Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Barry Bonds quest for immortality and the media

Barry Bonds pursuit for the greatest individual record in sports will wait for another day after Barry went 0-3 (with one walk) against the Washington Nationals. Barry’s date with destiny will resume tonight when the Giants meet the Nationals in game two of the Giants seven game homestand. At this point, Bud Selig’s distain notwithstanding, it isn’t a matter of if, but when Bonds becomes the greatest home run hitter in baseball history and when Barry Bonds’ date with destiny arrives the media, who have had a long-standing hate/hate relationship with baseball’s new home run king, will be forced to deal with a reality they’d rather never have considered – Barry Bonds, baseball’s homerun king!!

More often than not Barry has been his own worst enemy in dealing with the media, and the latest example of Bonds hate/hate relationship with the media took place a few days ago after Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling appeared on Bob Costas’ HBO program.

Schilling as he had been earlier this year was critical of Barry Bonds and other baseball players tainted with allegations of performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds choose to direct negative comments at Costas, not at Schilling. Bonds referred to Costas as “a midget who knows nothing about baseball”. Bob Costas remains one of the most respected sports journalists in the industry, respected for his love of baseball. What makes Bob Costas so successful is his overall knowledge of sports and his balanced opinions. There was no rationale for Barry Bonds’ disparaging comments about Bob Costas, other than to serve as an opportunity for Costas to offer Costas a platform to offer his opinions on Costas – in of all places on CNN’s The Situation Room Friday night with Wolf Blitzer.

And as Blitzer had been promoting throughout Friday night’s program – Costas is certain Bonds has used steroids during his baseball career.

“Absolutely. There is no conclusion other than that, that any reasonable person could possibly reach. If you gave him the benefit of every doubt, there is no longer any doubt to give him the benefit of. Absolutely he did.”

That said – there is no proof Barry Bonds has used performance-enhancing drugs even though there is no reason whatsoever to not believe what Bob Costas believes.

“He has passed every possible test, baseball had no significant tests until 2003. And then they upped it in subsequent years. Most of the juicing that Barry Bonds did, which is specifically incredibly detailed in the book "Game of Shadows," took place prior to that, as did his greatest seasons.

“And he maintained some of the benefit into 2003 and 2004. So the fact that he took and passed tests later in his career, tests which still have holes in them, and there are no tests for HGH, and other possible designer steroids, proves very little.”

All great points made by Costas but it’s likely given the financial incentives attached to excellence on a baseball diamond – salaries linked to home run production, what Costas fails to point out the strong likelihood throughout baseball’s steroid era hundreds of major leaguers likely used performance enhancing drugs on a regular basis. If anyone is prepared to give Bob Costas the benefit of the doubt concerning the allegations directed at Barry Bonds it’s just as reasonable to believe at least half of Major League Baseball players used performance-enhancing drugs during baseball’s steroid era. Is it possible (all-right [probable]) Barry Bonds was a better baseball player than the others who allegedly used steroids and enjoyed greater benefits as a result?

“Because other players who are not as great and did not accomplish as much as Barry Bonds were also users. And I don't know how many of the home runs exactly could be discounted. But I think there's a figurative asterisk in the minds of knowledgeable and fair- minded baseball fans.

“Barry Bonds was, through the late '90s, a great, great player. Should have been a first ballot hall-of-famer. I would still vote for him if I had a vote -- broadcasters don't. It's only baseball writers. I would still vote for him because before there was any credible evidence that he used performance-enhancing drugs, he was a truly great player.

“But he went from a great player to a super human player. When you take a look at his statistics, and I'm not going to bore you with all the numbers, but he was a lifetime .290 hitter who had higher than .312 once in his career. At the age of 38, he then hit .370, he hit .340 and over.360 in the next two seasons. He had a lifetime slugging percentage, which is basically a combination of power and average, of .556 through 1998. He then slugged over .800 twice and over .700 twice, in a four-year stretch in his late 30s or early 40s. These are numbers that are almost cartoonish.

“And it makes absolutely no sense, that a player, no matter how great, could maintain his previous level of performance in his late 30s or early 40s, let alone take such a quantum leap. There is no other possible explanation.” Costas told CNN Friday night.

Barry lashing out at Costas was the ‘same old song and dance’ from Barry, historically what Barry’s relationship with the media has always been about. During the Giants 2005 spring training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona (and before news Game of Shadow was about to be released and the March 18, 2005 Congressional Steroid Hearings), Barry didn’t waste any time criticizing the media. The late February media gathering came a month after Bonds had met with a San Francisco Grand Jury dealing with Victor Conte and the BALCO case. The first question the media peppered Bonds with – allegations Barry had used steroids.

"You guys are like re-running stories," Bonds said to more than 100 reporters in attendance. "This is old stuff. It's like watching 'Sanford and Son.' It's almost comical, basically. ... Are you guys jealous, upset, disappointed, what?"

Bonds missed most of the 2005 season, but Barry made it clear he believed he has nothing whatsoever to apologize for.

"All of you guys have lied," he said. "Should you have an asterisk behind your name? ... Yeah, I lied to my parents when I was growing up. Lied to my friends. Have I lied about baseball? Yeah, I told a couple of stories that I hit a couple of balls places that I really didn't.

"I don't know what cheating is," he said. "I don't believe steroids can help your eye-hand coordination, technically hit a baseball. I just don't believe it. That's my opinion."

Houston Chronicle sports columnist Richard Justice whose background includes stints with The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News leveled Barry Bonds Sunday. Justice believes the entire sport was “diminished” after Bonds hit home run number 755 Saturday evening.

“Congratulations, Barry. You did it. You joined the 755-homer club Saturday night.

“You and Hank Aaron. How does that feel, Barry?

“You now share baseball's most coveted milestone with one of its most respected players. Thanks to you, the record feels different this morning. It feels a bit less magical. In fact, the entire game feels diminished.

“On the other hand, you certainly did it your way. You did it without regard to what teammates, managers, coaches or fans thought of you. You apparently were unbothered by the rules, either. You believed the means justified the end.

“You got the record you wanted from the moment you saw the love showered on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa after the 1998 season. You'd been a respected player but never a beloved one. You wanted some of what they had.

“You did it by getting huge. According to exhaustive reporting by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, you did it by using an array of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“At a time when many players are starting to decline, you got better and better. Beginning in the summer you turned 36, you averaged 52 home runs a season. You averaged 37 in the five years before you added those slabs of muscle. You showed the world that steroids and human growth hormone do work. You've won a record seven National League Most Valuable Player trophies, but four of them are tainted by steroids.”

More than a few media types believe if Barry Bonds believes the allegations outlined in “Game of Shadows” if not true should move Bonds to sue the authors for slander. Barry didn’t sue for libel, he instead filed a lawsuit against publisher Gotham Books, the San Francisco Chronicle and Sports Illustrated, which published excerpts of the book, should be held liable for publishing "illegally obtained grand jury transcripts."

In filing the lawsuit Barry Bonds lawyer offered the following statement: "Bonds is not seeking personal recovery of any of the illegal profits," said attorneys Michael Rains and Alison Berry Wilkinson. "Instead he will call upon the court to donate all book proceeds to bona fide charitable organizations which serve the low-income youth who need it the most."

But Judge James Warren ruled on March 24, 2006 that free speech protections shielded the defendants from such accusations and that he thought Bonds' lawsuit had little chance of success.

The book, "Game of Shadows," by Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, is based partly on grand jury testimony from a federal investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, or BALCO, where Bonds and several other major league players allegedly obtained performance-enhancing drugs.

At least on the surface it appeared Barry and his legal team had no issues with the allegations Fainaru-Wada and Williams made in their best-selling book, just that they not make any money from their efforts. Barry can say whatever he’d like about having never tested positive but at the end of the day if he believed the charges made in “Game of Shadows” were lies he should have sued everyone connected with the book. Suing to ensure the writers didn’t benefit from the profits of the book while not challenging the book’s truth is farcical on Bonds part.

"Federal law prohibits personal gain from the use of any government property, including grand jury material," Rains and Wilkinson said in their statement.

Gary Norris Gray from blackathelte.net looked at the relationship between the late Bobby Bonds (Barry’s father) and the media in trying to understand why Barry has had such a difficult time dealing with the media.

“In the late 60's and early 70's a very young Barry watched his father Bobby Bonds get roasted by some of the same reporters on the beat today.

“Newspapers all over the country misquoted and abused the senior Bonds. Bobby spoke his mind and that's a no-no in America. Bobby had a severe drinking problem and the San Francisco sports beat writers printed some harsh articles.

“Obviously Barry's childhood experiences with the media have influenced Barry Bonds the man today. He is tight lipped, passive-aggressive, and at times belligerent. Barry does not trust the press nor should he.”

And Gray offered this on how he believes Barry Bonds has been treated in his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s career home run record: “This year, fans are throwing objects and racial epithets on the field. Nationally televised sports talk shows are decimating information about him. The American media calls Bonds a cheater and a steroid freak who doesn't deserve the home run record.

“What about the many pitchers, caught using substance enhancing drugs? Has anybody looked at the old photographs of New York Yankee Roger Clemens in his early years in Boston with the Red Sox? Be serious and be fair

“In the past two years there has been a nasty tone bombarding Bonds every time he takes the field. The complaints have come from the media of mostly white middle age, and middle class males. Males that could not play the game so they write about it. This leads many to ask is this another racial American rage event.”

Now that Bonds is on top of baseball’s home run list, two questions: Has baseball victimized Barry Bonds or has Barry Bonds victimized baseball? And what will Barry Bonds legacy be to baseball, what will Barry Bonds be remembered for?

Barry Bonds personality, how difficult he has made it for the media made Barry Bonds the perfect folly for the media when it came to commenting on athletes who allegedly may have benefited from the use of performance-enhancing drugs. It’s so easy to “hate” Barry Bonds, and hate is a very strong word to use. There are countless examples of Barry Bonds behavior with the media and other people (often current and former baseball players) where not only has Barry Bonds behavior made one wonder what kind of a man could do what Barry is accused of, but does Barry Bonds only care about Barry Bonds.

In June 2005 excerpts of former Chicago White Sox Ron Kittle’s book were leaked. The passage that found its way to various media outlets focused on an encounter Kittle had with Barry Bonds, an alleged tale that painted Bonds in the worst possible light.

The Bonds incident involved Ron Kittle and a meeting Kittle didn’t enjoy with Bonds at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1993. Kittle hoped to auction a signed Barry Bonds jersey at a golf event, with the proceeds being given to a children’s charity. Kittle has written a book, “Ron Kittle's Tales from the White Sox Dugout” and included Bonds reaction to being asked to autograph a jersey which would benefit needy children.

"I paid about $110 of my own money for them, so they could be auctioned off at the golf outing. I did that all the time for stars like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Derek Jeter and Roger Clemens. When I tell them how their autographs help the cause, every player gladly signs — with one exception.

I walked up to Bonds at his locker in the Wrigley Field visitors' clubhouse, introduced myself and said, "Barry, if you sign these, they'll bring in a lot of money for kids who need help."

Bonds stood up, looked me in the eye and said, "I don't sign for white people." If lightning hits me today, I will swear those were his exact words. Matt Williams and other Giants were in the room and they heard what Bonds said.

I stood there for a minute, and the veins in my neck were popping. I've only been that mad a few times in my life. I was going to beat the (heck) out of him, really kick his (butt), but Williams saw what was happening, so he came over and got between us. Matt said, "Ron, that's just the way he is."

I said, "White guys aren't the only ones who get cancer," but Bonds had turned his back on me and walked out of the clubhouse. Somebody must have run in and alerted Dusty Baker, who was the manager of the Giants then.”

Bonds, initially choose to ignore Kittle’s accusations. Bonds spoke with MLB.com’s Rich Draper and fired these words of wisdom in Kittle’s direction.

"Who is Kittle? How long did he play? He played in our league?" asked an incredulous Bonds. "So what did he say? Ha! Do you guys truly believe that? Do you guys truly believe it?"

Bonds says "it's common sense" in denying Kittle's claims.

"Out of fairness to me -- do you guys know my life history a little bit? So why don't you write it's a bunch of [garbage] -- why don't you write that? One, you insult my children, who are half-white; I was married to a woman who was white, so let's get real.

"And I don't even know the guy. And tell him he's an idiot. Tell him that. Somebody said he wanted a piece of me; tell him I'm at 24 Willie Mays -- what's this street called? -- Plaza, and he can come meet me any time he wants to. With pleasure."

Takings Bonds comments at face value, clearly the man has issues with what Ron Kittle is accusing him of doing. Everyone has the right to be upset when they are accused of making terrible comments and in Kittle’s case while he doesn’t come right out and call Bonds a racist the implications are clear – by refusing to sign the Barry Bonds baseball jersey because , "I don't sign for white people.", if true Bonds is indeed a racist.

Instead of attempting to set the record straight (in Bonds mind he may indeed have done that), Bonds calls Kittle an ‘idiot’ a term Johnny Damon and members of the Red Sox may find endearing but most others do not and also offers this assessment of Kittle’s Major League career "Who is Kittle? How long did he play? He played in our league?"

All Barry Bonds managed to accomplish with his rude and boorish behavior was to further damage whatever was left of his terrible image. Great people rise above bad things that are said about them and move forward. Great people are never afraid to admit they have made a mistake and move forward. Great people set examples as to the type of people they are and move forward. Barry Bonds didn’t do any of those things in reacting to Kittle’s story; all he managed to do was bring credibility to what Kittle said about him.

As for Kittle, he offered these comments to the Associated Press: "It's the truth. I don't lie," Kittle told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday. "I tell it as it is. It's unfortunate it happened. And I didn't bring it up to sell the books."
Incidents and similar experiences others have had with Barry Bonds fuel how the media (and therefore the public feel about Barry Bonds). It’s impossible to speculate why Barry Bonds acts the way he does, but does it take away from how he’s performed on a baseball diamond – of course not.

Ty Cobb set 90 baseball records during his Hall of Fame career but his reputation was impacted by charges he was a racist. One of the first recorded incidents where a professional athlete attacked a fan involves Cobb.

On May 15, 1912, Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb assaulted Claude Lueker, a heckler, in the stands of Hilltop Park in New York during a game against the New York Highlanders. Lueker and Cobb traded insults with each other throughout the first three innings, and the situation climaxed when Lueker called Cobb a "half-nigger." Cobb then climbed into the stands and attacked the handicapped Lueker, who due to an industrial accident had lost all of one hand and three fingers on his other hand. When onlookers shouted at Cobb to stop because the man had no hands, Cobb reportedly replied, "I don't care if he has no feet!" The American League suspended him indefinitely, and his teammates, though not fond of Cobb, went on strike to protest the suspension prior to the May 18 game against the Philadelphia A's. For that one game, Detroit fielded a replacement team made up of college and sandlot ballplayers, plus two Detroit coaches, and lost, 24-2. The strike ended when Cobb urged his teammates to return to the field. Cobb's suspension lasted for 8 days.

History recalls what happened that day, but nearly 100 years later history also remembers Ty Cobb as one of the greatest baseball players ever. Barry has been both the victim and the one who has taken advantage of baseball. Bonds has earned more than $172 million in his 23-year MLB history.

It would be nice to believe Barry Bonds legacy will be how great a player he was. However before that is ever going to happen baseball will have to come to an understanding the sport had a tainted era, a period of time where the sport didn’t test for performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball had an era when African-Americans were “banned” from playing. Today everyone accepts while that was a dark period for the sport, the sport managed to move forward.

One day in the not too distant future the Lords of the Diamond will move forward accepting of their performance-enhancing era, dealing with the period as the industry has with the many years when African Americans couldn’t grace big league ballparks. Only then will Barry Bonds, the on-field master of the diamond that he is be recognized as one of the greatest players in the history of baseball.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia and the San Francisco Chronicle.

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