RIBAUDO: Making sense of Barry Bonds
It’s spring (though you might not be able to tell given the recent weather we had) and I, like many millions of faithful, look to spring as a season of hope and promise that our team will be the World Series winner in October.
It’s an annual ritual, a time of year that no matter what team you root for you have hope (well maybe not if you’re a Royal or Pirate fan) that the baseball gods will favor your team come October. Hope that during the season some unique configuration of events will descend upon your team and deliver them in the fall, much like those Giant fans of last year. Who would have though at the beginning of last year’s season the Giants would have won the World Series? That in doing so, the Giants would have defied the odds and won the National League West Division, beat the Phillies (a better team on paper) and gone on to win the fall classic. Certainly not me. But the Giants were the hottest team in baseball for 30 days, the right 30 days, and the Giants faithful always knew it was possible. Ah, the magic of baseball.
So, it’s with great irony and a dark cloud that as the season gets ready to open we are faced with the federal court the trial of one of the greatest Giants ever – Barry Bonds. We all know the background, Bonds, the all-time leader in home runs, 762, and homers in a season, 73, is facing four counts of lying to a grand jury and one of obstruction for testifying that he never knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs. He was indicted in 2007, weeks after he played his last game.
The problem is who really wants to deal with this right now? Aren’t we (the fans) past the steroid era? Haven’t we seen the greats of the game like Mark McGuire, Roger Clemons, Sammy Sosa all leave with a cloud and without out exception (those qualified) been rebuked in their attempt to get into the Hall of Fame? Aren’t we past all that? Apparently not. The process of justice has slowly and finally caught up. Imagine what would have happened if Bonds would have just admitted he used steroids, dealt with the hysteria of the moment and gone on? Well, he would not be spending the next month in federal court waiting to see if he will be spending some time on an honor farm prison in Lompoc, Calif.
But how do we make sense of this collision of emotions like a fresh new season of hope and throwback issues of performance enhancing drugs and Barry Bonds? In a broader sense the whole issue goes back to why this all happened in the first place and the answer is simple and as old as the hills: Greed and ego. Others have documented and speculated why Bonds and many others in major league baseball were involved in performance enhancing drugs and it’s clear that improving their performance was critical to getting a bigger contract.
In the case of Bonds it’s been written that he was driven by Mark McGuire’s success (who was also using performance enhancing drugs) when he broke Roger Maris’s home run record in 1998. Bonds was apparently not satisfied that he was already one of the best players in baseball and that he would have been a Hall of Fame player anyway, or that he was already making millions and the centerpiece of the Giants. It wasn’t enough. No this is lesson is about how ego corrupts and in the case of Bonds how he would do what athletes have been trained to do their entire carrier – find an edge. Except in this case he crossed the line. What possess a man who has all the gifts to cross that line? A belief that he is above, that in order to secure his greatness he needs to cross the line with a belief that he is invincible. But in the end there is always the fall.
Just before the time the rumors about Bonds and the rumors of performance enhancing drugs stared to surface, I took my daughter to PacBell to see her first major league game. We got there early, bought her a hat and a hot dog. She played in the center field playground and as if on cue Bonds hit a home run that night into right field. A new fan was born. After the allegations broke my daughter confronted (like many little leaguers did with their parents) about Bonds and the drug allegations and I had to explain to her the whole issue. Needless to say she is a Derek Jeter and Yankee fan now. Oh how they fall.
In another way making sense of Barry Bonds is totally appropriate for the moment. Bonds is on trial not for his use of performance enhancing drugs but the lie and cover up. He seems to be in good company. Just this past week Bruce Perl the head coach of Tennessee men’s basketball who has been a great coach was fired for lying to the NCAA about what really amounts to some small-time recruiting infractions. Or there’s Jim Tressel, the head coach of the Ohio State’s football team, who was recently disciplined for not being forthcoming about infractions by some of his players. It’s always the cover up.
No, making sense of Barry Bonds is a familiar tale attributed to ego, greed and lying. Every parent should let their kid know its not just what happens on the field, its everything so don’t lose sight. It’s the lessons we all learn when young but seem to forget somewhere along the line. But as baseball fans know, the game is bigger and more important than anyone player is.
Baseball season will do what is always has done and give a lot of hope in the spring to many and a little joy in the fall to a few. To hell with Bonds and Clemens and McGuire and all the others, it’s time to play ball.
– Carl Ribaudo is a contributing columnist to the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He is the president of the Strategic Marketing Group, a small marketing consultancy with experience working with the tourism, recreation and hospitality industries. He is also a consultant, speaker and writer who lives at the South Shore. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his full column and additional blog posts at http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/CarlRibaudo.
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