Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Steroids not a factorIn the Steroids Era, which is what the time period from the early nineties to now will be called sometime in the future, there is a hot debate going on regarding steroids and the players who use them. When you think steroids, you don't think Ken Caminiti or Jose Canseco. You think Barry Bonds, and the media has done a good job of ensuring that. Bonds has, in fact, admitted to knowingly using substances, including creatine supplements and protein pills, but not steroids. Sometime later, before a grand jury, Bonds admitted that he took steroids, but didn't know they were steroids at the time.

So, that begs the question, is Bonds' entire career tainted? Should his soon-to-be records be asterisked? I say "no" to both. "Why?" you ask, "Steroids have affected every game he's ever been in, affected every fly ball he's ever hit, affected the ERA of every pitcher he's ever faced!" Alas, that may be true, but to what extent? Did steroids really hit those homeruns? Or did inborn skill and acute hand-eye coordination hit those homeruns? Experience could be a factor, you know. 19 seasons, 2716 games and 9098 at-bats couldn't have gone to waste.

In every era of baseball, there's been something that has altered the stats in its own way. The Dead Ball era, for example, took homeruns and hits away from hitters. In the Expansion Era, the designated hitter was adopted in the American League! That took some record-breaking opportunities away from pitchers, didn't it? That's one more tough out to get. At least steroids only indirectly affect the game (because it depends on the user), whereas the cork and rubber ball that was introduced in the Lively Ball Era directly affected the game - averages went up all around.

Barry Bonds, the best everIt is to my conclusion that Bonds' statistics and achievements were acquired fairly for the most part. Obviously, he did use steroids, and that has skewed the statistics, but only a little. Remember, steroids don't hit the ball, the player does. Bonds has been a hard worker, maintained a workout and diet regimen rather meticulously, and most of all, has been able to perform with all of the negativity surrounding him.

If you've ever tried to maintain your concentration on something in a room full of distractions, you've probably found that it's quite difficult to maintain focus and get the job done. Bonds is under much the same conditions, only the microscope that is put on him is magnified 100-fold. Everything he does in public is well-documented by the media. One mean expression on his face can mean 15 different stories swirling about the country slamming his name. Bonds has received death threats and hate mail, and been heckled at every stadium he's been to. Despite that, Bonds has averaged 45+ homeruns, a .350+ batting average, and 100+ RBI after his record breaking season in 2001, when all of the negativity intensified. To do that under the circumstances he is under is simply remarkable, steroids or not.

I write this not as a justification for using steroids, but as a rarely seen homage to the greatest hitter to ever play the game. And I use no hesitation in calling him the greatest hitter ever, just browse over his statistics. For someone who almost doubled his 2003 walks total (148) in 2004 (232), and still maintained the same amount of homeruns (45), and improved his batting average from .341 to .362, that's just amazing. Get ready for history in 2006, when Bonds will most likely break Hank Aaron's prestigious record for career homeruns (755).

Keep in mind that if it weren't for the alleged steroid users Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the sport of baseball wouldn't nearly be where it's at now in terms of revenue and popularity. These players have essentially, but unintentionally made the sacrifice of body and reputation to enhance a short period in their lives, as well as the sport of baseball.