By Charlie Vascellaro
Last week I turned 42, which makes me just about two months older than Barry Bonds. While I consider myself to be in pretty good physical condition, I can’t help but wonder what taking steroids could do for me.
I’m not, and have never been, a professional baseball player. I played little league as a kid, got cut from the high school team during the second round of tryouts, played adult slow pitch softball, and returned to little league as a coach and umpire. It’s been a while since I actually played baseball, but maybe with the assistance of some performance enhancing drugs, and some heavy lifting, I could make a comeback.
I have a semi-regular exercise regimen consisting of running, biking, doing pushups and dumbbell curls. I eat a healthy well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and proteins. My muscles are taut and sinewy if not huge. I’m strong enough to move furniture, carry heavy bags, open tight lids on jars, and give a firm handshake. But, I do not, however, have the kind of physique that strikes fear in the hearts of men.
Like any baseball fan, I have fantasized about filling out Bonds' uniform and knowing what it feels like to pop baseballs off the barrel of my bat and send them flying out of major league ballparks, then spend a night on the town after the game with Bonds-sized guns busting out of my shirtsleeves while everyone gives me a little extra room to pass by.
If I started taking steroids and suddenly gained a mass of muscle, I’m sure people would notice the change and suspect I might be using a chemical substance. It would most likely come as a surprise if I acquired the ability to knock home runs and made it to the majors at my age. Eventually, my accomplishments would probably be scrutinized and perhaps people would think that they were achieved with some artificial assistance. But, it would still be worth it to spend some time in Barry’s shoes.
Judging by the reaction of baseball fans in Oakland to his 714th home run, a sustained standing ovation for a visiting player in a home ballpark, the general acceptance of his peers and the Major League Baseball establishment, it appears worth it to Bonds as well. What steroid scandal? A few extra reporters following him around before and after games, a smattering of hostile fans occasionally expressing their disdain with boos and jocular home made banners and signs while he’s on the road.
The Major League Baseball Players Association has also got Bonds’ back with most members of this elite fraternity showing their support in the form of "no comment" on the steroid allegations while standing in awe of his ability. The Commissioner’s office treaded carefully around the topic of Bonds' 714th and 715th home runs, correctly noting that passing Babe Ruth for the second spot on the all-time list does not mean that he has broken the home run record, while crossing its fingers that he doesn’t pass Hank Aaron’s mark of 755.
Last week, the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Babe’s final three home runs. That’s right the Bambino bashed his last three long balls in the same game. Bonds equaled Ruth’s total just a few days before the anniversary. Even the keepers of the Ruth shrine are delicate and diplomatic in delivering their comments on Bonds. Speaking on behalf of Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe’s 89-year-old adopted daughter, museum director Michael Gibbons related her official opinion on Bonds.
"Julia said that Daddy knew that records were meant to be broken and that if his records were to be broken, he would be the first in line to applaud the guy and give him a shake as long as it wasn’t a tainted effort," Gibbons said. "She said as far as Barry goes, the reason that the family is keeping an arm’s length away from San Francisco is that they don’t feel comfortable accepting an invitation to the ballpark to personally congratulate Barry because they don’t think the Babe would have been comfortable with them doing that until baseball makes some kind of determination about steroids and whether Barry is complicit in all of this or not."
A popular catch phrase appearing on banners in ballparks when Bonds is in town reads: "Babe did it on hot dogs and beer." Bourbon, bimbos, Bromo Seltzer and penicillin could rightfully be added to the list.
But would the Babe have done it on steroids had they been available during his day?
With all that the Babe ingested, the guess from this corner is probably yes. The lure and temptation would have been just as hard to resist for players of Ruth’s era as they are today. Ball players by their nature have historically sought a leg up on the competition, be it in the form of a greased ball, a corked bat, greenies (amphetamines) or Willie Mays’ "red juice."
Despite Major League Baseball’s supposed investigation of the possible use of steroids by Bonds and others, like the "Teflon Don," none of the charges seem to stick. Like Rafael Palmiero, Bonds made the small consolation of using something that he claims to have not realized at the time to be a steroid. That’s about all anyone’s been able to pin on him so far. And so with each home run Bonds hits the steroid story seems to simmer rather than sizzle until, of course, he approaches Aaron’s mark. As for the present and immediate future Bonds will remain in a relative state of limbo or purgatory until the judgment day arrives if and when he hits 755.
The Baseball Tonight guys on ESPN stop short of denouncing his accomplishments concluding their remarks with superlative declarations of his greatness, correctly describing him as the greatest hitter of his generation, a sentiment echoed even at the Babe Ruth Museum.
"Barry Bonds is the number one baseball player, he is the most recognized guy, he is up on a pedestal because he has achieved these Ruthian numbers more than any other guy so the focus is on him more than any body else," said Gibbons.
While his early season numbers this year may be indicative that Bonds is approaching the twilight of his career, his accomplishments give him elite status among all major leaguers. His only rival recently has beem Albert Pujols, to whom Bonds has officially passed the torch after dominating all of Major League Baseball and obliterating most slugging records during the last decade.
So, that’s why I’m going on steroids, that and because chicks dig the long ball. And because like the Babe himself said, "There’s more jack in it."
Issue 1.6: June 1, 2006