San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds is about to break the most hallowed record in all of American sport, Major League Baseball’s career home run record. Many, if not most, baseball fans feel that Barry is an unworthy heir to current record holder Henry Aaron’s throne due to the torrent of steroid allegations that have surrounded his march toward the record. Barry is sure to be remembered as much for being the embodiment of the so-called “steroid era” in baseball as for his eye-popping statistics, which leaves me with one lasting thought. Barry Bonds should have played football.
Baseball fans can recite the circumstantial case against Barry Bonds chapter and verse. Barry entered MLB in 1986 as a 180 lb. outfielder with more speed than power. By the mid-1990s, his body looked decidedly more suited to the National Football League than Major League Baseball. Physically, old Barry was to new Barry as Off the Wall Michael Jackson was to HIStory Michael Jackson, which is to say bearing no resemblance at all. Not coincidentally to many, he increased his on-field power production in a way that no player his age had done. The 258 home runs Bonds hit in the 2000-2004 seasons from ages 36 to 40 were 36 home runs more than Bonds hit in all of his twenties, the eight seasons from 1986 to 1993. By the time Game of Shadows was released, a 2006 book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams that described his alleged steroid use in incredible detail, the court of public opinion had more than enough evidence to convict.
Barry Bonds has been the focal point of the righteous indignation cast by media and fans, but he is not alone. Many players in the “steroid era” are starting to pay a penalty for their mostly alleged trafficking in performance enhancing drugs. There are only two members of the “500 Homerun Club” eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame who have not yet been elected to it — alleged steroid user Mark McGwire and proven steroid user Rafael Palmiero. Further, many baseball fans consider all records set even today to be suspect, despite MLB’s new and improved drug testing policy. The MLB players union, the strongest union in professional sports, is certainly troubled by the public scrutiny as evidenced by its willingness to submit to the strictest drug testing policy in its history without earning even a single concession from the MLB owners in return. Baseball’s reputation is not quite as sullied as track and field or cycling, but it is much worse than that of the National Football League. I find this extremely puzzling as the circumstantial evidence against the NFL is at least as strong as that damning Barry and Company.