The Green Papers Commentary
 

A COMPLETE WASTE OF BOTH TIME AND TAX REVENUE
Congressional Hearings and the Baseball "Steroid Scare"

Friday, March 18, 2005

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
TheGreenPapers.com Staff

Let me start off by noting a number of points right off the bat (pun intended):

First, 'The Green Papers' is not normally a place where one can find sports commentary but, when an issue within the world of Sports comes within the purview of the Congress of the United States (as was the case as regards a hearing held before the Committee on Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday 17 March 2005), sports and politics have then merged and what I might write on the subject is, as is the case with all my Commentaries on this website, principally a commentary on a political issue of the day as much as it might be about the world of spectator sports.

Second, let the record note that I am a sports fan, in particular a baseball fan. Baseball was the very first sport I followed at least somewhat knowledgeably even back when I was still a child and it remains my favorite spectator sport to this very day; in addition, I can well claim to have read as much as- if not more than- anyone about the history of the game, on its business side as well as about any on-the-field dramatics over time. Thus, what I might say herein either in defense of, or negative about, the baseball world comes from someone who has long been a keen student of baseball, its economic history as well as the workings of the game itself-- yet I am, above all, primarily that fan I first described myself as at the beginning of this paragraph.

Third, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not here at all belittling the issue of steroid use among young athletes. Indeed, this is a significant problem in American society (where it is, in essence, a subset of the greater issue of adolescent drug abuse) and the deaths (often via suicide) or at least serious bodily harm which accrue to the teenager or young adult who uses steroids is not something which one can, or should, trivialize. Likewise, I am also not at all belittling the problem of steroid use and abuse in Baseball; indeed, I think the latest policy about steroid use put forth by Major League Baseball as a result of collective bargaining with the Baseball Players' Association (one which allows "four strikes" before a fifth steroid-related offense bans a player for life and where the suspension for a first such offense is a mere 10 days) is far too lenient: I myself would have suggested a "three strikes, you're out" policy in which the first offense would net an automatic suspension of 40 games (about 1/4 the 162-game Baseball regular season), the second would result in a suspension of a full calendar year and a third offense would kick the player out of Organized Professional Baseball altogether for life.

Having said that, however: finally, and most simply put, had San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds not hit 73 home runs back in 2001 to set a new season home run record, breaking the record of 70 set by St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire only three years before, we would not even be discussing the use of steroids in baseball in so public a forum and we would certainly not have had the spectacle of a U.S. House committee holding day-long televised hearings on the subject. I'll have much more to say on the relationship of Barry Bonds' home run record to this latest episode of "'roid rage" (as in "rage about 'roids") on the part of the public later on in this piece.

But, to start with, one has to ask; why does Congress seemingly love to, with at least some regularity, haul Baseball into hearings before one or more of its many committees whenever there is the potential of major scandal in the sport? After all, none of the other major professional spectator sports in the United States of America- not the National Football League, not the National Basketball Association, not even admittedly lesser players such as the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer or NASCAR are subjected to such treatment at the hands of the highest legislative organ of American governance. Yes, officials in these other sports may well have been called in to testify before Congress from time to time, but Baseball certainly seems to have been much more the focus of Congress than any other sport has been.

First of all, members of both houses of Congress- of either gender, by the way- generally claim to be baseball fans (and I am sure quite more than merely a few legislators and their staffers are now rather happy that Major League Baseball is returning to the Nation's Capital for the first time in nearly three and a half decades in the form of the one-time Montreal Expos becoming the Washington Nationals this very Spring); in addition, they- like many of their constituents- still well buy into the myth that Baseball remains America's so-called National Pastime (this despite the fact that American Football- at both the professional and major college levels- has been far more popular as a spectator sport in this country for at least a quarter century, if not for upwards of a decade longer: there is no question that the Super Bowl has long supplanted Baseball's World Series as the premier sporting event here in the United States!): thus, their feeling that what happens in Baseball- more than any other sport- reverberates at least somewhat more strongly among America's young athletes, even if those young athletes don't even happen to be playing Baseball.

Secondly, there is that nagging- where not altogether foolish- exemption from Federal anti-trust regulation that Baseball, alone among major American professional sports, still holds, thanks to a now-largely discredited U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Federal Baseball Club v. National League [259 U.S. 200 (1922)] in which the Nation's highest court ruled that Baseball was neither "commerce" nor "interstate" (the fact that players from one baseball club had to cross state lines in order to play those on another club being considered merely "incidental" to "sport" that was not at all to be considered "business"). I myself contend that the Federal Baseball Club ruling is one of the worst decisions ever made by the high Court, only slightly better than the Dred Scott case, The Slaughterhouse Cases and the "separate at the same time being equal" ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. Federal Baseball Club is particularly irksome to me personally because the person I consider to be, arguably, the best jurist this country ever produced- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.- wrote the Opinion of the Court in this particular case, proving- if nothing else- that even the best fall well short of perfection!

The Federal Baseball Club decision was to be upheld in the case of Toolson v. New York Yankees [346 U.S. 356 (1953)] and later became a focal point of a decision that was not so bad as it was most confusing- Flood v. Kuhn [407 U.S. 258 (1972)]. In that opinion, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that, while Baseball having an anti-trust exemption which no other sport had ever been granted was something between an "anomaly" and an "aberration", nevertheless this exemption was upheld as stare decisis (binding legal precedent) on the rather lame grounds that what the Court referred to as Congress' "positive inaction" had effectively codified this status quo. One can only imagine just how different American Society would have been had the Court, eighteen years earlier, taken the exact same attitude toward Plessy v. Ferguson re: its landmark desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education: yet, in the Flood case, what the high Court was saying to Congress was- in effect- 'we once interpreted the anti-trust statutes you passed to not have included Baseball and, even though we now willingly acknowledge that doing so was a big mistake, we expect you to alter the relevant statutes in order to rectify this problem and, until you do, we will go on acting as if you actually intended this silliness to remain the Law of the Land, even though we all know you in Congress never ever did!'

Thus, contrary to popular belief, Congress never ever actually granted Baseball an anti-trust exemption (rather, it was the Federal Judiciary of the early 20th century which so blithely assumed Congress had so granted by specifically refusing to define Baseball as a "business" engaged in "interstate commerce" [a position that was not only ludicrous but one that both Congress and the Federal Courts thereafter refused to take in relation to later-organizing professional sports, thereby belying the overall validity of said position in the first place!]); nevertheless, Congress is forced (absent some future reversal of Federal Baseball Club, as reiterated in Flood v. Kuhn) to act as if it, indeed, had so granted the exemption and, indeed, one is likely, to this day, to hear Congressmen themselves referring to "this exemption we granted to Baseball" (as I myself heard, more than once, during the course of the 17 March hearing itself) . Nevertheless, and at the same time, this anti-trust exemption is a double-edged sword which Congress, every so often, uses to haul Baseball fully into the glare of klieg lights in a committee caucus room in Washington, D.C. in a way it cannot so easily do in relation to other sports which have always been subject to Federal anti-trust legislation.

Finally, Congress more often hauls Baseball into hearings because its constituents- the American voters, a large number of whom follow the sport (if only casually)- themselves largely demand it, as was the case with this very hearing. But exactly why would the average baseball fan so demand? The cultural historian Jacques Barzun has been quoted as saying that "whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game": still true, even with the sport's declining popularity- at least as a percentage of the sports-minded U.S. population, as compared to (American) football and basketball and judging from the television ratings- over the past more than a generation or so.

Baseball, indeed, is strange among American sports in its relationship to the greater Society: it has the longest history (fully professional baseball dates back to 1869 and the first professional league was formed two years later [the baseball club currently known as the Atlanta Braves being the only North American professional sports franchise that has been operating continuously, fielding a team annually, since the formation of that very first league in 1871- albeit in three different cities) and, largely as a result of its longevity, its individual records set over time are near-sacred, with those who have set them apotheosized as demigods. But it is also the only sport where one does not merely break a cherished record so much as one's also having to be considered worthy of so breaking it (for instance, long-time Baltimore Orioles infielder Cal Ripken was seen to be the perfect person to have broken the record of consecutive games played once held, until Ripken actually broke it back in 1995, by one-time New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig: for most baseball fans, Ripken's persona and demeanor exuded a certain nobility that smoothed over the fact that a record once thought unbreakable had finally been broken- one shudders to think what the reaction, instead, might have been among fans had a player with a more egotistical and arrogant bent been the one to break Gehrig's "streak"!)

Through this realm now walks Barry Bonds, son of a former Major League Baseball player, the late Bobby Bonds: thus, Barry Bonds grew up in the world of big-time professional baseball (his godfather is Willie Mays, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time- the original "five tool" [run, catch, throw, hit for average, hit for power] ballplayer) and was clearly influenced by what his father lived. Bobby Bonds, Barry's father, was a late contemporary of outfielder Curt Flood, the Flood of the aforementioned Flood v. Kuhn case, who sued to fight the so-called "reserve clause" which- at the time- appeared to bind a player to play for a given team, even after his contract had expired, until either traded or released (problem was: in reality, there was- in 1970, when Flood first brought his lawsuit- no such clause in the Standard Player Contract; although a reserve clause does date back to near the beginning of the National League in 1876, it had disappeared from player contracts as the 20th century wore on, replaced by an "option clause" that, as written, simply allowed a club to entertain an option to retain a player, whose contract had expired, for one more year under the expired contract's terms-- the baseball owners of the time simply interpreted this option as a perpetual one [when one year ended, the option would simply be renewed- if necessary- for the following year: assuming, of course, that the ballplayer in question had not already succumbed to the reality that he would have to accept whatever terms were offered- re: a new contract- by the club (or any other club to which he had been traded), since no other club in Major League Baseball would willingly try to sign a player already playing under the "option" for someone else]).

Curt Flood, an African-American clearly feeling the impact of the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s into the 1960s, felt that being "reserved" was akin to "indentured servitude", if not outright "slavery" (a rather explosive concept to an African-American, even to this day, given hundreds of years of History), in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads- in its Section 1:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude [which was, by the way, clearly intended to cover the concept of the indentured servant; for example, I myself believe that the 'au pair' system is patently illegal throughout the U.S. under this provision ("what's the difference between an 'au pair' and a nanny?": "about $400 a month" [;-)]) and that those who utilize 'au pairs' are, for all intents and purposes, violating the Constitution], except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

so, when he was traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 baseball season, Flood refused to report and, instead, sued then-Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for his "free agency"- that is, his right to sell his skills and services as a free agent to the highest bidder. Flood ultimately lost his case (even though many of my fellow baseball fans, to this very day, still link Curt Flood's name to a free agency of ballplayers they- for a wide variety of largely silly reasons- so despise), the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to rule on 13th Amendment grounds and then lamely- and far from gamely- upholding the ruling in Federal Baseball Club v. National League from 50 years earlier, as aforesaid. Free Agency in Baseball only came about, a few years later, as a combination of the greed and stupidity of one club owner (who was found to have reneged on key provisions of a player's contract: as a result, that player- pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter- was ruled the first "free agent" prior to the 1975 season) with the Players' Association, the ballplayers' labor union, thereafter challenging the owners' continuing to interpret the "option clause" as a mere (and, in retrospect, highly questionable) continuation of the 19th century era "reserve clause".

Bobby Bonds was one of a "new breed" of Black ballplayer whose career straddled this transition in Baseball from indentured to free and his son Barry grew up absorbing the atmosphere, both positive and negative, that this era engendered: Bobby had arrived in the Major Leagues with the San Francisco Giants, for whom he played for 7 seasons, the season before Curt Flood's last with the Cardinals. Then, after being traded to the New York Yankees "straight up" for Yankee fan favorite (and current Yankee broadcaster) Bobby Murcer prior to the 1975 season (Bobby' Bonds' son Barry was 10 1/2 years old at the time), the elder Bonds ended up being traded by the Yankees one year later, after which he played for six more Major League clubs (his final year in the Majors was 1981). Although, by the end of his career, free agency (and its concomitant salary escalation) had been well established, Bobby Bonds- unlike his contemporary Reggie Jackson- never benefited from a major free agent contract.

His son would, however. In 1993, after 7 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Barry Bonds signed a lucrative free-agent contract with his father's and godfather's old club, the San Francisco Giants, which made him- at the time- the highest salaried ballplayer. Many fans, angry at the escalating salaries (on which they- wrongly [since one is talking about price equilibrium in two distinct "markets" (how much does a club pay a ballplayer as opposed to how much does the team charge for admission)]- blamed escalating ticket prices along with such things as having to now pay for games once seen on over-the-air television for free via a cable TV premium channel), were angry at Bonds' contract: they pointed out that, although his career home run percentage (percentage of home runs compared to at bats) at the time was 5.0, it was a paltry 1.5 in three straight postseason appearances (the Pirates appeared in the National League Championship Series in 1990, 1991 and 1992, losing each time-- the last of the three was particularly ignominious for Barry Bonds: with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Pirates on the verge of winning the 7th and final game 2-1 to finally advance to the World Series, light-hitting Atlanta Braves pinch hitter Orlando Cabrera singled to leftfield, where Bonds was playing; the tying run probably would have easily scored anyway but the winning run was scored by a runner- Sid Bream- whose running speed was, at best, questionable and, yet, who managed to reach the plate just ahead of Bonds' throw... many blamed Bonds for the loss and it was right after this season that Bonds with the Giants... by the way, it is a singularly irony that, in this age of Free Agency, Bonds has been with the Giants ever since-- 2005 will mark his 13th season with the club).

Barry Bonds' rather unapproachable personal demeanor, one that implied he was the type of player who not only knew he was good but "if you don't believe him, just ask him", even more incensed the many following the game: thus, already in 1993, Bonds had become the "poster child" for all that the "purist" baseball fan hated about the modern game- free agency, expansion (the National League added two new clubs that year; Baseball would add two more teams five years later), artificial turf, increased prices for a beer and a hot dog, the designated hitter (not just its use in the American League since 1973, but the threat that it could someday come to the National League, currently the only professional baseball league at any level that does not use the "dreaded 'DH' "), a strike by the Players' Association in 1994 that canceled the World Series for the first time as a result of a labor dispute (many fans did not think that ballplayers- many of them by now multimillionaires, should even have a union- forgetting that unions are primarily about working conditions, not merely monetary compensation for services rendered), etc. 40-year-old fans (and I can speak to this because I myself was "pushing the big 4-0" back in the early 1990s) were becoming more and more angry that they didn't seem to feel the same about Baseball as they once had when they were 10 (a subset of the Baby Boomer attempting to resist- where not outright thwart- aging, conveniently forgetting that if you are a 40-year-old and you still think like a 10-year-old, you have a distinct problem!) and blamed it on these trends in the modern game, trends whose living negative symbol was, as he still is... Barry Bonds.

Cal Ripken's apparent nobility in breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games "streak" in 1995 mitigated much of the animosity fans felt as a result of the strike the year before (Ripken was seen as a "lunch bucket" player with which the average fan could identify, a far cry from a Barry Bonds-- Ripken, unlike Bonds, was seen as a hard worker, willingly playing through any nagging injuries much like a factory worker refusing to take a "sick day" in order to do his necessary job: this was a quite interesting take by the average fan of the game, considering that the average fan also generally refuses to see what ballplayers do as anything approaching "work"- thus Ripken was given [and still largely retains, even 4 years after he has retired] a "free pass" in this regard). Then, three years later, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa thrilled the Nation with a duel for the season home run record held by one-time New York Yankee great Roger Maris (61 back in 1961): both men surpassed Maris' record that season- Sosa knocking out 66 homers and McGwire setting the new record with an unheard of 70...

that is, until Barry Bonds slammed 73 home runs three years after that, in 2001...

I want to make it clear that I remain unconvinced that steroids had much, if anything, to do with either McGwire's or Bonds' home run records, regardless of whether or not they might actually have done what are usually classified as "steroids" (of course, we don't know right now if either ever used steroids, though McGwire was once seen with a vial of what could be termed a "proto-steroid" or "steroid-like substance" in his locker during his 1998 home run record chase-- Sosa, by the way, specifically denied using steroids at the 17 March hearing: McGwire, on the other hand, refused to comment). To me, the "steroid scare" (as I have termed the idea that these records are largely- if not solely- due to steroid use, because I put it in much the same category as the "Red Scare"s that had flared up from time to time in 20th Century America) is one of those things that seems to retain its popularity despite its paucity of evidence (it seems much along the lines of the idea that a half-dozen gunmen all showed up in Dallas' Dealey Plaza at the same time on 22 November 1963). Baseball fans make the mistake of continuing to believe that mass is the principal ingredient involved in hitting a home run when, in fact, the key component is bat speed through the hitting zone (the vector and velocity of the bat striking the vector and velocity of a pitched ball determines the vector and velocity of the ball after it has been struck); thus, the popular notion is that a bigger ballplayer can hit more home runs: while, to some extent, true (a more muscular player seemingly better has the strength to hold the bat in such a way through the hitting zone that it better generates what Baseball calls "power"), "little guys" can hit homers, not all "big guys" do with regularity and steroids are not the only way to achieve such a "big guy" physique in any event.

What steroids do is to possibly (much depends on the individual who takes them) give one more stamina: thus, one can apparently work out in the weight room somewhat longer while, and for a time after, taking a course of steroids (this, by the way, may well often be of dubious effect-- for it is possible to work out in the weight room too much: after all, there is a "law of diminishing returns" in any exercise regimen). Steroids are considered, by many both on and off the field, to be "cheating"- on grounds that steroids give the player who uses them an unfair competitive advantage over one who doesn't use them: but, if this be the case, then the player who works out in the weight room longer and/or more effectively than another player would also have to be considered "cheating" (for the more bulked-up player, even without steroids, has the same distinct competitive advantage over a player not so bulked-up-- what makes this any the less "unfair"?): in other words, in order to be consistent, one would have to also argue for banning weight rooms from Baseball (three years in a row- 1988, 1989, 1990- the Oakland Athletics, led by a young Mark McGwire and the man whose recent book Juiced has largely stirred up the present controversy, Jose Canseco, appeared in the American League Championship Game: the A's were the first baseball club to make weight training an integral part of player development, long before anyone else--- one has to ask, even absent steroid use, were Oakland's three American League pennants and one World Series Championship [in 1989], the result of "cheating"? if the answer is "no", then being bulked-up, whether steroids were used or not, is not at all an issue).

There is no good scientific evidence (and this was brought out in the course of the 17 March hearing) that steroids alone improve hand-eye coordination (though studies do show that steroids do improve cognitive function: it is unclear, however, how such improved cognition would translate to a hitter standing in the batter's box during a Major League game), which takes away yet another argument about steroids possibly contributing to recent home run records. The only even halfway decent (and it is just barely, if even, that!) argument relating steroids to season home run records is on the grounds that steroids do appear to help one recover faster from nagging minor injuries (a slight groin or hamstring pull, a minor strain of the knee or ankle, and the like) that would otherwise likely keep a hitter out of the lineup for a game or two (the argument against Barry Bonds' 73 is that, assuming- for sake of this particular argument- Bonds used steroids, had he not he might have otherwise missed, say, 5 to 10 games in which he actually played-- this would have translated into a loss of some 15 to 30 at bats [Bonds' average at bats per game in 2001 was 3.1]: with Bonds' home run percentage being 15.3 that year, a loss of 31 at bats in 10 games he wouldn't have played would have translated to a loss of 4 to 5 home runs [thus, he would have hit either 68 or 69 and not broken McGwire's record]-- the problem is, there is no way to prove any of this, which is all in the "might have- would have" category which is not credible evidence of anything!).Much is made of the fact that Bonds hit only 49 home runs in 2000 and 46 in 2002 on either side of his 73, but Roger Maris hit only 39 in 1960 and 33 in 1962 on either side of his 61 (so the rise and drop off is comparable-- though, even if it weren't, it wouldn't prove anything! [by the way, I honestly don't think Maris was doing steroids ;-)] )

Yet, in his testimony before the 17 March hearing, Senator Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) argued that, should a ballplayer be shown to have "cheated" (I here use the word in quotes for reasons that will become clear shortly) by using steroids, his records should be expunged (the Hall of Fame former Major League pitcher not at all taking into account that this would merely allow records set by players we don't- or can't- know used steroids- even if they did- to still stand, let alone addressing the issue of just how one might go about "proving" someone used steroids several seasons back!) Bunning also noted that, in his playing days, no one in Major League Baseball improved after turning 30 over their performance throughout their 20s (but couldn't the appearance of the weight room and year-round conditioning [until comparatively recently, Spring Training was, literally, training to get ballplayers who had gone flabby over the winter back into regular season playing shape] have had the same effect?). In the end, Senator Bunning provided much heat but little real light.

There was, however, far more idiocy on the dais than at the witness table during the hearing: Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California)- a man who seemingly rarely sees an overreaching, intrusive and constitutionally-questionable Federal regulation he doesn't like- talked openly about Federal regulation of a single drug standard across the board in all sports (forgetting that the reason the NFL is stricter about steroids [although, as indicated at the start of this piece, I myself would like to see a first time steroid offense result in something more akin to the 4 games out of 16 suspension used in the NFL] is precisely because steroids do directly affect American football: a 6-foot-3 defensive lineman weighing 260 pounds one year ballooning to 320 a year later is a problem in a game where mass- in the form of the pass rush- does directly affect play on the field!-- as for the Olympic standard [first offense: 2 year suspension; second offense: lifetime ban], it is positively unworkable in what is, after all, a business where, should a star player signed to a 5-year contract test positive for steroids in his first year and be suspended for 2 years, hundreds of people working for the club- players and the front office alike, who likely would have had little, if anything, to do with the star player's steroid use- would suffer far too greatly: we who truly love Rights in Liberty and Property should be most grateful that Mr. Waxman is but 1 of 435 votes on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives!).

Meanwhile, you also had Congressman Mark Souder (R-Indiana) attempting to equate steroid use in Baseball to the "Black Sox" scandal (in which some of the players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers and gangsters- often one and the same- to throw the World Series of that year). The problematic issue here is one of Intent, an important- though dangerously declining (to anyone who, unlike many politicians within both Major Parties, actually likes the Constitution of the United States ["that pesky thing" ;-)])- concept in American Criminal Law: the 1919 "Black Sox" (as the perpetrators of the 1919 gambling "fix" among the White Sox players came to be called) intended to change the potential outcome of an athletic contest; one can hardly say the same of someone who might use steroids (where the intent more seems to be, to use Jose Canseco's words as a witness at the 17 March hearing, making on "bigger, better, stronger" for one's own individual purpose having nothing directly to do with predetermining the outcome of any particular athletic contest)... puh-LEEZE!!!

Are steroids "cheating" (and here I explain my use of quotes around the word)? Maybe now, with Major League Baseball's new steroid-testing policy, they are... but not back in 2001 (or, for that matter, 1998)! Yes, steroids were- as they still are- illegal, back in both those years, without a prescription written for valid medical purpose, but they were not- until very recently- "illegal" under the rules of Baseball and there is a big difference between something that is illegal under the rules being used on a field of play and illegal under the laws of the greater society (after all, American football prohibits what is called "illegal use of hands" for which a team can be penalized yardage-- but, upon the referee announcing "illegal use of hands" over a stadium's public address system, we don't then see hordes of police descending on the padded and helmeted perpetrator in order to haul him off to jail for his "illegality"!) If a ballplayer used and possessed steroids in violation of the laws of his State or the United States, then- by all means- he should be prosecuted; but being so criminally liable has nothing at all to do with the rules of a sport.

Cheating is defined as intentionally violating the rules of the sport. Yet (and, again, here is why Baseball is such a strange sport in its relationship to American Society as a whole), when it comes to Baseball, even the "blue State" baseball fan can take more than a little "red State" moral values-type umbrage: to many- if not most-fans, Barry Bonds is simply not the person most worthy of holding a record once held by the great Babe Ruth and the tragic Roger Maris. Americans could, far more easily, live with Mark McGwire holding this record: they find it hard to stomach Barry Bonds now holding that same record and would find it just as hard to stomach even without Barry Bonds' name surfacing in relation to the trial of the owner of a San Francisco-based lab on steroid distribution charges (the steroid scandal merely providing a convenient excuse for them to continue to disdain Bonds, even though Bonds helped lead his team into the 2002 World Series with a far better postseason performance than he had had back in his Pittsburgh days).

However, fact is: in 2001 Barry Bonds stepped into the batter's box legally (that is, no umpire said: "Barry, you can't be here-- we think you used steroids") during a regular season (what Baseball officially calls a "championship") game and, 73 times the ball was legally pitched to him during such games, he knocked the pitched ball out of the ballyard: nothing can ever change that! Besides, there are plenty of other reasons besides steroids to which one can attribute Bonds', McGwire's, Sosa's and others' increased home run production: a more tightly wound ball manufactured in a different country beginning in the 1990s, diluted pitching attributed largely to two sets of expansion during that same decade, a series of rules changes which more harshly punishes a pitcher (and his team) for "busting one inside" (pitching very close to the batter to keep him from "crowding" home plate) once too many in a game and the building of many more smaller ballparks (for example, in 1991- the year before the Baltimore Orioles began the trend toward these newer, so-called "neoclassic" baseball stadia by opening Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Shea Stadium- home of my New York Mets- was the 7th-largest ballpark [based on seating capacity] in the National League and 12th in all of Major League Baseball out of the then-26 clubs; today, Shea [which has since increased its capacity by only some 1,100 seats] is # 1 in the NL and # 2 in Major League Baseball behind the eponymous Yankee Stadium of their crosstown rivals).

In the end, had Barry Bonds only hit 68 or 69 homers back in 2001 (leaving Mark McGwire's 1998 record of 70 intact), we very likely would not even have had the circus that was the hearing before the House Government Reform Committee on Thursday 17 March!

 


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