Friday, July 27, 2007

Go, Barry!

Now that Barry Bonds is one home run away from tying Hank Aaron's record of 755 in a career (it's nice that a season ticket-holder caught No. 754), I might as well let you know where I stand. I hope he does it soon, and I don't think he deserves an asterisk.

Years ago, when the minor-league (Single-A) Lake Elsinore Storm team was just starting, I attended an exhibition game and got to talking with some other fans from nearby Riverside, sitting a couple of rows away. It turned out they were relatives of Barry Bonds, who even then had a bad rep as a surly guy who wouldn't talk nice to the press. I told more of the story in a WorldNetDaily column (before they dumped me shortly after 9/11 when it was clear I wasn't going to be an enthusiast of endless wars). The short version is they said Barry wasn't a bad guy, but he'd been burned a few times by reporters and had decided not to talk with them. They admitted it might not have been the best decision, but Barry wasn't the type to kiss up to people. I believed them and found that an attractive characteristic rather then a character defect. I guess I just like individualists, even when they're prickly.

As to steroids, it's never been proven he used them, but I wouldn't be surprised. If you know how I feel about the drug war, you won't be surprised to know I think the whole steroids thing is overblown. Professional athletes are always trying to get an edge, whether by practicing hard, working out, employing a sports psychiatrist or taking vitamins and supplements. I think there's a thin line and a somewhat arbitrary one between steroids (in which I've never had an interest) and supplements (of which I take a bunch). I don't think using steroids is inherently "cheating," although I think it's taking an unwise risk.

I know, steroids can have bad side-effects, perhaps (though it's not conclusive) fatal ones, and the evidence that they change your personality for the worse is pretty strong. I for one wouldn't relish having my testicles shrink. But we're talking about adults here, and adults in a free country should be able to decide for themselves what risks they take with their bodies. Unless we're going to outlaw hang-gliding, mountain-climbing or working in high-risk occupations (carpentry turns out to be more dangerous than police work) the government has no business banning substances just because they have dangerous side effects, especially if it's done on the basis of bad publicity rather than science. Many perfectly legal prescription drugs have more dangerous side effects than steroids.

Now Major League Baseball as an organization, like other professional (and amateur) sports leagues does have the right to ban the use of certain substances whether I think it's a wise move or not. There's no absolute right to play in an organized league, and almost all private organizations have some sort of rules (even if they're implied rather than formal) for those who want to be members. Membership is a privilege rather than a fundamental right. But at the time Barry Bonds is alleged to have used steroids, there was no MLB ban on their use. So even if he did use them, he wasn't breaking a league rule. He's never tested positive since they were banned.

Remember, Barry Bonds was a recognized all-star caliber player long before he is alleged to have juiced up. His talent is undeniable. He hardly ever strikes out, which is unusual for a slugger. When he breaks Hank Aaron's record I'm going to celebrate -- probably with beer, the drug of choice for athletes in the Ruth era, but not with amphetamines, the drug of choice in the Aaron era, according to Jim Bouton's classic book, "Ball Four."

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