Bonds 2005 and Beyond - Playing for his Legacy

Bonds' legacy could be judged by how he performs from this point on. A meditation on a Giants fan's maelstorm of conflicted feelings.

Is it real or is it BALCO Labs? That will be the question sports fans, and especially historians, will be asking about Bonds' records for many years. For some Bonds haters, it is vindication of years of suspicion and they will trash his accomplishments. For the Bonds lovers, they just want to move on, lay off their hero, based on what I've been hearing on KNBR, the Giants flagship radio station. Me, I am into Bonds because his father Bobby was my favorite player growing up and I'm conflicted by my loyalty as a fan and by the reality of the facts.

I understand that athletes are not "heroes" - that ship sailed long ago - but they are certainly people fans cheer for because they are on their team. I had taken the "innocent until proven guilty" tack that most Giants fans have taken but understood that the circumstantial evidence pointed strongly towards usage. And it became harder and harder to believe with all the stuff coming out.

But, for me, it just didn't make sense that someone who worked so hard to take care of his body would disregard his body in such a knowingly dangerous way. So my last clinging hope for salvation was the fact that in 2004, his performance did not go down even though there is no way he could have been using since the BALCO testimony with all the people watching him and probably following him, waiting for him to do anything suspicious, ready to pounce on him. Plus with the blood testing, he would be obviously caught because now the investigators are on to the how the BALCO steroid can be detected. And to my relief, his 2004 season was like his other seasons, easing my concerns, but never erasing it.

Cat is Out of the Bag Now

And now there's no denying the usage and we fans are left to judge what his intent was, given his testimony that he was duped into using the steroids. Bonds has not helped himself by claiming he didn't know what he was taking. That does stretch one's limits of belief. It seems very incredulous for anyone to believe this.

Here is someone who is cautious about what he eats and drinks and works religiously 24/7 to make his body better. Someone who doesn't smoke or carouse, among the vices that he has eschewed. Someone who saw the deleterious effects that alcohol had on his father's career and health. Someone who is amazingly intelligent when he is into his interview and interviewer. And we are to believe that he said "whatever" when his trainer was giving him supplements and just taking it?

Waiter, There's a Fly in my Soup

Do any of us really examine everything we eat? Have you ever looked at some of the ingredients in the foods we eat from the stores? What is soy lecithin or TBHQ? Do you ever ask any of the cooks at restaurants you eat at what they are putting in your food? Are any of you bothered by the fact that restaurant food standards allow a certain threshold of rat feces in your food, when all of us would not even want any in our food? That's where I stand now, to me, it's possible that Bonds was unknowingly duped into taking all these substances that the Feds said that he did.

For example, a local San Jose downtown restaurant was reprimanded a couple of years ago because they substituted another meat for a dish that was suppose to be veal. Did it for a long while before anyone caught on. I mean, I already wondered about the food that I eat when I eat fastfood, but this got me thinking about the food that I was eating in regular restaurants, as I eat out regularly. It is all about trust and about taking the mental leap and trusting that, yes, this restaurant seems clean, the personnel looks fine, OK, I can eat and and not feel like I'll be taking my life into my hands.

So Who do you Trust?

Assuming the testimony that Bonds' gave is correct - realizing that this is just his spin of the events and actions - it sounds like he hooked up with an old friend in 1998 and he was looking for a new mojo to jazz up his his exercise routine and Greg Anderson was a kindred spirit in terms of exercise philosophy. After a couple years or so of getting to know and trust in Anderson, Anderson then persuades Bonds to get his blood tested in 2000-2001. Based on that test, he recommends that Bonds take some of Balco's products. With all the pills and supplements he is probably already taking, he probably said, "Bring it on," and included them into his routine. After building up his trust, Anderson would be able to say, "try this flaxseed oil mixture, it might help you," and Bonds would just say, "whatever," and take it.

As much as people like to characterize Bonds as an untrusting person, first, they have to realize that he probably have seen it all first hand, being a celebrity's son, all the hangers on, all the people who say that you are their friend when they just want to be near you. I would say that would harden a person, growing up like that. Then to watch the media crush your dad in public couldn't have been a pleasant thing either. But at some point, you have to trust somebody, there has to be people you think would watch your back. Even Howard Hughes had to trust somebody. And as Julius Cesear found out with Brutus and Jesus found with Judas, sometimes even your trusted friends are not quite as trustful as you would like.

It's Like Mom Said, "Be careful how you chose your friends"

So I think it is plausible that what Bonds said is true. I can see that happening to me. Peer pressure can be crushing but especially so with a friend that you feel you know well. What do you say to your friend, "you're whack, I'm not taking that"? But again, while possible, it stretches the bounds of the imagination to think such a smart adult was duped by a friend, trusting enough to just accept whatever his friend was giving him was OK.

With teenagers, that's plausible, as a recent local tragedy showed. A girl went to a slumber party and was given ecstacy. That was bad enough, but when she stopped moving, it took her friends a while before bother to notify the parents of the home and then the parents stalled too for some reason before calling the girl's guardian, her older sister. Why they didn't call 911 the first chance they had could be a question that haunts all of them for the rest of their lives, it certainly haunts that poor girl's sister. But one can accept that a young teenager just didn't know enough to 1) just say no to peer pressure and 2) know what to do when your buddy is lying motionless on the ground. But a smart, savvy, see-it-all adult athelete?

Throwing Stones When You Live in a Glass House

And yet, time and again, the news always eventually have some story of a smart individual who got duped. Smart people who get swindled out of a lot of money. Like that owner of a large cable system. He sold out his system for stock worth hundreds of million of dollars to an old friend who owned a bigger public company. Unfortunately, his friend was not on the up and up, and Adelphia Communications went bankrupt, making his stock worthless.

And who among you have not been betrayed or fooled in some way by someone who you felt was a friend? Especially when it involves a significant other or someone who was in a position of trust in your life? The newspaper headlines are unfortunately full, every year, of stories of such heartbreak and betrayal. Doctors, lawyers, priests, youth leaders, teachers, etc. So it could happen.

Playing for His Legacy

But still, it is not a story that is so believable. And so many will call for asterisks, call for the outright refusal to acknowledge his achievements for the years he was "under the influence," call for him to be suspended or even thrown out of the major leagues. And most probably, unless the Feds can catch him in a lie and prosecute and convict him for perjury, there will be little reprecussions from this episode in terms of penalties, except perhaps for a Hall of Fame vote boycott, as the MLB appears powerless to force the Players Union to accept more stringent testing measures or retroactive penalties. And as some columns suggest, testing is very often more a case of a dog chasing its tail, a useless endeavor as the bleeding edgers will never be caught.

So all that will be left for Barry, assuming he's innocent, is to try to prove the nay-sayers are wrong. To play for his legacy. He claims the steroids didn't do much for his performance, as did Giambi and Sheffield. But that does not seem plausible, it is pretty well known that it does help hitters' performances. So now he needs to prove that with his performance going forward.

And So The Watch Begins

Because the gaunlet is beginning now, Bonds' haters will be pelting him literally and figuratively, both in the press and on the field. There are the sports writers who are dancing in their cubicles, their journalistic objectivity apparently gone, based on the Bonds hit pieces that have appeared over the years, and will be leading the way for these people. Then there are all the Bonds hating fans who spew venom over the airwaves and community boards, saying "I told you so!" And for us in the middle, hoping for the best, but fearing the worse, just watching him play and wondering. Barry Bonds will be playing for his legacy over the next couple of years. Is he finally channelling Ted Williams and learned how to hit consistently like Teddy Ball as the true believers believe? Or was he souped up and now due for a fall as his haters believe? Or is the truth somewhere in between?

He already had a Hall of Fame career even before he appeared to be a user. And while his performance has been elevated, it is not very far from what he was doing when he was younger, and as I showed in my article comparing him to Ted Williams and Hank Aaron late 30's performances, elevated performance in your late 30's is not just impossible but it has happened before. Plus 2004 provides some proof that he is on the up and up that it did not help, with no visible drop off in his performance. Though he probably was still on the stuff right up to when the Federal agents were breaking down his "friend's" door, and so his performance is tainted somewhat by that possibility.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

So he will need to, more than ever, play in 2005 and 2006 like he's still got it going without that artificial help. He needs to prove to everyone beyond a doubt. And his loner act probably helps give him the mental edge that he seeks to achieve what he has achieved. He has carried a chip on his shoulder over the years over hurts, real and imagined, that has helped propel him to great feats in baseball, and now he will need this edge, more than ever, to continue his streak of great performances, if they were really a result of his superiority in skills.

Because duped or not, there is probably no way he can procure performance enhancers for himself this off-season. If I were he, I would be worried that all my lines of communications, whether phone or internet or whatever, are tapped by authorities hoping to catch him lying. His every movement outside his home is probably monitored by agents or reporters trying to catch him doing something fishy. Because if the Federal officials were not after him, this BALCO supposedly "secret" Grand Jury testimony (I wonder how many people in the future will think they are "safe" when testifying?) would not be leakier than the Titanic. So one would think that his performance going forward will be purely just Bonds.

However, there will be things working against him going forward. First off, his age. As he noted all last season, he's tired. He's not going to get less tired and as a fellow 40-year-old, I can attest to the tiredness that comes with age. And in the history of baseball, hitters' performances take a big fall sometime in his 40's, probably because of this tiredness. Second, he won't be juiced up anymore, knowingly or unknowingly. What if he's wrong and it did help him? Third, there will be the players pumped up to face him, the ones who don't like Bonds and want him to look bad, they will be looking out for him this year, looking to knock him down.

So which Bonds will we get in the next couple of years? The hater and the lovers will not be swayed, either way, by however he performs, their opinion have been set in stone for a long time now and will not be changed by what happens next. For those of us in the middle, we can only watch and, for some of us, hope beyond hope.

Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fanatic's View' for when the mood and muse strikes him. He wants to teach and share his love of baseball and, in particular, his love for the San Francisco Giants. He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player and should be in Cooperstown. Please feel free to e-mail him at (remove the "nospam." if you wish to e-mail me) if you have a question or comment.

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