The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, March 10, 2006

 

Bury Bonds 2: Best-Seller Boogaloo

So much to write, so little time as I prepare to head to Puerto Rico Friday night....

It's not one of my more flattering tendencies, I'll admit, but Barry Bonds' woes make me smile ear to ear. It's called schadenfreude, and baby, I've got all their albums. Just as I did last year when Bonds gave his infamous "jump off the bridge" press conference, I was practically dancing around the room upon the appearance of a book excerpt in Sports Illustrated detailing the slugger's (alleged) very calculated steroid regimen, repeated intimidation of mistress Kimberly Bell, tax evasion, and ego-driven pursuit of the single-season home run record.

Game of Shadows is the book, written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO story. According to SI,
The authors compiled the information over a two-year investigation that included, but was not limited to, court documents, affidavits filed by BALCO investigators, confidential memoranda of federal agents (including statements made to them by athletes and trainers), grand jury testimony, audiotapes and interviews with more than 200 sources. Some of the information previously was reported by the authors in the Chronicle. Some of the information is new. For instance, in an extensive note on sourcing, the authors said memos detailing statements by BALCO owner Victor Conte, vice president James Valente and Anderson to IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky were sealed when they first consulted them, but have been unsealed since.

The preponderance of evidence is by far the most detailed and damning condemnation that Bonds, formerly a sleek five-tool player, built himself into a hulking, record-setting home run hitter at an advanced baseball age with a cornucopia of elaborate, illegally-administered chemicals.
In other words, even with a syringe sticking out of his butt, Bonds could hardly be more screwed than he is by the weight of evidence compiled by the two authors. Starting in 1998, driven by his jealousy of Mark McGwire's record-setting home run total and the adulation which the big Cardinals slugger received, Bonds variously injected or ingested the Steroid All-Star Team, Traveling Road Show and Three-Ring Circus: not just the designer substances at the center of BALCO, the Clear and the Cream, but also Deca-Durabolin, Winstrol, testosterone decanoate, trenbolone, Human Growth Hormone, and such stackers as insulin, the narcolepsy drug Modanfil, and the female fertility drug Clonid (which might explain this frightful apparition).

This is the big one, folks, the smoking gun, the 50-megaton bomb dropped on Bonds' credibility and his legacy. Already in persecution-complex mode, Bonds has pledged to ignore the book, and despite Bud Selig's addition of the tome to his reading list, he's probably beyond any suspension, since he's never tested positive for a performance enhancer. But with Bonds poised to tie Babe Ruth's mark of 714 home runs with a mere six more, and just 48 away from topping Hank Aaron, it's now a dead certainty that his pursuit will be overshadowed by these revelations, and that his legacy - particularly the 297 homers he's hit since 1998 in just 2517 at-bats -- rests on tainted totals.

Oh, and this just in: his personality is even less winning than previously suspected. To wit:
In addition to detailing the drug usage, the excerpt portrays Bonds as a menacing boor, a tax cheat and an adulterer given to (probably because of the rampant steroid use) sexual dysfunction, hair loss and wild mood swings that included periods of rage. The authors report that Bonds gave Bell, with whom he continued his affair after his second marriage in January 1998, $80,000 in cash in 2001 from memorabilia income not reported to the IRS. Theirs was a volatile relationship. Bell retained answering machine recordings of him after he threatened to kill her, remarking that if she disappeared no one would be able to prove he even knew her.

In 2003, as their relationship completely unraveled, Bell angered Bonds by showing up late for a hotel rendezvous. According to the excerpt, Bonds put his hand around her throat, pressed her against a wall and whispered, "If you ever f-----' pull some s--- like that again I'll kill you, do you understand me?"

A few weeks later, the authors write, Bonds told Bell, "You need to disappear."
Shades of Kirby Puckett, whose sad demise was wiped from the front pages within a single news cycle.

I think it's fair to say that while I've tried to be supportive of due process, the need for evidence, and the perspective on steroids' potential impact on performance throughout this whole epic scandal, Bonds' proximity to the homer records and my general distaste for his public persona still short-circuits some of my own rational thinking on the topic. So it gives me satisfaction to see so much evidence about his culpability gathered in one place and reported upon credibly and in minute detail by the reporters who are most knowledgeable about the case.

I spent much of Tuesday soaking up the media coverage of the revelations, right up through a late-night edition of ESPN' "Outside the Lines" which featured Fainaru-Wada, FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal, and Juicing the Game author Howard Bryant. Having just received my paperback copy of Juicing and digested its epilogue, I was particularly taken by Bryant's performance. His portrait of Bonds (excerpted here and here and discussed within my blog here) offered insight into Bonds' personality in a way that -- as intoxicating as I found it at the time -- I was later forced to admit didn't have much corroborating evidence in the public record. Now it seems rather likely that Bryant had been exposed to and informed by some of the findings of the two intrepid Chronicle reporters.

What now from here? Not even Bad Rug Bud knows. But I've been thinking about this in some detail, and I'm coming around to the idea that Major League Baseball's steroid policy needs some kind of clause allowing for a suspension due to a nonanalytical positive; that is, a suspension without a positive test but due to the weight of corroborating evidence. I'm not talking idle speculation and innuendo, either. Catching someone in possession of steroids, masking agents or paraphernalia, as the International Olympic Committee drug enforcers did to the Austrian cross country team, would be one such trigger. Testimony and documentation such as has been produced via BALCO and the Bonds book is another.

I realize this is something of a slippery slope and I'd hardly advocate leaving it solely in the hands of one person, particularly the current commissioner. But I think there should existed a panel of doctors, drug experts, and representatives of the players' union and MLB that could study such cases. How much better off would we be if, say, the BALCO contingent (Bonds and Jason Giambi included) had been issued 25-to-50 game suspensions? We would have been provided some degree of closure to a very dark chapter of the game's history, penalized those who obviously went to great lengths to subvert the game's spirit and flout its rules, and come closer to conforming to the international standards that the Word Anti-Doping Agency has tried to push MLB towards.

We would also have been granted appropriate recourse against Bonds as he ascends Mount Homer (or Mount Henry, as in Aaron). Time is everything to Bonds at this point, and taking a chunk of a season away from him would have been the most effective yet least intrusive way to apply an asterisk to his ascent while shutting up the irrational "expunge-his-stats" crowd. Laying 50 games on him in light of what we know now would certainly prevent Bonds from reaching the record this year and perhaps knocked him into retirement at the end, having come up short.

It's likely Bonds is beyond even Selig's reach, the commish's pledge to do a book report notwithstanding. The addition of a nonanalytical positive loophole might provide him with some ammunition when the next BALCO -- and don't you believe that's the only such ring out there -- hits the fan.

• • •

My Kirby Puckett piece generated a lot of traffic, a fair amount of feedback and wound up being quoted in a few places -- message boards, mainly -- where I don't usually tread, likely due to the fact that few of the other pieces spent as much time on the darker aspects of his life (see my comments to the last post). One of the more interesting things I noticed within the coverage was an excellent first-hand demonstration of the capabilities of a new site called Armchair GM, which was created by Dan Lewis, formerly of dlewis.net back in the day when the baseball blogsphere was young. Armchair GM is built on the Wikipedia engine, allowing anyone to write and edit content on their site with the goal of creating a Wiki-sports encyclopedia. Thus far over 4,900 pages have been created on the site.

The one that caught my attention, of course, was a page called The Blogosphere Remembers Puckett, where my writeup was one of two dozen or so linked and briefly summarized. After discovering I'd been linked, I found the description (something like "Jay Jaffe speaks for the dead") to be rather quizzical and inaccurate, so I edited it myself to say "Jay Jaffe is sad for what Puckett took from us." Not thrilling, but nice, and just a tiny glimpse of the site's capabilities. Check it out.

• • •

If loving the World Baseball Classic is wrong, I don't want to be right. One of the joys of working from home as I do is that when there's really good (or bad) sports-related daytime TV -- the Congressional hearings on Steroids, the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament (the two coincided last year) or a more mundane 1 PM game -- the TV goes on in the background, and thanks to the magic of TiVo, I can listen along and review what's happened as needed.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had the pleasure of watching and listening to the Dominican Republic-Venezuela game (won 11-5 by the DR, who pulled away with a five-run ninth inning after my recording time ran out), the Cuba-Panama game (8-6 Cuba in a wild 11-inning affair that would have ended if Ruben Rivera could have thought long enough to let a pitch hit him in the hand and force in the winning run), and the U.S.-Canada game (where the Americans trailed 8-0 before rallying thanks to a Jason Varitek grand slam). Whatever my reservations about the format and the timing of the tournament went right out da fuckin' window. Even under spring-training conditions, with pitch counts and sloppy fielding and guys wearing strange uniforms, there's an electricity that runs through these games that is incredibly compelling. It certainly doesn't hurt that we've been starved for live baseball action for four-and-a-half months, and it's a hell of a lot more fun than when YES shows an early March Yanks-Red Sox walkthrough.

The game I missed and am kicking myself for is the Canada-South Africa one, where the South Africa team, the tournament's weakest, nearly pulled off "the upset of the century." Joe Sheehan was at the game and has a great writeup of his experience. But the defining moment came on Baseball Prospectus' internal mailing list. Among BP authors, Sheehan has been just one of many WBCurmudgeons, but the on-list buzz about the potential upset in the making prompted Will Carroll to fire this off (apologies to Will and BP for not clearing this first ;-)):
Dear Everyone Else,

Enjoying the Classic?

Told you so.

Your pal, Will
Amen to that. If you've missed the Classic thus far and have a cable TV connection, do check it out, and if you've been griping about it, sit down on the couch with a tall frosty glass of Shut the Fuck Up and enjoy a ballgame already. It's baseball season again. Hallelujah!

I'm gonna go get me some of that. And I think I'll buy a copy of Sports Illustrated for the plane ride.

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