Why They Hate Bonds

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(Black Star writer Mr. Benjamin, says hatred for Bonds, right, goes way beyond alleged steroids use)

Baseball is called “America’s favorite pastime.� But at the present time, baseball is facing a public relations crisis. In the last few years, the issue of steroids has become a “black eye� for baseball.

Several high-profile players have been caught in the blinding glare of this ongoing steroid melodrama. Rafael Palmiero, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi and Mark McGuire have all been linked with steroid use. But one name has become more synonymous with steroids than Barry Bonds.

On May 28, Barry Bonds passed the great white baseball god, Babe Ruth, on the all-time home run list, when he hit a 445 foot two-run shot into the centerfield bleachers at Safeco Field in San Francisco. But Major League Baseball, which is conducting an internal steroid investigation, proclaimed that it wouldn’t honor the milestone, because of the cloud of suspicion surrounding Bonds. Hey, all you need is rumor and innuendo to convict some people.

For several years now there has been speculation that Barry Bonds was on the “juice.â€? Some argued that his prolific prowess given his advancing age defied any other explanation. Isn’t it strange how they never said any such thing about the success of, say, Roger Clemens who also excelled at an advanced age?  Bonds has been crucified in the press as the biggest cheat in the game. Some baseball pundits, like Mike Lupica, have excoriated him even though no definitive proof of steroid use has yet been shown. Many of these self-righteous talking heads insinuate or promulgate the absurd notion that Bonds has done “irreparable harmâ€? to the supposed “integrityâ€? of baseball. And they pretend that their gripe with Bonds has nothing to do with race or class. But history is the proof of their dishonesty.

First let’s dispel this fantasy about baseball “integrity.â€? Baseball, like the rest of America has had more than its share of prejudice, scandals and cheats. Throughout the history of the game, players have used such things as corked bats, vaseline, shaving cream, and pine tar to gain an edge on the field.     

For example, according to rule 1.10 (c) of the official Rules of Major League Baseball a batter may apply pine tar only on the bat handle extending no more than 18 inches down. But, on July 24, 1983, George Brett had his homerun overturned for violation of this very rule, in what is referred to as the Pine Tar Incident.  Also, over the years, many pitchers have used substances such as vaseline and sandpaper to “doctorâ€? the baseball. Sandpaper was used to scuff the ball to allow a pitcher to throw more effective off-speed pitches. Vaseline was used to throw what one calls a greaseball. A few of the pitchers associated with using these banned substances include: Tommy John, Kevin Gross, Preacher Roe, Don Newcome, and Hall of Famers Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry and Don Drysdale. Then there is Senator Jim Bunning, himself a Hall of Fame pitcher.    

Senator Bunning reacted with outrage during the steroid hearings on Capitol Hill. Invoking Hank Aaron’s name he pretended that cheating didn’t occur during the days him and Aaron played. Say what! Isn’t this the same senator who stated that “if I had as good a greaseball as Drysdale at that time [1968], I’d have had fifty-eight scoreless innings, too?â€? And that little thing of racial intolerance prevalent during Aaron’s years—well, we’ll get to that in a minute. But first, let’s revisit a little incident that happened in 1919.    

Many people today don’t know the name “Shoelessâ€? Joe Jackson. Jackson was a great player before his demise during the seminal scandal in baseball history. I speak of the fixing of the 1919 World Series.    
Before Joe Jackson’s fall into baseball oblivion he was one of the game’s brightest stars. An apparently gifted hitter Jackson was admired by many, including several players among the best the game has seen. Ted Williams and Babe Ruth both held Jackson in high esteem. In fact, Ruth once said that “I copied Jackson’s style because I thought he was the greatest hitter I had ever seen, the greatest natural hitter.â€? Obviously, Ruth was enthralled with Jackson. His .356 lifetime batting average is third on the all-time list behind Ty Cobb and the ardently racist two-time Triple Crown winning shortstop Roger Hornsby.    

But as great as Jackson may have been, he was also susceptible to the very greed that is truly at the heart of this nation’s creed. So when he was offered $5,000 as a partial payment to participate in fixing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he agreed. The fix was orchestrated by White Sox first baseman Arnold “Chick� Gandil and a gambler named Joseph “Sport� Sullivan. Gandil enlisted pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty� Williams, infielders Charles “Swede� Risburg and Fred McMullin and of course the fix was sealed with the participation of Sox left fielder Joe Jackson.
Needless, to say the Reds “wonâ€? the series. But many reporters and pundits were far more kind to him than those who are currently crucifying Barry Bonds. Some claimed that Jackson was innocent, even though he admitted under oath that he participated in the fix. But then again, Jackson was white wasn’t he? Now let’s talk race.    

For many years, baseball like the rest of American society cheated African Americans and denied them the opportunity to participate because of their skin color. Consequently, players such as the exceptional Josh Gibson were relegated to “asteriskâ€? status. The Baseball Encyclopedia gives Gibson credit for launching “over 800 homerunsâ€? during his career. In actuality, Gibson hit 942 homeruns, with a .373 batting average (some say .384) during his 17 year career (he died at 35) in the Negro Leagues. One year he hit 84 homeruns! Had he been allowed to play in the Majors, Ruth’s homerun record would’ve been broken long ago. But these inconvenient truths aren’t discussed by those engaged in the euphoric illusion of baseball purity.    

Gibson died three months before Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line. Robinson paved the way for the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and current Washington Nationals’ manager, and Triple Crown winner, Frank Robinson. But although these players were belatedly allowed onto the field, that field was far from level. So, when Senator Bunning talks about there being no cheating when he played, he’s being more than a bit disingenuous. Black players faced many indignities like having to eat and sleep at different accommodations unlike their white counterparts, not to mention playing under the constant threat of violence. Remember this was also the lynching era.    

When one considers all the hurdles these players faced their comparable and sometimes superior numbers take on a new life. Because, we must ask ourselves what else they could have achieved if they were treated equally? Babe Ruth is considered by many whites to be the greatest player ever. But if Willie Mays wasn’t Black would many still delude themselves with this fiction?    

Now let’s get to the two main reasons behind the hatred of May’s godson, Barry. First, there is the issue of besting white icons. Barry Bonds, truth be told is as great as anyone who ever played the game. Forget about the homeruns. His stats in all the other offensive and defensive (do you ever see them showing clips of Ruth playing defense?) categories bear witness to this. For many, the need to elevate a Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle over the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Roberto Clemente signals their inability to let go of white supremacy.

Barry Bonds is the latest incarnation of all those greats. So, for many the steroid issue is the perfect one to try and delegitimize all he has accomplished. And then there is the second correlating link: racial economics. In America, the millionaire athlete is often disliked in a society muted on the issue of class stratification. This goes double if you are a Black superstar athlete. Many suffering from white guilt denial expect the successful Black athlete to be perpetual butt-kissers who must always wear their gratitude, for supposed white benevolence, on their sleeves. Therefore, anyone who violates this golden rule will face severe ridicule—remember what happened to Muhammad Ali in his earlier years?—in the press.

Now, there is one more other little thing to consider. Major League Baseball is also a billion dollar entertainment industry. And in today’s media environment that reality is much more heightened. Moreover, most fans today go to a game to see homeruns, as, unfortunately, far too many don’t appreciate the many nuances of the game. So naturally, there are players who will cater to the demands of the fans. Which means society must share in the blame of the “win at any cost� mentality in sports. For in the end, avarice is at the root of all this hoopla. And that has been a problem in this country centuries before Barry Bonds came along.

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