The Lasting Impact of Steroids

By | December 10, 2004

By now, everyone in the world has heard about the leaked grand jury testimony from Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds. What everyone has known for several years is now a confirmed fact: some professional baseball players have accomplished great things with the help of illegal substances. So where do we go from here?

Here’s the main problem I see with this whole situation. Let’s look at Giambi first. In his career, he has put up six 100-RBI seasons, three 40-homer seasons, and two other 30-homer seasons, to go along with four seasons with a batting average over .300. He has also admitted using steroids. In 2004, with baseball cracking down on steroid use and Giambi coming off his grand jury testimony, he suddenly lost 10% of his body weight, missed half the season with mysterious injuries and illnesses, and had a very, very bad season. All of this evidence begs the question: was Jason Giambi ever a great baseball player? Was he ever even a good baseball player? That is the question that baseball fans will ask forever, unless…

Giambi’s only hope of redemption is this: he comes back next season, with whatever team the Yankees pawn him off on; he bats .300; he hits 30 home runs; and he does all of this at a playing weight of about 195. If Giambi can do that, he will prove that it was 2004, and not all the other years, that was a fluke.

But what about Barry Bonds? Bonds’ situation is different in a few key ways. I guess a list of those ways is in order:

  • Barry Bonds has not admitted any wrongdoing, while Jason Giambi has.
  • Barry Bonds has never been a player who fans liked as a person. About 162 times a year, 50,000 or so people like him on any given night–50,004 if you count his wife, kids, and mother.
  • Jason Giambi had a couple great seasons and won an MVP award; Barry Bonds had several record-breaking seasons and won seven MVP awards.

There are only five possible ways the Bonds situation can play out:

  1. Bonds continues to deny any wrongdoing, nothing is ever proven, he breaks all the records in the world, and he retires with 99% of baseball fans positive that he was a cheater.
  2. Bonds admits he cheated, either on his own or because it is proven. He then loses weight in a Giambi-like, post-steroid fashion, and his numbers go back to what they were back when he was just a great baseball player instead of a god.
  3. Bonds admits he cheated, just like #2 above, but his physique never changes. He continues to put up huge numbers, breaks all the records, and retires with 98% of baseball fans positive that he was a cheater who somehow found a way to beat the system and fool the drug tests.
  4. Bonds never admits anything, but he slims down and his numbers go back to the realm of the humanly possible.
  5. Bonds continues to deny any wrongdoing, slims down, and continues to put up historic numbers, breaking every record along the way.

There is only one option that will satisfy baseball fans and give Barry Bonds the credit and place in history someone with his stats should have, and that is number five. Let’s restate that option: in order to prove that he isn’t a cheater, Barry Bonds needs to lose muscle but maintain his power-hitting ability. That’s what his life has come to. He must do the impossible.

If Bonds admits that he knowingly cheated, baseball fans will never forgive him. If he doesn’t admit that he cheated, baseball fans will never believe him–unless he proves it by doing the impossible.

It is sad that this is what Barry Bonds’ career has come to. He has been a great baseball player for about 15 years, the first half of those when he had a toned, athletic, natural-looking body. He could have remained the player he was in the early 1990s, and he would have been a sure-bet Hall of Famer. He would have finished his career with 600 home runs and 700 stolen bases, with four or five MVP awards to go along with it. He would have gone down in history as one of the greatest all-around players in Major League history, right next to his godfather, Willie Mays, in those discussions.

Now, though, his career will be forever tainted. People won’t remember what he could have or would have done. They will remember what he did do, which is break every power-hitting record with dubious methods.

Is it fair? Maybe, maybe not. On one hand, it isn’t fair that there will be people who think that steroids made Barry Bonds a great baseball player. Whether he has been using steroids the past several seasons or not, they did not make him a great player. But if he has been using steroids, then they certainly DID make him the specific great player that he is today. And if he took steroids to take himself from the level of “great player” to the level of “greatest player ever,” well, he deserves all the scrutiny and venom that will surely come his way.

And what if Barry Bonds isn’t a cheater? What if he really only used those things a couple times, stopped as soon as he found out what they were, and really developed his physique via hard work and discipline? Well, if that’s the case, maybe Barry Bonds should retire right now. You know, don’t give the fans the satisfaction of calling for asterisks next to his career home run record. He doesn’t have anything to gain at this point other than his own satisfaction. Of course, as long as Barry’s satisfied and Willie’s proud of him, that’s all Barry ever wanted anyway.

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