I love that line delivered by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. It’s one of those iconic kinds of cinematic dialogue. We can argue about other ones that are better: “Here’s Johnny!” uttered by Nicholson (again) in The Shining. “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” spoken by Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and perhaps the most often imitated line of all: Robert DeNiro’s infamous “You tawkin’ to me?” from Taxi Driver. Still, since this article is about the trial of Barry Bonds, Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” seems to apply best to the situation.
The sad part is that this trial is not about Barry Bonds. Yes, you read that correctly. This trial is more about Major League Baseball, specifically how baseball (meaning owners and league officials) has turned a blind eye to the problem of PED (performance enhancing drugs) for years. This is the “truth” that is going to be hard for many to handle. The even more difficult truth is that fans were in on the whole thing and are just as culpable—maybe even more so—than the suits and the players who took the drugs.
You can’t tell me that when we saw Mark McGwire hitting all those home runs, his arms bulging bigger than Popeye’s after a can of spinach, that we didn’t suspect something was amiss. Yeah, sure, he hit the weight room everyday. Of course, he ate an all protein diet and drank body builder shakes. Yes, of course, and if you believe that I have a section of grass in Central Park with your name on it.
We were all complicit in this mess. Remember the McGwire and Sammy Sosa home run race? It seems like ages ago, but I recall it vividly. I remember that teachers put up posters of these guys in their classrooms. They were supposed to be involved in the all-American game, two heroes slugging it out to reach the top. Who couldn’t love that? Baseball certainly loved it—loved the packed stadiums, the resurgence of interest in a sport that had waned since the baseball strike of 1994-1995 that left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths.
Sure, we were all in on it and we loved every minute of it. Oh, the drama of it all! Besides, what do baseball fans love more than power? The home run is all about myth and about the shock and awe of the crowd. I remember seeing Tommy Agee of the Mets hit a monster at old Shea. I was just a kid, but I never forgot that one. It is the stuff of legend. The problem with home runs in the Steroid Era (the time after the baseball strike) is that we must question their validity. How many guys who hit 40+ homers did it the old fashioned way?
We can argue that substance abuse (or use of substances) has always dominated the game. Babe Ruth drank gallons of beer (and anything else in liquid form); many others were right up there with him. We have heard stories of pitchers throwing no-hitters while they were on acid or smoking pot, and tobacco in all its forms has always haunted MLB. Many of the members of the Hall of Fame were no doubt addicted to alcohol, tobacco, and who knows what else.
So the inconvenient truth here—besides the fact that Bonds has yet to be proven guilty of anything—is that if MLB is not on trial, how fair is this whole thing and what is the point? Why single out Bonds (or Roger Clemens later this year)? They have records in the books alongside other guys who may or may not have enhanced themselves too. Another truth is we will never be completely sure whose records are tarnished and whose are not. At this point no one is going to do anything about it either.
The people are the ones who pay to see games, who buy the merchandise, and keep this game (and all sports) successful. It has been more than obvious that fans do not care about the juice that players used; they care more about the effects of that substance. Baseball fans have a love affair with the game, but most especially with the home run. The homer is the Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise of baseball. It’s the white knight. People don’t go to see no hitters; they want a home run derby. That’s why that homer contest the night before the All Star game is actually bigger than the game that follows it.
By no means am I advocating substance use or abuse. I wish players only used their natural talent and skills on the field, but I also wish all politicians could be trusted. Probably not something to expect in my lifetime or yours. In the meantime, Barry Bonds is on trial for perjury, but if he is guilty so is MLB, the owners, and fans of the game, and that is an inconvenient truth that no one wants to handle.
Photo Credit: AP