This was a post I wrote on my old blog last February. I was reminded of it with all the Mitchell Report news last week, and again today with the news that Brian Roberts admitted to using steroids, and I wanted to share it with my now broader audience. Just some food for thought. Comments appreciated.
Barry, Barry, Quite Contrary
Spring training starts this week. And while opening day is still another six weeks away (a fact only reinforced when looking at the weather forecast for this week), the reporting of pitchers and catchers serves to turn my thoughts toward the diamond and all that comes with it. The nights at the ballpark with friends, the various fantasy baseball games to play, and, in all likelihood, another season of Baltimore baseball ineptitude. Ah, but that can be a topic for another time, as hope remains for all at this point.A bigger issue has caught my attention for the moment. This week, MLB commissioner Bud Selig was asked if he planned to start attending Giants games if and when it appears that Barry Bonds is on the cusp of breaking Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s all time home run record of 755.Bonds is currently sitting at 734, so he would need only 22 home runs in 2007 to become baseballs all-time home run king. Barring any significant injury, it seems extremely likely that he will do this, as the last time Bonds hit fewer than 22 home runs in a season in which he remained healthy throughout was 1989 (he hit 5 in only 14 games in an injury-plagued 2005 campaign).
Selig did all he could to sidestep the questions, remaining very noncommittal in his responses. David Steele of the Baltimore Sun wrote a great column about Bud’s day with the media.
Barry Bonds, fairly or not, has become the epitome of the steroid problem in baseball, and all sports for that matter. When the words “performance enhancing drug” cut through the air, there is nary a person around who doesn’t immediately picture a syringe with a San Francisco Giants cap atop the plunger. But all the hub-bub over this sort of thing really warranted? Lets examine the issue at hand.
Baseball “purists” (and purists of all sports, for that matter), cringe at the idea of the record books being rewritten by players who are artifically juiced up. The problem with this sort of thinking, which is predicated on the idea that the ghosts of baseball past will somehow fade away as a result of their names being pushed down the lists, is that it doesn’t take into account that the entire world has changed since many long-standing records were first set. The modern professional athlete is dedicated to his (or her) craft to an extent never before seen. Elite athletes train their bodies year-round, putting into those bodies only (for the most part) substances that will help them perform at their absolute best.
Steroids? Who said anything about steroids. Im talking, for the moment, about FOOD. Personal nutrionists, chefs, meal-planners, and grocery shoppers all contribute their knowledge and skills to help fuel professional athlete clients, making today’s athlete a beacon of health and fitness. Team doctors, trainers, physical therapists, rehab specialists, yoga instructors, and who knows what else (hot tub technicians?) all have a hand in the regimen of todays athlete. Babe Ruth’s diet, by all accounts, was based mainly around hot dogs and whiskey, and Id bet the farm that he never attempted a “downward facing dog.” In my opinion, this only makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.
We applaud scientific progress in bascially all areas of life. From modern medicine to new communication technologies, people agree that progress has made their lives better. So if we can all agree that a) vaccines that prevent diseases are GOOD things and b) being able to send a “hawaii is gr8″ text message to your friends in Charlotte while on vacation is a GOOD thing, then why can’t we agree that c) a little dietary supplement that makes Mr. Bonds or McGwire’s at bats that much more entertaining to us, as fans, is a good thing?
Is that not what professional sports are in the first place? Entertainment? Why are we so quick to place limitations on just how entertained we think we ought to be by telling our athletes what they can and cannot do in the name of performance?
I say, great athletes are entertaining to watch, regardless of whether or not some drug is enhancing just how great they appear. When I shell out my money for tickets to a professional sporting even, I want to be entertained. 500 ft home runs are entertaining. So are 70 yard touchdown strikes. If it was the “purity” of the game I was interested in seeing, I would head down to my local high school for the afternoon.
So, when Barry Bonds becomes baseball’s all-time home run king later this summer, he should be applauded. No boos. No asterisks. Just his name atop the list. Regardless of how you may feel about him as a person, none of that should take away from an amazing accomplishment. And in the future, when somebody looks at the record “book” (on a computer screen, most likely), they should be able to differentiate between the eras during which a particular player’s stats were accumulated. It should come as no surprise that as the science of athletic performance advanced, so did the numerical outputs of those athletes reaping the benefits. In turn, the performances of a Mr. Ruth, Dimaggio, or Aaron should seem no less impressive, considering the era in which they occurred.