Trying Barry Bonds in 2011 feels like an anachronism. Steroids? Home run records? The presumptive sanctity of baseball? Those issues are so 2007. We’ve digested the “Steroid Era.” We’ve contextualized it. Most of us have lost interest. We know what happened, why it happened and why it will continue to happen. Even our most fervent gadflies can no longer muster the animus. The public no longer thirsts for vengeance on Barry Bonds. Apparently, the government missed the email chain.
Bonds faces four counts of perjury. (1) He lied about not knowing he was taking steroids from Greg Anderson (2) He lied about individuals other than doctors injecting him. (3) He lied about Anderson giving him HGH (4) He lied about receiving anything from Anderson before 2003. He also faces an obstruction of justice charge, on the premise that his perjury impeded the government’s case against BALCO. It’s clear Bonds testified under oath. The government must prove he said something incorrect, knew he was saying something incorrect and that the incorrect thing he said had consequence.
The U.S. government has spent millions on this investigation. They appointed investigator cum inquisitor Jeff Novitzky who, according to the New Yorker, referred to Bonds as “that f–ker” and hounded him through tactics that allegedly included mishandling evidence. Novitzky also deployed an experienced drug agent in a sting operation against Bonds and Anderson, also according to the New Yorker, who ended up having multiple strokes from working out too intensely. Novitzky has been accused of converting investigations of Bonds and of Lance Armstrong into personal vendettas.
Investigators seldom devote this much time and this many resources to a perjury case, because it is hard to prove and there are more serious crimes. The focus on Bonds, in particular, is curious. The government declined to pursue a plausible perjury charge against Rafael Palmeiro. This has the whiff of trumped up income tax charges to bring down a mafioso, except Bonds isn’t a lethal criminal. He’s a baseball player.
Does Bonds deserve this? Well, he did do something morally abhorrent. He cheated. He used performance enhancing drugs. Though, as we learn more, it seems he adjusted to the competitive balance rather than altering it. He competed against opponents and pitchers who were also juiced. He sticks out because he wasn’t using PEDs to get from average to good. He was going from stupendous to superman.
He broke the records, but we can place those hallowed marks in greater context. We know through statistical advancements that comparing stats across eras is foolhardy and uninformative. We strongly suspect that Hank Aaron took amphetamines like most of his contemporaries. We are finally acknowledging that Babe Ruth did not have to face black players. All three, for better or worse, are products of their eras. Bonds breaking the record was a huge deal, until it happened and we went on with our lives.
We view Barry Bonds differently now than we did five years ago. With artificial enhancement in sport and real life only going to become more pervasive, I’d imagine the view of him will change even further in ten or twenty years.
[Photo via Getty]