Barry Bonds, baseball's all-time home run king (with a few dozen asterisks), wants to return to baseball. And his old team, the San Francisco Giants, is allowing him to take the first step. Bonds will work with the Giants next week in Arizona as a "special hitting instructor."
Bonds was the main character in a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare. He was without question a fabulous player, gifted with a rare blend of power and speed. He was good for 30 to 40 home runs every season, while stealing about the same number of bases. But apparently great power, adulation, and millions of dollars just wasn't enough. Barry Bonds wanted to be baseball's Superman, the greatest star ever to put on a pair of cleats.
In 2000, he hit a career-high 49 home runs at the age of 35. And for an encore? The next year he blasted 73 dingers. Meanwhile, his body, once sleek, had been transformed into something out of Hans and Franz. What happened? The juice is what happened. Steroids. It was later revealed that Bonds had tested positive for steroids, although he only admitted to using some mysterious "clear substance" given to him by his trainer. In fact, everyone knows Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs to pump up his body and his statistics. It really doesn't matter what the man took, it only matters that he did not achieve his records naturally, as Hank Aaron did.
Bonds was a cheater, but every good tragedy has room for more than one villain. The truth is that Major League Baseball enabled Barry Bonds and others to play with chemicals in their systems. The league commissioner, Bud Selig, knew what was going on, but all those home runs were good for business. So Selig, and the union representing the players, did nothing.
There are apologists for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the other chemical wonders of that era, but I don't want to hear it. Cheating is cheating. Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and other baseball greats used their God-given abilities, along with hard work, to achieve incredible success. Their performances did not come out of a laboratory or a syringe.
In present day America, too many believe the end justifies the means, that success is the object, no matter how you get it. In 2012 the Josephson Institute of Ethics surveyed 23,000 high school students and found that 51% admitted to cheating on a test within the past year. But the study also contained a smidgen of good news – that was down from 59% a few years earlier.
An optimist might conclude that cheating is on a slight decline partly because of Barry Bonds. He has not been voted into the Hall of Fame, he is despised by many in baseball, and he is a convicted felon. After years of lying to fans and teammates, Bonds made the mistake of lying to a grand jury, and in 2011 he was convicted of obstruction of justice. That conviction, along with a total lack of contrition, separates Bonds from the other cheaters such as Mark McGwire, now a hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers. McGwire admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and expressed deep regret, saying, "I wish I had never touched steroids."
I don't want to be cruel to Mr. Bonds, who has been vilified for years. But he does not deserve respect, and he does not deserve applause. He should tell everybody exactly how he pumped himself up, apologize profusely, and tour the nation telling kids not to do what he did.
He'll be back in a San Francisco Giants uniform (XXXL) next week, but only for a week. Barry Bonds' journey back to respectability will be long and difficult, and he may never reach that destination. Not unless he comes clean, pardon the expression, and admits what everyone else already knows.