Hating Barry Bonds
by Bob Wing
Hating Barry Bonds has become a national passion -- or so the very sportswriters who have whipped up this hate tell us. What they don't tell us is that this passion is prevalent almost exclusively among a few white men.
Not that others, including myself, don't think that Barry probably used steroids. Though not proven, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. However, most people have better things to do with our lives than hate Barry. And one's mind must be seriously clouded to overlook a number of important factors:
First, the steroid scandal is principally (though not only) the fault of Major League Baseball, not of any player. Baseball did not ban the use of steroids until 2004. The owners and the commissioner knew about their widespread use and refused to discourage -- let alone ban -- steroid use.
They made huge money from the steroid-powered home run binge and put their profits before the good of the game and the health of the players. To blame the players alone, let alone one single player, for the steroid scandal is ridiculous.
Why isn't the hate aimed at the commissioner or the owners? Is anyone calling for the resignation of the commissioner or for the owners to be banned from baseball, or at least to be penalized in some way?
Moreover, although the most high-profile steroid users (or suspected users) are power hitters, pitchers also used steroids. In fact, although position players far outnumber pitchers, so far more pitchers than hitters have been actually caught and punished for steroid use. Pitchers on steroids were throwing to hitters on steroids. Who benefited the most from their use, the hitters or the pitchers? Surely not just Barry Bonds.
I assume steroid use also affected fielding. So if there are any asterisks applied to records because of steroids, they should be applied to every baseball endeavor over the last decade: all aspects of pitching, hitting and fielding.
So why do a few white men hate Barry Bonds with a passion?
Ask Henry Aaron, the reigning all-time home run king. He received constant death threats and racial hatred when he neared Babe Ruth's hallowed home run record. The racism was so bad that the FBI was deployed to open his mail, Aaron was assigned a personal bodyguard, and his teammates stood constantly at the ready to defend their friend.
Bigots made his life (and his family's life) a living hell. To this day he refuses to discuss his home run chase because it brings back so much pain.
Even in today's racially "enlightened age," many cannot get over their fixation on the Great White Hope. Even dead ones like Babe Ruth whose records have already been surpassed.
And some sportswriters and fans don't seem to be able let racial stereotypes die, especially when they overlap with sensationalism. They constantly find some black athletes to excoriate as beasts, e.g. Allen Iverson, Rasheed Wallace, Terrell Owens, Shani Davis, and Barry Bonds. And they forever tell us that white superstars like Larry Bird, Steve Nash, and others succeeded due to their superior "work ethic" despite "limited talent."
Many Bonds haters justify their stance by saying they are only out to defend baseball's supposedly sacred statistics and records. If that is their real concern, let me suggest the most important thing they could do would be to expunge all the records and statistics set in the decade's long whites-only era. Or they might include Josh Gibson's Negro League record of 84 home runs in one season and 962 lifetime.
Who deserves the asterisk more -- Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds?
Bob Wing is an Oakland Bay Area based activist and writer. His publications include "Crossing Race and Nationality: The Racial Formation of Asian Americans, 1852-1965" (Monthly Review 57.7, December 2005) and "Ruin, Rubble, and Race: Lessons on the Centennial of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906" (MRZine 21 April 2006).