Tuesday, May 30, 2006


ESPN.com defends Bonds

Gary Gillette, editor of The 2006 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, has written probably the most convincing defense of Barry Bonds yet. The story ("Perceptions of history are slippery") is posted at ESPN.com

The story is only available to ESPN Insider subscribers. Here are a few excerpts:

• "Regardless of what Bonds has done, regardless of whether he cheated to achieve the record, regardless of whatever performance-enhancing drugs he might have ingested or injected, the past few weeks have been as close to a witch hunt as America has seen since Salem, Mass., was a member of the colonial big leagues in the 17th century."

• "Needless to say, however, these are not normal times. Pundits and politicians alike have been grandstanding on the issue, with some calling for an asterisk next to Bonds' records and his statistics. Others go much further, fanatically demanding that Bonds and his controversial numbers be stricken completely from the record books in some illogical attempt to rewrite history."

• "The outcry against Bonds and his records should seem just plain silly when viewed in the context of baseball history. Bonds' 'record' is no more 'tainted' than many - if not most - of the great records in baseball history. And while Bonds enjoyed several significant advantages on the way to 715, so did every other great home run hitter."

On Babe Ruth: "[He] had the incalculable advantage of playing his whole career during a segregated era, when he and every other white hitter didn't have to face great black pitchers such as Smokey Joe Williams, Bullet Joe Rogan and Satchel Paige. Nor have their batting statistics compared to legendary blackball sluggers such as Josh Gibson, who many feel might have broken Ruth's single-season home run record. Ruth also enjoyed playing all of his games during the daytime while having to travel no further west than St. Louis and no further south than Washington, DC. Furthermore, Ruth didn't have to face the fresh arms and blazing fastballs of the great relief pitchers who would intimidate so many hitters decades later."

On Hank Aaron: "[He] benefited from hitting in the many cozy neighborhood ballparks still in use in the 1950s and 1960s, just like contemporary sluggers have benefited from playing in the retro ballparks. Though Aaron's home parks in Milwaukee and Atlanta were not neighborhood parks, he did play in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium when it was known as the 'Launching Pad,' giving him an overall home-park advantage for his career. Aaron took advantage of the newly implemented designated hitter rule at the end of his career, adding 22 home runs to the lead he had over Ruth. And, paradoxically enough, the great Henry Aaron also benefited from a lack of true integration in the game, as the level of discrimination in baseball meant that it was extremely slow to allow African-American pitchers to play a prominent role - even as great black hitters such as Aaron, Willie Mays and Roy Campanella were knocking the stuffing out of the ball. Finally, Aaron played much of his career in an era when offense dominated in the NL, just like Bonds during the so-called 'steroids era.'"

• "So all of the hand-wringing over the integrity of baseball's records boils down to this: During 1991-2003, home runs were hit at a rate higher than ever before, and some of that increase had to do with performance-enhancing drugs. Big deal. The common belief that the new steroid-testing regimen of 2004 caused offense and home runs to drop is a fallacy. The fact is that scoring and home runs both peaked in 2000 and had dropped approximately 8 percent in the following three years. Steroids were only one part of the offensive equation, and probably not the most important element. There were several other major reasons and a dozen minor factors that also contributed to the barrage of long balls. Furthermore, all steroid usage was not against the rules, depending on the year in question and the drugs taken. And even when it was, MLB deliberately chose to look the other way when the game needed to bring back the fans and the record-setting rules-breakers were packing ballparks."

• "Cheating has been part of major league baseball since the beginning, and a review of baseball history indicates that pitchers have been far bigger cheaters than hitters for most of that time. Cooperstown is full of pitchers who cheated for decades; let's get a retired US senator to investigate their careers."

• "Bonds is unquestionably one of the greatest players ever to play the game. He is also one of the greatest homerun hitters in history. He will end up holding many important records. He is not a perfect person, nor has his career been without controversy. As such, he fits perfectly into the imperfect history of the national pastime. Enough is enough."

Read my Barry Bonds story: Chasing Barry

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