When Barry Met Albert: Guilt By Association?

By Tony McClean
Updated: May 25, 2006



“By buddying up to Bonds, Pujols risks being perceived as one who condones Bonds’ misdeeds. And by cavalierly dismissing steroids as a performance aid, Pujols gives suspicious minds another reason to wonder about his own performance. It may not be fair, but in this age of steroid paranoia, guilt by association is potentially harmful to Pujols’ reputation”.

– Bernie Miklasz, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — This past weekend, while the NBA Playoffs heated up with players that either snubbed or were snubbed by America’s newest “genius” Larry Brown during the Olympics a few years back, a funny thing happened in the Bay.

Barry Bonds tied Babe Ruth and no, the world as we know it didn’t come to an end. In fact, to the surprise of many media folks — the Giants’ slugger was actually applauded (insert fake gasp here) by enemy fans.

These same media folk pooh poohed the mainly positive fan reaction since Oakland and San Francisco share similar baseball fans in the Bay area.

To bad these same media folks failed to realize that Giant and Athletic fans get along about as well as Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther did on a good day. But hey, why let a few facts get in the way of the county’s newest sport — Barry Bashing.

So it should come to no surprise that since St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols tried to put a different spin on the whole Bonds affair, he’s now become the new number one guy on the “Oooooooh, what he said!!” media hit parade.

He quickly replaced current Red Sox pitcher and perennial blowhard David Wells on the list. The rotund hurler opened his mouth and inserted his foot into it earlier in the week by making steroid accusations against Phillies outfielder David Dellucci and Astros second baseman Craig Biggio Following a cover story in Sports Illustrated and while making his first trip to San Francisco, Pujols defended Bonds by saying he respects the accomplishments of the San Francisco Giants’ slugger.

“I know he’s (Bonds) probably made some mistakes in the past, but come on, give the guy a break,” Pujols told ESPN.com. “Respect the numbers in the career he has put up.”

Not long after that, we’ve seen the media now try to paint the talented Mr. Pujols as a misguided youth. The above quote from Pujols’ hometown newspaper was just a brief sampling of how crazy this whole story has become.

While most of the media and the Cory Lidle’s of the world have fallen over themselves in tearing Barry a new one, in some instances it appears that Pujols’ words and the fans’ reaction in Oakland could wind up speaking louder.

Now let me be very clear, I’m not someone who’s trying to be an apologist for Barry Lamar. While I’ve never personally dealt with Mr. Bonds, it’s quite apparant that he can be a 24-karat asshole when dealing with the media.

I was struck by how Bonds stated that “Now you guys can go follow Albert Pujols” in the press conference immediately after he tied Ruth. Say what you want about Barry, but he can dish it out as well as he takes it.

But does the ends justify the means? I guess it depends on which side of the fence you stand on. I was repeatedly told as a child that “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

Well, someone needs to tell that to the mainstream media, who have been doing nothing but that since the revelations of Bonds’ alleged steroid usage was put out by the book “Game Of Shadows”.

One thing that has to be stated is how baseball and the mainstream media have generally looked the other way over the years in dealing with major drug issues in the game.

When Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” was released in the 1970′s, did the media and or baseball really look at what Bouton was saying? No. Instead, they tried to ostracize him for painting a bad light on the late baseball idol Mickey Mantle.

In the 1980′s when the Pittsburgh drug scandal broke out, there were some minor suspensions handed out (Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, Willie Mays Aiken, for examples), but the majority of the punishment was handed out to then clubhouse attendant Curtis Strong.

Fast forward to 1998, baseball’s “Summer Of Love” starring Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. There were whispers about McGwire and Sosa at that time, but again the media and baseball were enjoying the “saving of the game” too much to say or write anything.

Sports Illustrated even named Mr. Sosa and Mr. McGwire their Sportsmen Of The Year for what the magazine called “going to such great lengths to conduct the great home run race with dignity and sportsmanship”.

Just how hollow does that sound now??

Even former Commissioner Fay Vincent revealed that he knew of steroid use by players in the sport as far back as 1989. Speaking on ESPN Radio, Vincent admitted that he heard the rumblings. However, the former commissioner said he felt that the sport had other “pressing needs” at the time.

Maybe if the media and baseball had listened to what Jose Canseco was saying a few years back instead of trying to treat him like the village idiot, this whole affair would have been handled much differently.

Canseco’s book “Juiced” was released last year, however the ex-major leaguer first made his allegations as far back as 2002. It was well before “Game of Shadows” and well before SI’s “revelation” by the late Ken Caminiti.

“Game” and SI’s Caminiti’s story were universally given automatic legitimacy by the media, while Canseco’s book and allegations were pooh poohed by the mainstream media. I remember when Canseco was making the talk show circuit, many said he would be sued to death.

As of this writing, no one — either publicly or privately — has tried to sue Canseco for slander. To me, that speaks volumes. But again, to me it’s about how baseball and the media have completely dropped the ball about this whole affair.

The real crazy thing about this Bonds story is how the extremes have become the norm in reporting, or in some instances, misreporting the entire story. While I admit, that there are many, many layers to this story, so many things have been overlooked or have been pushed to the side.

For example: — If I hear one more person talk about the size of Bonds’ head and his body, I’ll ask them one question: Explain Roger Clemens? He came up during the same era as Barry and he’s also much, much bigger than when he started.

Plus, when you factor in that mainly pitchers (minor and major leaguers) have been the ones suspended the most during this current steroid testing era, it must be asked.

– The racial angle is not the main issue during this whole Bonds affair. But to try to ignore it is simply naive. No, it’s not on the same level as the abuse that Hank Aaron had to take when he passed Ruth, but to deny that it doesn’t exist in the current climate that we live in is incredibly naive.

– Who played on a more level playing field: Bonds or Ruth? The last I checked, the Babe didn’t play against all the best players in the majors during his career. He didn’t face Hall of Fame pitchers like Satchell Paige or Smokey Joe Williams because they weren’t allowed to play.

Should the Bambino be blamed for that? Mainstream media doesn’t mind going after Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan to make political statements. The Babe should have been held just as accountable or in this case unaccountable as well.

In the final analysis, the person who has really been lost in this whole conversation is baseball’s true home run king — Hank Aaron.

We can only hope that his quiet dignity, which has been a constant over the years, can be sustained while all others are losing theirs.