MAYBE I'M just like everyone else. Maybe I didn't want to see what I was seeing. I saw the numbers and the necks ballooning. I saw Big Mac's dread as the media surrounded him--green eyes blinking like a cornered ox, I scribbled in my notepad that July--as if he knew where the klieg light's glare would inevitably turn.
We all knew how to react to the East German swimmers, the Bulgarian weightlifters and the Jamaican-Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. But this, this is like learning as an adult of some pathetic and embarrassing flaw in your father. Maybe it's easier just to pretend that it didn't happen or doesn't really matter than to stop and look it in the eye.
I call a 58-year-old TV writer, Marshall Goldberg, who remembers the scandal in the late '50s when a contestant, professor Charles Van Doren, was fed the questions beforehand on the quiz show Twenty One. "Watching Bonds now would be like watching Twenty One after you know Professor Van Doren has the answers," he says. "I don't care how many people in America today are saying, 'They're entertainers, let 'em entertain.' If 40 million people think a stupid thought, it's still a stupid thought.
"My daughter gets it. She's 17. When she was asked in her college interview whom she admired most, she said without hesitation, ' Roberto Clemente. He died helping the earthquake victims in Nicaragua.' I won't walk across the street to watch Bonds hit number 756, and if I did, she'd tear into me.
"I think the old-fashioned fans are offended, and they're going to pour it on him. I'm one of those. I think all the players should come out to the white lines on Opening Day, put their hands on their hearts and take an oath of integrity. I just have a feeling there's going to be revulsion from the older people, and if not--if people just clap and act like this is legitimate--it'll kill my interest in the game. It'll be like, Oh, man ... do I really want to be a part of this?"
OLD PEOPLE. That's who I need to call. I buzz the Windsong Village Convalescent Center in Pearland, Texas, where the oldest ex-major leaguer--100-year-old Raymond Lee Cunningham--resides. Gulped two cups of coffee with the Cards as a late-season call-up in 1931 and for part of '32. Stood 5'7". Weighed 150. Tore the bush leagues to shreds but hit only .154 in the Show. "I don't know what to think or how to think," he rasps. "I might cheer Bonds--but I wouldn't honor him. I might've taken that stuff if they had it back then, but I won't say I would. Right now I wouldn't."
HMMMM. GUESS I need somebody older. Frances Wormser, a 101-year-old baseball fan in Ventura, Calif., is what Google spits out. A former Broadway actress who, it turns out, used to bowl beside Babe Ruth in the early '40s in a New York City hotel. "He would take a swig of whiskey before he bowled," she tattles. "He didn't care about bowling a spare or a strike--he was just interested in winning, and he always won. He was such an ugly man."
But what about the juice, what about now? "Baseball's wonderful," she says, "but it's a stupid game. A player sits there for God knows how long not doing anything--and then he's supposed to get up and hit a home run? So I'm sure all of them have been taking something. It's not just baseball. It's young people. Everybody's trying to get a fix, everybody wants to be a star, everybody wants to be on television. But there's nothing anybody can do. I love the game. I'll put up with anything."
OKAY, NOT just any old-timer. One who knows long balls and Anabols both. That's former minor leaguer Tex Warfield, who cranked 40 back in '51 at Elizabeth City, N.C., and bench-pressed 260 just the other day. Still pumping iron at age 76, still pumping bodybuilders for info. "No dog days!" barks Tex. Say what? "All these people who say that steroids don't help you hit a baseball, don't help hand-eye coordination, here's what they're missing: There are no dog days of summer when you're on steroids! As long as you stay on 'em, you stay strong, you have an abundance of energy every day. You feel the same in September as you did in April. Barry Bonds hasn't had dog days in four years.
"People don't understand the dog days. Home runs come from hitting the ball out in front, but by September, even when I'd drop from a 35-ounce bat to a 31, I'd be catching the ball a foot behind. What was a homer in May would be a can o' corn in August.