Why is Bonds treated worse that Giambi?

By | July 28, 2006

From yesterday’s ESPN.com chat with Rob Neyer:

Zach (Tampa,FL): Hey Rob, Im wondering why everyone is always all over Barry Bonds for alledgedly using steroids when we have an admitted user in the league named Jason Giambi. Why isnt everyone all over him when he crushes a homerun or want to strip his MVP award? More Yankee bias or something else?

Rob Neyer: It’s simple, isn’t it? Bonds is a confirmed jerk, and Giambi is well-liked. Nobody ever said writers were *fair* (although we are, usually).

I have nothing but respect for Rob Neyer, and I almost always agree with him. But I think his answer to this question was WAAAYYYY too simple. I have no doubt that Bonds’ public perception plays a part, but I don’t believe for a second that it is THE answer. Here are my thoughts on other contributing factors. I don’t know if any one particular item carries more weight than the one Rob mentioned, but I definitely think that they combine to make likeableness a small part of a bigger picture.

  1. First of all, there is a flaw in the question. Yes, Giambi apparently admitted to a confidential grand jury that he has used steroids. Barry Bonds told the same grand jury that he might have accidentally used things that might have accidentally been steroids, stuff given to him by a man who has been convicted of providing steroids to athletes. So in this case, I’d say Giambi being an “admitted user” makes him a notch above Bonds, who is a perjurer.
  2. Even if everything was exactly the way Zach from Tampa portrays it, the biggest thing Giambi ever did with his steroids is win an MVP award. Bonds used his steroids to win four MVP awards, AND become the “best” player in baseball history, AND challenge the career home run record, AND break the single-season home run record, AND get his own TV show, AND make all statistical analysis of this era obsolete, etc. It’s like looking at two armed robbers, one who robbed a 7-11 and the other who stole millions from a bank, and wondering why the second one got a longer prison term.
  3. Accurate or not, there IS the perception that Giambi is a repentant former steroid user and Bonds is a lying current steroid user. Is it possible that Giambi is back on some undetectable performance enhancer and that’s why his numbers are back up? Absolutely. And, unfortunately for Giambi, there is virtually no evidence to suggest that such a thing is even unlikely. But, like it or not, Giambi earned some good will when he didn’t perjure himself and when he offered his vague public apology, and it is understandable that a lot of people believe that he is now clean. Bonds, on the other hand, is pulling a Pete Rose on us, denying in the face of overwhelming evidence that he ever did anything wrong. I think the backlash against Bonds may be worse than it would be for someone more likeable, but I also think that the public sees steroids as a bigger slap to the integrity of the game than Rose’s gambling, and I think that overall, we are less willing to be lied to than we were with Rose.

I guess the bottom line is this: Bonds/Giambi is not an apples-to-apples comparison. It is more like an apples-to-moldy-tangerines comparison. And due to the fact that Bonds was already one of the best players in baseball history BEFORE he started cheating, there is little chance that there will ever be another apple to compare him to. And THAT means that Bonds will always receive more scrutiny and criticism than any other cheater in the game. Bonds may not like it, and his fans may not like it, but everyone needs to remember: he did this to himself.

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