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As Long as We Remember...

August 13, 2007

For The Good of The Game

Derek Shackelford

There are many calls by sports announcers that will make a great moment more memorable. The announcers that distinguish themselves are the truly special ones that know how to capture a thrilling moment.

There is definitely a thin line between letting the moment speak for itself and saying too much. I can only recall a few instances in my lifetime that I have seen a memorable sports record or moment where I could honestly say that I witnessed it because I watched it on television, or I was physically present.

Well, last week I was tuned into a moment in history when the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds hit home run number 756, thus passing legendary home run slugger Hank Aaron. There are many pundits who believe that this record is not legitimate, or should have an asterisk beside it because of Mr. Bonds' alleged use of sports performance enhancing drugs, steroids in particular.

The focus up to this point has not been so much on Mr. Bonds' athletic achievement but more so on whether his athletic ability was enhanced. The media - from my vantage point - has been rooting against him because of the alleged steroid use, or perhaps his reported surly attitude towards them.

I have my own personal opinions about whether Mr. Bonds used the "cream and the clear." If we look at his physical stature over the years can we make the assessment that it was not built on conditioning and weight training?

How many players in the late stages of their career actually perform better? The book "The Game of Shadows," by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, takes a long and detailed look at Mr. Bonds' alleged steroid use, and how it has helped him hit home runs.

So, now, as we think about this historical moment, should we conclude that the record is not legitimate because we think that Mr. Bonds is a cheater?

It has been speculated that this whole era of baseball - from 1985 to the present - will be known as the "steroid era" because of its widespread use by major league baseball players. It seems to me that baseball types and fans have turned a blind eye to steroid use. Attendance and statistics are at all time highs.

Commissioner Bud Selig has shown his disdain for Mr. Bonds' achievement by not so much as commenting on either the chase of the record, or on Bonds' guilt or innocence. The nerve of Bud Selig now to show his disapproval when some of this reported abuse happened on his watch. Not too mention that Mr. Selig owned the Milwaukee Brewers during this some of this period as well. When owners and television networks are making millions of dollars, where was Mr. Selig's voice of reason on the steroid issue?

Also, if Mr. Bonds used sports performance enhancing drugs, how many other are guilty as well? If Commissioner Selig is to be fair about cleaning up the game, then he has to speak out against the mass of players and not Barry Bonds alone.

It should not be merely a witch hunt against Mr. Bonds simply because one does not like his attitude. Did Mr. Bonds' alleged steroid use increase his ability to hit a baseball with precision hand-eye coordination? It can be debated that Mr. Bonds may be the most feared hitter of the last 20 years. His number of walks may bear this out.

Also, it can be debated that Mr. Bonds may be the greatest player in history. Should we place an asterisk beside Babe Ruth's name and diminish his greatness because he did not compete with African American and Latino players?

I believe the answer is no. We should judge Mr. Bonds in the era in which he competed, with those players who competed in this period known for its steroid use. Suffice it to say that great is great no matter what era; greatness transcends time.

How many players have used steroids in the minor leagues in an attempt to increase their athletic production, but still but failing to make it to the Big Leagues? Also, Neifi Perez, a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, weighs only a reported 160 pounds and has been suspended for testing positive for steroid use. This was his third failed test and I don't think that anyone is confusing Perez with any baseball slugger.

Whether it is Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron or Babe Ruth, great is great no matter the era, not to mention the disdain that Mr. Aaron experienced for breaking The Babe's record simply because of his race. "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron had to endure persecution from some of the general public because he was African American. Let's appreciate the record for what it is.

Many have played and have not achieved even a modicum of greatness. I have heard those who have played the game declare that one of the hardest things to do is hit a baseball. As many times as Mr. Bonds has done it, I can say he makes it look awfully easy.

Now the discussion will continue on whether this is a tainted record or not. Print media, radio, and television have covered this story to the hilt this summer and we can almost guarantee that various opinions will continue. We have become obsessed with sports, while declaring at the same time that it is just a game.

Unfortunately sports, like many professions, has shown a proclivity for bending the rules. Law, politics, and entertainment have their share of participants who will do whatever it takes to get ahead. If this requires cheating or ethical violations, than so be it.

I thought back for a moment when the bridge in Minneapolis collapsed and, as a result, some suggested that the Minnesota Twins should cancel their scheduled baseball game. The game went on as planned. The prevailing notion was that the tragedy really puts sports into its proper perspective.

Sports should always be in its proper perspective.

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