Toe to Toe: Hodes versus Schmidley
Last Thursday, Barry Bonds was indicted by the federal government on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Baseball's new home run king could face up to 30 years in prison if found guilty on all counts. Bonds's legal woes got Hodes and I thinking about another athlete whose career has been lessened by "tragedy" -- Ken Griffey, Jr. Hodes gladly acquiesced to argue that Griffey has had the more "tragic" career, a fact I will now refute.
This writer isn't your run-of-the-mill Bonds defacer who damns him for taking steroids and foolishly contends that each and every one of his vast accomplishments should all have an asterisk next to them. Nor do I take the diametrically opposite position. I occupy a middle ground. I don't condone the use of performance-enhancing substances by professional athletes, but I'm a realist, and I have a full understanding of the culture in which we live. It is certain that plenty of athletes, particularly professional baseball players, have "juiced."
As I wrote this past summer in the wake of Aaron's record being felled, if you're under the impression that steroids are a magic potion or a sure-fire prescription for dominance, you're quite mistaken. Bonds' accomplishments, even while on steroids, are still something to behold. If you're of the opinion that any other hitter in the history of baseball could have averaged a dinger every 6.3 at bats over a four-year stretch, or had a single season OPS of over 1400 (as Bonds did in 2004), you're once again sadly mistaken. Instead of a tempered appreciation of these mildly artificial feats, most fans and pundits have turned their back on Bonds, condemning him permanently. As surly a character as he can be, this is simply not fair.
What ultimately seals the deal in this "Toe to Toe" is the fact that Bonds' pre-steroid accomplishments have been long forgotten, despite their being an integral element in an argument for Bonds's standing as one of the five greatest players to ever play the game. Have baseball fans forgotten that Bonds was, by a longshot, the premier player in baseball during the 1990s? Yes, I believe most have, and that many instead mope about how Griffey's career was cut short by injuries, despite the fact that Bonds, as noted baseball statistician Bill James so brilliantly put it, "was a far, far superior player."
The bottom line is, regardless of how performance-enhancing substances affected his career, Bonds's legacy is a tragedy in every sense of the word. His use of steroids was not prudent, nor morally commendable. However, when the context of his accomplishments -- that is, a league rife with "juicing" -- is realized, and an appreciation of his tremendous achievements prior to steroid use is gained, his career should indeed be considered "tragic." Far more so than Griffey, who wasn't nearly the complete player Bonds was. The once proud San Fran slugger will most likely go to jail, and perhaps he deserves to. However, it is my hope that his legacy of baseball greatness will live on, and he will take his place in baseball lore as one of the greatest ball players of all time.