Thursday, February 22, 2007

Welcome Back Barry – We’re Glad you’re here for a while


Regular readers of this blog Report know there are two certainties in reading the Insider Report – Gary Bettman is Howard Bloom’s least favorite “leader” in sports and SBN is one of the few outlets that support Barry Bonds on a regular basis. Tuesday Barry Bonds reported to the San Francisco Giants training camp for what is surely to the most talked about baseball season for one baseball player. Barry Bonds the symbol for Major League Baseball’s steroid era, regardless of having never tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs is poised to establish the career home run mark.

Bonds reported to the Giants Scottsdale, Arizona spring training facility greeted by more than 50 media members.

"I'm ready," Bonds proclaimed to MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom, tossing his hands up in the air as a media throng and a small gathering of fans looked on.

"Now I need only 21 [to pass Aaron]," said Bonds, who goes into the season with 734 homers -- Aaron finished with 755. "That one counts."

If nothing else Barry hasn’t lost his sense of humor. The Giants signed Barry Zito to a $126 million free agent contract during the off season. After Bonds hit a home run off another Giants pitcher (Matt Cain) Bonds and Zito retreated to the Giants clubhouse emerging moments later with both men wearing T-shirts that read on the back: "DON'T ASK ME...ASK BARRY!" An arrow below pointed at Bonds on the right side and Zito on the left.

"I'm sure I'm going to break the record this year," Bonds, who needs 22 homers to surpass Hank Aaron's mark of 755 told the media in January during a golfing vacation in the Dominican Republic. "But right now I'm just thinking about golf."

The latest storm involving Bonds surrounds news that Bonds tested positive for amphetamines in 2006. As amazing as it seems, of the 3,000 players (major and minor leaguers) tested last year, only Bonds tested positive. That is statistical impossibility. That Barry Bonds was the only player ‘sources’ revealed had tested positive for the use of amphetamines is statistical certainty and one that reeks of the personal and professional vendetta people within baseball and the media have for Barry Bonds.

That the media have long had serious issues with Barry Bonds isn’t a surprise. Early in January after Kevin V. Ryan, the federal prosecutor (the lawyer responsible for the BALCO case) announced he was leaving his current post, much of the media attention focused on not where the BALCO case was heading but where next for the Bonds BALCO case, a subtle but important distinction.

"I don't know what the future holds for me," Ryan told USA TODAY, "but when I leave, this (investigation) won't just fall off the map. The infrastructure is in place. We have good prosecutors on it. A good review process. Good institutional knowledge. So when I move on, there are those that can carry forward with it without a problem.

"I think we have had a tremendous impact in this case, and I understand there still needs to be open dialogue and debate about it. For those reasons, I'm still interested. If the opportunity presents itself in the future that I can still be involved in it, I'll avail myself to it."

Ryan’s investigation into Bonds was in the news six months ago. Ryan originally had until July 31 to hand down an indictment relating to Federal charges against Bonds in either the BALCO case of alleged charges of tax evasion and perjury. Bonds lawyer Laura Enos told The Associated Press in July, "We are very prepared," Enos said. "We have excellent tax records and we are very comfortable that he has not shortchanged the government at all."

And when Barry arrived at the Giants training camp the essence of what he said to the media according to MLB.com ‘bring it on’.

"It doesn't bother me at all. It's you guys [the media] talking."

When told that it was the government, not the media, investigating him, Bonds added:

"That's all right. Let them investigate. Let 'em. They've been doing it this long."

The media self proclaimed guardians of the diamond continue their relentless pursuit not for “truth, justice and their version of what the American way is” but “what do we have to do put get Barry behind bars – preferably sooner rather than later.

The New York Times went back to the history books and spoke with Jerry Johnson, who as the United States attorney in Pittsburgh prosecuted the baseball cocaine cases in 1985 for his opinion of whether or not the media’s dream of “Fantasy Jail time” for Barry is about to happen.

“That kind of thing happens in U. S. attorneys’ offices,” he said in a telephone interview earlier this week. Then he explained the philosophy of the man in charge: “My name is on the door, and I will make the final decision. Whether it’s declining or going forward on a case, if the U. S. attorney isn’t making the final decision, that person wouldn’t be doing his job. It’s the U. S. attorney’s decision, no one else’s.”

Johnson added, “Oftentimes, it takes as much or more courage to decline a case as it does to bring an indictment.”

The United States attorney’s office in San Francisco doesn’t have a great deal to say while they continue to spend taxpayer dollars in their pursuit of Barry Bonds. What is being reported, there is division in the office (and no it’s not those who are Giants fans and those who don’t like the Giants) as to how they should proceed.
Matthew Parrella, assistant United States attorney did offer this to The New York Times: “Without addressing the issue of whether there’s a case or a grand jury investigation, typically the new U. S. attorney is the person who ultimately makes decisions on cases.”

If the United States attorney’s office in San Francisco is waiting for Bonds former personal trainer Greg Anderson to break his silence on Barry Bonds they don’t seem to understand the bond between Bonds and Anderson. Anderson spent 57 days in jail on a civil-contempt charge last year and has been in prison for three months, since last Nov. 20, on another contempt charge. This sentence could run for another year, until the term of the current grand jury expires.

“Any reasonable, rational person at this point would realize that Greg Anderson isn’t going to talk,” Mark Geragos Anderson’s lawyer told the New York Times last week. “Keeping him in there is punitive. They should take a page from the administration letting Ryan go. They should let Greg go.”

While far too many baseball beat writers seem consumed by Barry Bonds, one debate that is sure to pick up steam as Bonds nears his record setting 756 home run will Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig be in attendance when Bonds passes Hank Aaron.

"My expectation would be that (Selig) would not be there when the record is broken," former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent said in a USA Today report. "I think he'll send a message: 'We acknowledge it, but we won't acknowledge it the same way we would have if Bonds had not been (allegedly) cheating.' I think he has got it just right."

For Vincent the key to everything appears to be Senator George Mitchell’s committee that is investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. As has been well documented the Mitchell committee has been a failure. Try as he may, Mitchell has no real power in his pursuit of the truth. His goals and objectives may be right but with he’s been dealt a losing hand before the game even game

Vincent said Mitchell's report is critical for several reasons: "He has to tell us what did baseball know? What were the federal authorities telling baseball, if anything? What did the security people know?"

Baseball knew something as far back as 1991. "Look, when I was in baseball there were rumors that (Jose) Canseco was taking steroids," Vincent said. "Baseball knew — at least I did. I put out a decree banning steroids. But we really didn't know what we were talking about. I don't think we understood. We didn't realize it was going to be as big a problem for baseball as it was."

For his part Bud Selig hasn’t had a great deal to say about the subject, but earlier this month, when Selig was a keynote speaker at Ripon College in Wisconsin. The topic: "Ethics in Sports." He spoke of the game's "integrity," about baseball's "enormous social responsibilities," as an American institution.

"I always say to people that if anybody goes to a game and there's scintilla of doubt, then we have no sport — it's done," Selig told his listeners.

Baseball historians are quick to point out then commissioner Bowie Kuhn wasn’t in attendance when Hank Aaron hit number 715. If anyone believes one mistake justifies a second error in judgment then they aren’t only students of history, they’re simply people who have never learnt from their mistakes.

Speaking at Fox Sports Net's annual baseball luncheon (San Francisco) offered this relating to his interest in witnessing history when Barry Bonds makes it according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

"That's a matter that I'll determine at some point in the future," said Selig, implying no set plans have been made for such an occasion.

"Hank Aaron and I have been friends for 50 years. But when you're the commissioner, you don't think about that. I've said before and I'll say it again, if and when Barry Bonds breaks that record, it'll be handled the same way that every other record broken in baseball was handled."

At one point, Selig told the assembled group his greatest fear is for the public to have a "scintilla of doubt in their mind that the outcome may be affected by people doing some things they're not supposed to do. Well, I can assure you, that isn't going to happen in baseball."

In a classic case of hear no evil, see no evil – Selig either believes baseball never had a steroid era or baseball fans have forgotten about the sports tainted past.

"I understand that theory, but I don't have to believe that," Selig said. "The fact of the matter is, you could go back 80 years. I wish you would spend the time I did studying each decade and understanding there were a lot of other external circumstances that really could have affected (an outcome). I have to tell you very candidly, I can't separate the last 15, 20 years from anything else."

Bud may actually have raised a legitimate issue. Babe Ruth may be the most popular player in the history of baseball and his career home run mark of 714 stood the test of time before Hank Aaron hit number 715 early in the 1974 season. Babe Ruth, didn’t he play in an era when the color of your skin determined whether or not you could play Major League Baseball. Ruth may have hit more than 700 home runs but his record is at best tainted. Hank Aaron, hard to make a case that Aaron didn’t earn his stripes on a baseball diamond but for what its worth the baseball played today is much more specialized than the baseball Hank Aaron played. Relief pitchers weren’t a big part of the game during the years Aaron hit most of his home runs.

So much of the media’s dislike for of Barry Bonds seems focused on Barry’s well documented misdeeds with the media and his teammates. Is Barry Bonds a good person – who cares? There have been athletes with terrible personalities who have excelled on the playing field. What should matter is what an athlete does on the playing field not away from the field.

When will people start to give Barry Bonds the respect he’s earned and when will they stop crucifying him? If Barry Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs he did so in an era when the sport didn’t ban those substances and didn’t test for the use of banned drugs.

Was Barry Bonds the only major leaguer who may have used performance-enhancing drugs? The baseball media should stop fooling themselves and accept baseball was in the same place most sports where a few years ago, looking for solutions to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Once and for all let’s stop wasting time, taxpayer dollars in what seems like a media driven vendetta against Barry Bonds. There are far greater and more important causes we can ‘rally the flag around’. Baseball had a steroid era, we’ll never know how many players used performance-enhancing drugs or how it affected their game. Its time for the baseball media to grow up.

And here’s a final thought if Bonds historic home run number 756 lands in the hands of a baseball fan who is disgusted by Bonds accomplishment then let that fan take that baseball and throw it on the field. However you count on anyone lucky enough to catch that baseball they’ll auction it for millions and millions of dollars. The media; ESPN, Fox, Major League Baseball and anyone else who intends to cover the event if they really and honestly do not believe Barry Bonds is a legitimate home run hitter, then treat Barry Bonds as the person you believe he is. At the very least in rarely speaking to the media and in not suing everyone Barry Bonds is being honest in making it clear how he feels about what is taking place. He really and truly could care less what anyone thinks of him.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times

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