The road to baseball immortality is paved with good intentions. Or at least for Barry Bonds, that is. The San Francisco Giant's power hitter is currently embroiled in a steroid scandal in which he claims he unintentionally ingested performance-enhancing drugs.
In 2003, Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson gave the slugger undetectable steroids called "the cream" and "the clear." Bonds says he was told the cream was a soothing balm for arthritis. The clear was allegedly flaxseed oil to battle fatigue. These were supposedly needed to combat the wear and tear on his body when the Giants played a day game after a night game.
According to Victor Conte, founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), the cream and the clear contain steroids. Bonds has openly admitted to using them. However, no charges have been filed against Bonds despite the fact that obtaining steroids and human growth hormone without a doctor's prescription is illegal.
|Ignorance or unintentional use is not an excuse for Olympic athletes. Many feel it shouldn't fly in Bonds' situation either.|
So, the issue is not whether Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs, but whether he did it intentionally. And if he were charged, would his claims of ignorance hold up? This answer could mean the difference between Bonds' status as a baseball god or baseball fraud.
Admittedly, there are some elements that work against Bonds' ignorance plea. Five other players, including three former teammates, have testified that they knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs from Anderson. Anderson in fact has been charged with operating a steroid distribution ring to elite athletes.
Moreover, federal prosecutors produced documents they suggest were calendars of Bonds' steroid use. Many of these papers contain Bonds' name. They also introduced lab test results that showed Bonds had relatively high testosterone levels for a male of his age. Doctors say this can indicate steroid use.
Bonds stands by his claim of unintentional use. He says he applied the cream and the clear in the PacBell locker room "in front of everybody. I mean, all the reporters, my teammates. I didn't hide it." Bonds also asserts he never saw any documents from Anderson. The homerun hitter was at a loss to explain the notations on the alleged steroid calendars.
As for their relationship, Bonds says he never paid Anderson for any supplements. He says the two were friends. Bonds insists they never discussed steroids, even after Anderson's arrest. Bonds just trusted whatever Anderson gave him.
Bonds admitted he didn't think what Anderson gave him was working for his arthritis and fatigue, so he eventually stopped taking it. Bonds did, however, give Anderson a $20,000 bonus and a ring after Bonds' record-breaking 73 homerun season. Anderson got a $15,000 bonus for weight training in 2003 and a ring after the Giants' 2002 World Series appearance.
Ignorance or unintentional use is not an excuse for Olympic athletes. Many feel it shouldn't fly in Bonds' situation either. They argue that changes in Bonds' body and the results on the field were tangible. He added 40 pounds of muscle and increased his homerun production dramatically after he turned 35. Prior to that, the most homeruns he had hit in one season was 46. In 2001, he hit 73 homeruns at age 37. Bonds attributes his success to a strict training regimen, a special cook, and a nutritionist from StanfordUniversity, not steroid use.
Ultimately, whether Bonds' denials hold up would be a question for the courtroom. And while Bonds has never cared what fans think, one recent skeptic may have hit a little closer to home. Hammerin' Hank Aaron, whose career homerun record is within Bonds' sights, has admitted to wondering how Bonds has grown old so gracefully. Bonds hit 45 homeruns at age 39 and 40. Aaron had 40 at 39 years old, and then dropped to 20 the following year. At age 41, Aaron only had 12 homers.
And what about Bonds' many records? He holds the single season homerun record with 73. Bonds' career total of 703 homeruns is hot on the heels of Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755. Bonds also earned his fourth consecutive National League MVP award this past season.
Should all of these feats still stand if steroids were involved? If so, should an asterisk highlight the fact his achievements came with the help of performance-enhancing drugs?
Bonds' attorney has always maintained that even if Bonds had used steroids during his 73 homerun season, the drugs were not banned in baseball at the time. This means Bonds' records stand unstarred.
This argument points us to the future of America's pastime. Baseball purists believe the game has already been damaged by the looming questions of steroids. They advocate for strict testing and penalties to ensure "clean play." Arizona senator John McCain has promised to introduce legislation for drug testing standards into professional sports if baseball players and owners don't figure something out on their own. Bonds himself has said, "They can test me every day if they choose to."
For Barry Bonds, though, no matter what happens in the legal system or in Major League Baseball regulations, the final verdict rests in the "Court of Public Opinion." Each fan will choose how he or she remembers Bonds—as a star or with an asterisk.