Saturday, March 11, 2006

 

Fall From Grace: Barry Bonds

While I'm not 100% sure if this is the truth for every kid, I suspect most little boys, and in many cases, little girls, grow up idolizing baseball players. At the very least, that was the case when I was a kid. Before I grew to have an appreciation for basketball, before I realized that the Steelers were all that mattered, I loved one team above all else: The Pittsburgh Pirates. Furthermore, I idolized none other than Barry Bonds, the greatest player I'd ever seen put on a uniform. I was only six or seven years old when he was in the prime (and twilight) of his career with the Buccos, but I realized even then that he was much better than all the other players.

The fact that my mom seemed to hate Barry Bonds was immaterial to me. Yeah, she thought he was too cocky, too arrogant, but he hit HOMERS, for crying out loud. Who cared what he did off the field? Not me, that's for sure. Without fail, I tried to emulate every aspect of his game. From the way he slapped his glove off his leg while fly balls were still hurtling out towards him, to the way he waggled his bat before unleashing that picture perfect swing, I was convinced I could be Barry Bonds. I didn't bother half-assing it or not running out balls because I thought they were home runs--even I thought that was kind of stupid. My brother, mom, dad, and virtually everyone else I knew respected the player but hated the man. So what? Any minor allegation that sprang up against him in those days was nothing but a bump in the road for me. He was accused of beating his wife and I didn't bat an eyelash, mainly because I think my mom told me that he just "Was mean to his wife." The fact remained that Barry Bonds was the single greatest influence on me, at least from an athletic perspective, for most of my early life.

Now, to anyone that hasn't followed Barry up until now, he's always been cantankerous with the media. Even when he was a not-so-veteran member of the Pirates, he always had a problem with guys that held mics. Maybe he valued his privacy, or maybe he had some demons that manifested themselves in the form of tirades against the media, but he's always been bad with that stuff. The constant bullying of the media that everyone is seeing these days is an old Barry trick that somehow lets him keep his approval ratings in the domain of public opinion high. No matter what he does these days, it seems that Barry is still the bleeding heart of the steriod crisis. Since about 2002, we've seen Barry get bigger and bigger, all the while attributing his gains to a rigorous off-season workout plan and disciplined eating. Everyone seemed to ignore the fact that no natural off-season workout plan could reap the benefits Barry's had. He claimed that he was putting on more weight so as to better handle the rigors of baseball in his increasing age--we just nodded our collective consciousness and marveled at what he was doing. He never mentioned that he intentionally made his head bigger because he was going to be doing promotional work for New Era, but I'm guessing if he'd have said that, we'd have bought it.

Somewhere along the line, we missed something. Or maybe, at a number of junctures, we failed to come to terms with what we were seeing.

Maybe it's easy to lash out at other figures in the steroid crisis. It was really easy to hate Jose Canseco when he started the ball rolling by publishing his book. If you think back, you'll remember that even the wisest scribes in the country were calling the book a shameless money grab and nothing to get excited about. Most were vocal about their intention not to read it. It would seem now that none of them wanted to admit that it was the first bit of unvarnished truth about what was going on in baseball that no one felt needed to be brought to light.

It was easy, very very easy, to hate Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Raffy Palmeiro after their respective star turns in front of a grand jury. If you need a bit of a memory jog, Big Mac came only to talk about what he was doing the next day, and would likely have refused to talk about what he shot on the golf coursoe that morning. He was rather allergic to the past. Slammin' Sammy forgot how to speak English, and Mr. Viagra pointed into that camera and Lied. Right. Through. His. Teeth. But where was Barry? Nowhere to be found, of course.

When everyone else in baseball was being tarred and feathered, there was Barry, using some of that damn charisma of his, deflecting the questions and laughing his way through interviews. Even when it came to light that he had in some way, shape, or form taken steroids, Barry just kept bullying his way through the accusations, blaming it on everyone but himself. Remember flaxseed oil and balm? They were the things Barry thought he was taking. Never mind the fact that everyone kept saying an athlete like Barry would know exactly what he was putting in his body, the denials kept flowing forth, and kept working too.

Maybe some of the blame for what has transpired belongs on us. Sure, Barry apparently was motivated by jealousy to use steroids, according to the new book out on his usage, but what motivated us to believe him when he said he didn't? Was it the fact that he was doing things that no one could possibly imagine? Even when it seemed clearly obvious that he was using, some people, myself included, made the inane excuse that steroids only made him stronger, that they couldn't aid his hand-eye coordination and bat control. Man, we were pretty stupid. Steroids turned by my guess about 50 doubles off the wall into home runs into the McCovey Cove. It seems that we wanted to believe it was possible, that the records that were falling were legit. We're Americans, we need things to be constantly bettered, perpetually improving. Silly us, we certainly had a hand in this.

Finally, we turn to the book. I won't even bother to mention its name or its authors. All that is important about it is the information it presents. Starting in 1998, Barry Bonds began an intensive doping regimen that evidently continued until steroid crackdowns were instituted and the heat began to go up on the whole issue. His reason for this? As I said before, it was jealousy over Mark McGwire's single-season home run record. Jealousy. This from a guy that was clearly recognized as being vastly superior to McGwire in every sense, that would have been a first-ballot HOF'er regardless, and even before all the doping was being considered one of the greatest players of his generation. Now Barry sits, poised to break the most hallowed record in baseball history, and a crowd of 0 people will be happy for him when that time comes. Even Willie Mays, his famous godfather, cannot approve of what he sees when he looks at Barry, no matter how steadfast his public shows of support may be.

Maybe though, Bonds is already paying for his misdeeds. Despite rumors that Major League Baseball might suspend him, he remains largely untouchable, almost mythical. But no one is talking about the fact that he might not only be in the twilight of his career, but the twilight of his life. Everyone knows about the damaging effects steroids have on the liver and heart, and how the lives of many professional wrestlers (read: known steroid abusers) have ended before the age of 50, let alone 60, but Barry doesn't seem to care. He's starting to lose the battle for favorable public opinion, he's being vilified by everyone, and he knows it, even if he doesn't show it. Now, even his HOF status is in jeopardy, as the accusations surrounding him have cast a pall on his career body of work. It's a wonder his kids can look him in the eye, and vice versa. Barry Bonds is going to pay for his crimes, most likely in ways he can't even imagine.


So, now we sit, and we wait. Will fans cheer when he goes yard for the first time? Nobody knows. But one thing I know for sure is this: Barry, after all the denials, the manipulations, the abuses, and the sham of a career you've had for apparently the last 8 years, you're never going to be the same.



The kid that sat in awed silence when you played is gone. You could've been great without cheating. Could've been recognized as one of the five best players ever. But now? Now you're just another asterisk-laden cheat that's going to die an early death.

And you've lost a big, big fan. For good.


The Mauler

Sunday, March 05, 2006

 

The Rules of Life

I'm in Chicago right now, and I have about 45 minutes of time to fill, so all you lucky fans out there (yes, all two of you) are going to be graced with the rules of life:

There's gonna be about....30 of them or so...generally speaking, my life can be broken down into about 30 different microcosms.

Rule #30: Sticky, messy, greasy food products will always, ALWAYS land nasty side down when you drop them. There is no way around this, I hate to say.

Rule #29: If you live any part of your life in State College, the weather will be bad a minimum of five out of seven days of the week. Get used to it and embrace your seasonal depression.

Rule #28: When in doubt, get the hell out. Period.

Rule #27: Any sporting event broadcast by Gus Johnson will always seem about 2o times more exciting than it has any right to be.

Rule #26: It's a bad sign when you're being regularly outwitted by siblings half your age.

Rule #25: Acting disinterested is the best way to get a girl's attention.

Rule #24: If you want to drink and you have the money, by all means, get some good stuff. If not, say hello to White Tavern and Natty Light.

Rule #23: You'll never have money in college: Hello White Tav, Hello Natty Light.

Rule #22: Swallow your pride and mooch as much off of your parents as possible, but don't be a fucking asshole after all they've done for you.

Rule #21: That means don't puke all over them during the summer after particularly rough trip to the bar.

Rule #20: Most things that happen in romantic movies never happen in real life, and most lyrics of sad songs are completely made up and have no basis in real life events.

Rule #19: Any recording artist that uses their own name and nothing else for their band's name is either going to suck or play really odd "mood music".

Rule #18: There are few pleasures in life greater than a good cigar, a good beer, a good book, and a sunset. Indulgence of these pleasures takes precedence over nearly everything else in life.

Rule #17: Most movies starring Tom Green aren't that good. Deal with it.

Rule #16: Reading a good book proves to be more entertaining than 98% of what you'll see on tv. Unbelievable, you say? Trust me, it's true.

Rule #15: Sitting around and just letting your mind wander is one of the single greatest pleasures in life. There's no other way to say it, so I'd recommend doing it frequently.

Rule #14: Be involved, but not so much that you don't have time to just lounge. Lounging is without question the greatest extracurricular activity that every college offers.

Rule #13: Don't do something just because your friends are. Yeah, you've heard that all your life, but it's even more true now than ever before. If you don't feel like doing it, then don't.

Rule #12: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Ever.

Rule #11: Experience a big city once in your life. Immerse yourself in it, do everything you can do, even if it means going broke.

Rule #10: Live with passion, in whatever you do.

Rule #9: No matter how dumb you think they are, your parents know a lot more than you do. Listen to them.

Rule #8: Stand up for yourself, even if it means hurting someone else's feelings.

Rule #7: Have some respect for yourself, because if you don't, no one else will.

Rule #6: Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, a problem might have to be solved with your fists. Make sure they don't miss.

Rule #5: Avoid drama at all costs. Some people thrive on it. Chances are, if you're reading this, you're not one of them.

Rule #4: Family above all else. Good, true friends close behind.

Rule #3: No regrets, make the best of what you got.

Rule #2: Keep the people that are important close, and the people that aren't at arms length away.

Rule #1: Life's not so bad. Don't go making it shitty for yourself. Forgive, forget, and move on. Enjoy your spin on this ball, because it's the only one you get.


Too serious of a post? Sorry, they can't all be funny.

College basketball musings will return either late tomorrow or early Tuesday.

The Mauler

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