a given era while allowing others to stand. It's unwieldy, unworkable. But there ought to be an asterisk, don't you think? There ought to be some way to put a stain on these marks, the same way these guys have put a stain on the game.
I mean, come on, they put a lien on Roger Maris' single-season home run record just because he had the audacity to go the Babe one better, hitting 61 homers in a 162-game season to eclipse Ruth's 60 in a 154-game campaign.
But I'm not just a fan. I'm also a realist. These guys who call the shots in baseball are never going to take the lead on this one. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig might signal his disapproval by failing to attend a Giants-Brewers game in his home stadium, just steps from his office, when Bonds was poised to pass Ruth, but subtle signals simply don't cut it.
I'll tell you another thing that's not going to happen. Barry Bonds himself won't stand and disqualify himself from the record books. He should, but he won't. Imagine the powerful statement he could make if he stepped out of his dour persona, admitted that he took these steroids — as meticulously detailed in the book "Game of Shadows" by San Francisco Chronicle journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams — and renounced his own accomplishments.
Realize, I'm not suggesting that Bonds disqualify himself from the game. Let him continue to play and help his team chase a pennant and subject himself to the drug testing polices now in place, but at the same time let him distance himself from any claim to any all-time records. Let him stand and be accountable. But like I said, that's not about to happen, is it? It's the very definition of "fat chance."
So what's a fan and a realist to do? Well, I say we treat guys like Barry Bonds with a snub of our own and a stand of our own because at the end of the day it's these individual acts of principle that make all the difference. I'm not suggesting that you boycott the games, but I certainly won't be attending any games in which Barry Bonds is playing.
But we can all make a commitment that if your kid comes up to you and tells you he wants to wear Barry Bonds' jersey, tell him you're not going to buy it for him. Help him find someone else to celebrate and revere, someone who plays by the rules. When Bonds comes to town and sends one over the fence, don't stand and cheer. Give Bonds the same silent treatment he dishes out to the media. Offer him the same disregard he seems to show the game itself. Don't watch his show on ESPN. Don't ask for his autograph. Don't pay him the slightest bit of attention. Shake your head and move on, and encourage your kids to seek out more appropriate role models.
He's ignored the rules, so let's ignore him. Don't wait for Major League Baseball to do it for you. Stand for something.
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