The NCAA tournament ends Monday. I've perused my sports calendar, and other than the first annual West Coast Beach Boomerang Tournament, set for April 8 at Playa Del Rey (on the beach side of LAX), there's nothing left in the cupboard save the obvious, unavoidable, can't-run-from-it, start of the baseball season. Specifically, the San Diego Padres will open, at home, Monday, April 3, against the San Francisco Giants.
Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds. How I hate the sound of thy name.
"When Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, he was 37 years old and had gained 38 pounds of rock-hard-muscle from his 1997 playing weight. Now, we can believe he hit home runs in a tight pattern for 15 years and then, suddenly, hit 24 more home runs than his highest previous year and 32.9 more home runs than his average annual home run total because he started eating fruits and vegetables. We can believe that 37-year-old men are more athletically powerful than 25-year-old men. We can believe in the tooth fairy. We can believe Barry Bonds was juiced to the tits. We can believe he had a religious experience and grew muscles. We can even believe he lifted weights 365 days a year."
I wrote that four years ago, come June. Long before BALCO, long before the corporate media decided it was safe to use "Barry Bonds" and "steroids" in the same sentence.
Last week, I shuffled down to Borders and picked up the new Bonds book, Beyond the Shadows. The surprising thing about the book is not that Bonds was using steroids; there is no way you can read Beyond the Shadows and not be convinced that he was. The surprise is the authors' meticulous documentation. This is journalism from the 1950s and '60s, where every fact is backed up.
The reason I keep coming back to Bonds (and I don't like doing it) is that the story keeps growing. Besides Bonds, we have our overly praised judicial system, Congress, mainstream media, Lords of Baseball, and now, the coast-to-coast triumphal tour of a notorious cheat on his way to claiming the most prestigious record in American sports. Barry's fraud will be documented in his own weekly TV show.
It took a federal prosecution to make the subject safe enough to cover. Last year, when Congress finally got the spine to hold public hearings, Bonds wasn't "invited" to attend. Baseball had to be hauled before the committee under threat of subpoena. Finally, under the most extreme congressional pressure, Baseball announced a steroid-testing policy. Their first plan was so weak, they were sent home and ordered to come up with something stronger.
Life was becoming unpleasant for Barry. He was in spring training and had to resort to dragging his 15-year-old son to practice, hiding behind the kid whenever reporters said, "steroids." You could sense Barry was cornered. Every day, more reporters, harder questions. Then, Bonds had knee surgery and announced he was out for the season. It was a brilliant move or a brilliantly lucky move. Either way, when he exited stage left, the spotlights were turned off and everybody went back to sleep.
A year has passed and Bonds is back in business. The lad has lost weight; he looks like a normal human being nowadays. Barry has hit 708 home runs, needs 7 more to pass Babe Ruth, 48 more to pass Hank Aaron. He can play part-time for a couple seasons and make it. Won't need steroids.
Everything was settling into place quite nicely for Mr. Bonds when out pops Beyond the Shadows. Another Bonds book (Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero) is scheduled to be published next month.
We all know Bonds got here by cheating. His employer, the San Francisco Giants, knew Bonds was using steroids. The Giants have a huge mortgage on their new stadium, had to have three million customers a year to pay for it. Bonds brought them in and the Giants kept their mouths shut.
Congress knew, certainly by the end of last year's hearings. ESPN2, of all institutions, knows. They have a team following Bonds as he makes his glorious trek around the ballparks of America hitting a home run there, a home run here, closing in on the Bambino with each swat. What drama! What excitement! ESPN2 plans to broadcast ten hours of Bonds on Bonds. You can expect half-hour shows at first, but as anticipation builds, hourlong shows will capture every thrilling moment. The lie debuts Tuesday night as Bonds comes to the plate in Petco Park.
The Giants are still planning a big hometown celebration when Bonds hits his 715th home run and passes Babe Ruth. Every MLB club owner pants in anticipation of Bonds filling their stadium. They all know.
But, it's us that interests me. We know. What will we do?