With the asterisk age of baseball hopefully coming to a close and players now thinking twice before injecting any substance, the ethical reputation of the once-proud American pastime has started its peaceful recovery. As Roger Clemens continues to dodge his past both on and off Capitol Hill and Jay McGwire offers a behind the scenes view of his All-Star brother’s steroid use, the game of baseball steadily pushes on, putting more and more distance between itself and the shadows of its artificially muscle-bound history. Yet, with trainers, Congress, and family members blowing the proverbial whistle on those who disrespected the game, baseball itself has not had to do much ethical policing in the public eye. However, the baseball owners, all thirty of them, who have collectively refused to sign Barry Bonds and his bag of lies, have made an enormous statement about who they want representing the game; in fact, they have injected the beginnings of an ethical standard that exists beyond filling the stands and winning ballgames.
Eight years have gone by since Bonds thrilled the country with his 73 homeruns, eclipsing the previous record set by fellow juicer Mark McGwire, and barely a year and a half has slipped passed since he overcame Hank Aaron’s career homerun record of 755 on August 8, 2007. But in that same time span we have seen this prolific hitter go from celebrity status to a man indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice charges relating to his testimony during the BALCO hearings, a transformation almost as amazing as the size of his biceps from when he broke into the league with the Pirates until his days patrolling leftfield for the San Francisco Giants.
Since the Giants elected not to resign him, hence avoiding the media circus that would inevitably crush an already less than successful team, Bonds’ image has plummeted to depths even he could not have imagined. After spending the majority of his career establishing a surly attitude toward the press and public opinion, Bonds may want to reconsider his reputation, one cloaked in suspicion and doubt, if he wishes to ever again play the game at its highest level. Yet thankfully, this probably will never happen.
Spending the 2008 season outside of baseball, supposedly training for a late season signing to help some team on the playoff bubble, Bonds watched as no suitors came calling. Wondering why no team would wish for the services of the all-time homerun king, maybe Bonds had an epiphany, one that would shock his bloated ego into deflation mode: No one cares about your impact or your future because you did not care about your past.
Ethically and professionally Bonds cheated. He fooled millions of adoring fans. He conned countless old timers who tuned in to see their era lose another seemingly unreachable record. He disrespected the greatest names in baseball, including Aaron and Mays. He embarrassed a team, the San Francisco Giants, who opened its arms to him, embracing him without concern. Worst of all, he helped to solidify a permanent shadow that drifts above baseball’s best, making fans forever criticize and analyze broken records for tainted individuals and cheaters like himself. In short, because of his celebrity and success, his intentional deceit has stripped baseball of any sense of purity.
So, as baseball owners shut their doors and refused to answer their phones, they have knowingly made ethics important again. While the public has countless reasons to questions baseball owners for remarkable spending habits and continually rising prices of everything from merchandise to tickets, these same people deserve the admiration of each of us for defending the game from a selfish man who cannot accept the responsibilities of his own checkered history.
Although most owners either could not afford his price tag or did not want to the baggage that comes with signing Bonds, somewhere along the line they must have decided that he was wrong. The decisions could not have been just financial. No, they had substance to them. The owners’ unified rejection of Bonds makes baseball a better place, one that wants its members to play in the spirit of how it was created. No other sport relies so heavily on its history as baseball does, and a future that not only does not contain Barry Bonds, but also owns a statement about his actions can only help to triage the wounds he inflicted. In time, the game’s ethics will recover and a new breed of non-cheaters will hopefully rise and erase the mistakes of the past.
Bonds may feel blackballed, but no matter how many lawsuits he brings, claming he has been unjustly treated by the collective group, he must realize the fact that he no longer owns a place in a game he once dominated. Regardless of what a judge may decide, he will never again possess a favorable reputation, and he has permanently lost face in the world of public opinion. While many former big leaguers, from the mega-stars such as Ted Williams and Yogi Berra to the lesser known folks like Wally Backman and Doug Flynn, enjoy living life after baseball in the presence of supportive fans and communities, Bonds will spend his years deep inside himself, alone, struggling with the truth that he just cannot bring himself to admit,
And, thanks to the owners’ decisions to not bring Bonds back, we now have a game that cares again about it ethic base.