Steroid suspicion tarnishes crown of new home run king

Steroid suspicion tarnishes crown of new home run king
It's times like these that I'm glad to be the father of two daughters.

Daughters who are young adults, who have shaken the shackles of adolescence and who both have pretty good heads on their shoulders.

Daughters who were never really big sports fans.


Today, if I was the father of a son, particularly a young boy who finds wonder in the feats of truly gifted athletes, I wouldn't know exactly what to say if he came up to me after watching sports clips Tuesday (Aug. 7) night.

"Dad," I can imagine the lad asking me, "why is everyone cheering Barry Bonds if he is a cheater? If I cheated on a test at school to get an A, you wouldn't cheer, would you?"

At this point, my mind would begin racing. Should I launch into a dissertation that points out Bonds is suspected of using steroids and other performance-enhancing substances that helped him become the new home run king – but that nothing has been proven? How can I give Bonds the benefit of the doubt when personally I believe – proof or not – that steroids, not his God-given ability or physique, helped the slugger pass Hank Aaron's home run mark?

I could tell my son that after federal agents raided the Bay Area Laboratories Co-Operative facility outside San Francisco in September, 2003, Bonds was linked directly to steroids.

The seizure of files and documents at BALCO, which produced convictions for the company's founder, Victor Conte and three others, turned up evidence showing a pattern of use by track stars Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, Bill Romanowski and some teammates with the Oakland Raiders and some of baseball's prominent sluggers such as Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield.

If I was the father of a curious youngster, I could also tell him San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams published a series of authoritative stories and a subsequent book, Game of Shadows, that details Bonds' use of Winstrol, Deca-Durabolin and other banned performance-enhancing drugs.

You don't have to be an expert in athletic training or sports medicine to begin to grow a bit suspicious. There's something that just doesn't look right about baseball players who are suspected of steroid use – including Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro and Bonds.

Micky Mantle didn't share such a grotesque physical stature. In their prime, neither did Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, George Brett, Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Harmon Killebrew – or any other contemporary professional baseball player.

Statistics help put things in perspective. Let's step back and look at the single season home run record. From 1914 to 1935, the length of Babe Ruth's career, he hit 714 homers. In 1927, he hit a record 60 home runs in a single season.

Ruth's season home run record stood for over three decades. In 1961, Roger Maris broke the record by hitting 61 pitches over the fence.

Ruth's all-time home run record remained intact for four decades. In 1974, Hank Aaron broke the record with home run #715.

Let's look at what's happened in recent years. McGwire broke Maris' record in 1998 by hitting 70 homers. Three years later, Bonds surpassed McGwire, hitting 73 home runs.

Bonds has beaten Maris' 61-homer record once. The retired McGwire surpassed it twice and Sammy Sosa has bettered it three times.

Players may deny they use steroids, but numbers don't lie. Drug-abusing athletes are unfairly excelling, and like a tsunami, they are wiping away the records set by men like Maris whose accomplishments can be credited to hard work, natural talent, and most of all, a love of the game.

It's becoming apparent that Maris, a child of the Great Plains (he was an American Legion baseball standout in Fargo, ND) has been posthumously robbed of his record.

Bond's homer Tuesday was his 22nd of the season. It was the final brick in a wall that the classy Aaron said was built by "skill, longevity and determination."

He could have added another word – science – but opted to let historians decide those matters.

If I were the father of a young boy, I think I'd know how I would reply if he asked me about the mysterious, unproven accomplishments of Barry Bonds: "Wouldn't you rather know where babies come from?"

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias, who refuses to watch any televised games of the San Francisco Giants. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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