Safely ensconced in the wonderful world of blogs, I want to take a look at a neglected part of the Barry Bonds story that erupted across the baseball world. Who knew what and when? How much of a blind eye did Major League Baseball and the media turn toward rampant steroid use in the late 1990s?
At this point, the Bonds story has been repeated and replicated in some many news outlets that it’s hardly worth repeating. But to summarize: Two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle are releasing a book in two weeks that, through a detailed investigation into numerous sources, reveals Barry Bonds’ extensive steroid use from 1999 onwards. While the book is damning, it comes as little surprise to anyone remotely following the BALCO/steroid scandal of the last few years.
Right now, a few questions are swirling around the case. Many people are asking, “What should Bonds do? Should he retire or play?” There is no right answer, and right now, it’s not worth delving into that topic.
The second issue – and the one that many people are getting wrong – deals with Bonds and perjury. Some Bonds supporters – those that remain now at least – are claiming that the information in the book is wrong because it means that Bonds would have to be arrested for perjury. Since that has yet to happen, they rationalize that the information in this forthcoming book is wrong.
Well, the truth is that Bonds is indeed under investigation for perjury. It is a federal investigation upon which Major League Baseball has kept close watch. Only time will tell if Bonds is to be charged with perjury. I’m sure this book did nothing to help the beleaguered slugger’s case.
With those two topics out of the way, I want to look now at something that has so far barely been mentioned today in relation to Barry Bonds. With every new revelation in this ongoing scandal, it seems to me that more and more, we hear about baseball executives who knew about steroid use and did nothing to stop them. We hear more and more about members of the media and beat writers who must have known about steroid use and did nothing to bring this institutionalized drug abuse to light.
For example, the following is an excerpt for the Sports Illustrated coverage of the revelation:
The authors write that the San Francisco Giants, Bonds’ employer, would later discover through a background check that [Greg] Anderson was connected to a gym that was known as a place to score steroids and that he was rumored to be a dealer. Yet the Giants — who didn’t want to upset their superstar — continued to allow Anderson free reign about their ballpark and inside their clubhouse.
From that reference, it seems to me that the Giants had a pretty good idea that Bonds was juicing in 1999. Yet, the team, unwilling to upset its marquee player, did nothing about it. In fact, they were enablers. They allowed Bonds and Anderson to build a relationship allegedly based around steroid use.
It gets worse:
Despite seeing a big change in Bonds’ physical appearance, Giants officials did not challenge their star for fear of upsetting him. “The Giants, from owner Peter Magowan to manager Dusty Baker, had no interest in learning whether Bonds was using steroids, either,” the excerpt contends. “Although it was illegal to use the drugs without a prescription, baseball had never banned steroids. Besides, by pursuing the issue, the Giants ran the risk of poisoning their relationship with their touchy superstar — or, worse, of precipitating a drug scandal the year before the opening of their new ballpark, where Bonds was supposed to be the main gate attraction.”
I have to wonder how many other teams allowed themselves to fall victim to this same line of reasoning. The Cubs wouldn’t out their marquee players; the Cardinals wouldn’t want to upset their slugging first baseman. The Yankees supposedly didn’t know Jason Giambi may have been juicing. Right? I mean, who knows?
But while the owners and executives in Major Leage Baseball sat back and reaped the cash benefits of the home run explosion and baseball’s rise in popularity in the 1990s, the media had the opportunity to blow the lid off this story as well. They did not.
In 1998, members of the media find Androstenodione, a precursor to steroids, in Mark McGwire’s locker. Sammy Sosa used creatine in front of the world. Yet, these incidents were laughed off, and the media made a point to show that these two substances were, in fact, not steroids.
This evening, ESPN dropped another bombshell. Shaun Assael, a reporter for ESPN The Magazine, has a source that claims Bonds was using Andro a full year and a half before McGwire. The source, Stan Anthosh of Andro maker Osmo Labs, first came forward a few months ago. Why ESPN is publishing these revelations only now is beyond me.
Everywhere I look in this story, I am disheartened by what I see. I’m seemingly in the minority when it comes to baseball fans. While I won’t be any less of an obsessed fan, I’m disappointed in the game for cultivating a culture that led to drug use and for cultivating a culture that led to what amounts to a cover-up of a problem. From beat writers who may feel a little too comfortable in the clubhouse to owners looking after the bottom line to a powerless commissioner dealing with a very powerful players’ union, baseball dropped the bomb on this one.
Baseball will have to start figuring out how to clean up this mess of a scandal. While new stringent drug testing regulations are a fine start, as the months go by, more and more revelations will emerge about stars juicing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As baseball extends its global reach this week with the World Baseball Classic, Major League Baseball will now have to look within itself to address this problem. Unlike Mark McGwire, baseball can’t keep running away from its past.