I was perusing readers' reactions to the excerpt of the forthcoming Barry Bonds book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. A couple of readers compared Bonds to Pete Rose, and suggested that the commissioner get off his duff and give Bonds the Rose treatment. "What does Bud Selig do all day?" one reader asked, which isn't a bad question. But is lumping Bonds in with Rose fair?
Yes. I'd argue that if anyone has their name sullied by such an association, it's Rose. What Bonds allegedly did was worse. I'm not defending Rose, because by betting on baseball while managing the Reds, he was violating the national pastime's most sacrosanct rule. Rose never threw a game, but betting on the game is taking a pretty large step down a slippery slope. Had Rose gotten in over his head, there's no telling what he might have done to get himself out. To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School, I'm not sure if you know who runs the illegal sports wagering industry, but I assure you it's not the Boy Scouts. Nonetheless, Rose was thumbing his nose at the game, and his motivation wasn't exactly noble: He was greedy.
Bonds, reportedly, was similarly motivated. In 1997 he was making more than $8 million a year and was one of the greatest players in the game. He had just turned 33, and he had 374 homers, 1,094 RBIs and a .288 average. When Willie Mays was 33, he had 453 homers, 1,290 RBIs and a .313 average -- in about 1,000 more at-bats. Bonds could have tacked on a few more big seasons and retired as a player who was -- while far from beloved -- respected and mentioned in the same breath with Mickey Mantle and Mays. But apparently he wasn't content with that.
If the book is accurate, like Rose, Bonds showed a blatant disregard for the integrity of the game. But unlike Rose, Bonds cheated. His actions directly affected the outcome of games. Again, I'm not excusing Rose's behavior, and I'm not suggesting that his is a victimless crime. But look at what he did: He bet and he lied about it for years. His reason for lying was understandable: The penalty for betting on baseball is cut-and-dry. Do it and you're gone. He should be banned for life simply because he knowingly violated Rule 21 (which is posted in every clubhouse) that carried a banishment as a penalty.
So what do we do with Bonds? There's no rule on the books proscribing expulsion for steroid cheats. Does he slide because no one had the foresight to think that doping might become a serious issue at some point? In a word, no.
The onus is now on Selig to do something. Obviously, we have a far more litigious society now than they did 85 years ago, so if Selig tried to ban Bonds, holy hell would be raised by lawyers and the players' union. (And it's not like he could go around banning every player who used steroids; if he did, it would be a pretty barren game.) But he has to act, and he should start with confronting Bonds. (As for the next step, I think you have to see what Bonds says.) For years, the evidence on Bonds has been circumstantial. Now, in Fainaru-Wada's and Williams' book, there's hard evidence: court documents, statements from witnesses, interviews with law enforcement investigators. To ignore it is an insult to the game -- the same game whose sanctity Selig has gone to great lengths to protect from the likes of Rose -- as well as to the intelligence of everyone who can read.
Selig's not in an enviable spot. While it might be a stretch to say that his office has been complicit in the game's steroid problem, it can certainly be argued that baseball has been guilty of sins of omission, of turning a blind eye. Homers saved baseball after the 1994 labor debacle -- the game wasn't going to bite the hand that was saving it. Well, now Selig has to. He must call out Bonds. With Rose, Selig has shown he can play the hard-ass when he wants to. Here's hoping he has the guts play it again.