Snarky Behavior

Barry Bonds: Was Cheating Worth It?

August 2, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Ugh. Two nights ago I got engaged in a heated conversation with a random Yankees fan about whether it was worth it for Barry Bonds to have ingested bull’s testicles or rubbed baboon semen on his skin or whatever it was he took to make his head swell to the size of Ken Griffey’s in the episode of the Simpson’s when Homer is “the natural” on the company softball team full of major league ringers (see visual to the right).

The conversation started innocuously enough, and the details are fuzzy because we ended up closing down 4 bars with shots of Jameson and drinking Magic Hat in my living room until 3:30 am (NO ALLISON I AM NOT GAY, IT’S A PERFECTLY STRAIGHT THING TO DO). But the crux of our arguments were as follows:

Shared Positions – We don’t dislike Bonds because he cheated, but because he’s an asshole about it.

We realize that everyone in major league baseball at that time was juiced. It was no big secret. And if you weren’t juicing, you were at a competitive disadvantage. Being at a competitive disadvantage in baseball can sometimes amount to a 8-figure difference(!). So, it’s a big deal. And it’s MLB’s fault for allowing a permissive environment and forcing players (who are natural competitors) to put their bodies at risk to stay ahead of the pack.

According to Game of Shadows, in 1998 Bonds watched Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both shatter the home-run record, and was none too pleased about it. He knew that he was a better natural talent than either of them. And he knew that they were both juicing– lifting, playing every day, recovering faster– and hitting balls further because of it.

So Bonds (who in 1998 was already a first ballot Hall of Famer) basically said “fuck this love bath for Big Mac,” went to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), got himself some bacne-maker, and had 4 of the most impressive seasons in the history of professional sports. The rest, as the say, is history.

So, we don’t blame Bonds for cheating. At least he did it the right way, under the supervision of an organization dedicated to sports medicine, working with track athletes like Marion Jones.

But was it worth it? Was cheating, getting caught, and lying about it worth obtaining the crown of “All-Time Home Run Champion” and, arguably, “Greatest of All Time”?

That’s where we differ:

My position – Absolutely not. History and literature are chalk full of tragic heroes who flew too close to the sun: Icharus, Midas, Achilles, Oedipus, Macbeth, Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, Gatsby. The Greeks especially elucidated the trappings of “the pride before the fall”… hubris — the idea that honor achieved at the price of shame is a zero-sum game.

And that’s what Bonds has achieved for himself. He has begrudgingly elbowed his way into the record books, carved out his glory(hole) on top of Cooperstown, where he will firmly stand as the greatest of all-time… or at least until A-Rod wins a world series or demolishes the home run record in 10 years. But, no matter what happens, Bonds’ legacy is forever tainted by our collective recognition that he cheated to get there. He blatantly disenchanted the quintessentially American obsession with record-keeping (that Bernard Henri-Levy speaks to in American Vertigo) by removing our ability to make worthwhile comparisons between past and present.

For all intents and purposes, Barry Bonds killed baseball. He post-dated a once timeless sport. He will go to his grave with that asterix on his soul, even if it’s not in the record books.

Yankees Fans’ Position – Of course it was worth it. We have one opportunity — on life, to have an impact, to leave a lasting legacy. Of the billions of people in existence in the history of the world, there is only an infinitesimally small percentage of those whom history has remembered. And Bonds has achieved that for himself. Everyone else- the writers and sports commentators and lesser players- are either consciously or subconsciously jealous that they will never experience the same elite-level of greatness that Bonds now embodies.

Is it egotistical? Of course! But the mark of a great man is someone who is not humbled when he realizes his insignificance in the presence of the universe. The mark of the great man is the Prometheus who strives for glory and recognition among his fellow man despite the admission that the gods are even greater; and even if his life is just a blip on the radar screen of the totality of existence, it’s still a bigger and brighter blip than anyone elses’.

So what say you? Should we qualify our admiration of glory with a moral lens? Or should we applaud greatness, even if it turns our stomachs?

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