Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bonds futures: Not Rose-y

So baseball will launch an investigation into the alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds and other players. ("Alleged"? I can't believe I'm qualifying Bonds' steroid use.) This really should be the shortest investigation since Eve ate the apple. ("If I didn't eat it, Eve, it must have been you. I mean, who else could it be?") Exhibit A: Bonds with the Pirates, circa 1989. Exhibit B: Bonds with the Giants, circa 1999. Case closed. Next investigation: in which offshore account do the Royals deposit their revenue sharing checks?

At the end of the day, however, the investigators' findings will be sufficiently inconclusive to spare baseball the burden of suspending Bonds just as he approaches 755. Fine. Maybe Bonds' lack of cooperation in the investigation will prompt Bud Selig to suspend him for obstructing the inquiry, citing the commissioner's "best interests of the game" powers. Selig, at least, should do that, if only to send a message that a guilty player can't escape punishment merely by being obstinate. It's the equivalent to the parental technique employed by the parent who comes home, knows his child has done something wrong, can't identify it, and nevertheless grounds the kid for a week.

Another consequence of Bonds' steroid use and the investigation thereof is this: People across the country will have to like Alex Rodriguez. Sorry, guys. I know a lot of you don't like a guy who combines speed, power, batting and gold glove defensive skills at two positions and who approaches the game with professionalism, but you're going to have to accept the fact that A-Rod is the only guy who can beat whatever career home run mark Bonds sets after he passes Aaron. At least if you want Bonds to hold the record for as short a period as possible. For our civilization, in this era, A-Rod is our only hope. Buy your ticket now to get a good seat on the bandwagon.

Finally, the impact of the steroid investigation should, finally and oddly, allow Pete Rose to leave baseball purgatory, rejoin the fraternity of baseball people, and enter the Hall of Fame. Bonds will never, ever face a 17-year suspension the way Pete Rose has, and Bonds' transgressions are far, far worse. Sure, Rose broke the rules by betting on baseball games while managing the Reds. The rules of baseball rightly prohibit betting on games, because even the sniff of a player or manager or coach who has had even the means, motive and opportunity to bet against his own team is enough to taint the integrity of the win-loss columns. Baseball can't stand for someone even approaching that line. That's Rose's misdoing. It's clear he never bet against his own Reds, nor did he ever manage a game in such a way that was anything less than an effort to win. But by betting on baseball games, he put himself in a position where his gambling losses could have made him vulnerable to the demands of bookies who could have ordered Rose to throw a game on penalty of losing a finger, an arm, whatever. Again, Rose's downfall was that he approached that line between trying to win and harming the game's integrity.

But if Rose approached that line, Bonds blew right by it. Baseball, like any other sport, is foremost about winning and losing. Baseball, unlike any other sport, is also about statistics. 56, 61, .406, 511, 755 and 4,256 have been a lot more famous for a lot longer time than 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42. By injecting himself with steroids, Bonds not only cheated us out of a fair outcome every time he came to the plate or returned from an injury earlier than naturally possible. He also cheated us out of the pleasure of watching someone scale a statistical Mount Everest secure in the knowledge that the climb had been done the right way.

We can respect Rose's 4,256 hits as the result of Rose's playing the game as best he could within the rules. There's integrity behind that number. We can't say the same thing about 73 and 706, Bonds' current career home run mark. Rose has been punished for 17 years. Is that amount too harsh? Maybe, maybe not. But Bonds' transgression is much worse. He can't and won't be punished for more than 17 years, so neither should Rose. It's time to bring Pete back.

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