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Now that the next spike has dropped in the matter of Barry Bonds, the question on the lips of anyone who cares — including a host of fathers and grandfathers of young wannabes — is what the good old boys who run Major League Baseball are ultimately going to do about it.
Part of that answer probably will come even before Bonds makes a deal or stands trial on perjury charges. That’s because MLB’s belated attempt at clearing the air by conducting its own investigation under the guidance of former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell is expected to report soon that illegal drug use was more widespread than imagined.
When that occurs only, the game’s most sight-impaired apologists won’t demand a policy that wipes clean the slate of tainted records that are the byproduct of cheating through chemistry. That includes Bond’s recent home-run record, which obviously legitimately still belongs to Hank Aaron. Whether the owners whose greed produced this tragedy are now willing to own up to it after banking the proceeds of all those park-filling four-baggers is anyone’s guess.
But any action short of elimination of all the honors, including possibility of induction into the Hall of Fame — hear this, sportswriters — would leave the game forever soiled, far more than the 1919 World Series scandal, which, by the way, was also stimulated by greedy owners at the expense of players. It would also tell a lot of us — fathers and grandfathers, that is — to tout our athletically gifted sons and grandsons toward another goal.
Most other sports, particularly the Olympics, already have taken drastic action to prevent the stench attached to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, legal or illegal. Marion Jones conceded that she had lied about not using them, and in her plea deal returned her Olympic medals and asked that her records be expunged. Bully for her. And that is not meant sarcastically. Football, where steroid use necessarily has been a problem, has an intense screening process.
Back in the 1950s when basketball’s point-shaving scandal erupted among the best teams of the day, the newly formed National Basketball Association took quick and drastic steps to forever ban all those involved. Some brilliant talent, just as those members of baseball’s 1919 White Sox, never played the game professionally again. But that was gambling, you say. It was outright fixing the outcome. Well, what in the world do those who seek leniency for the drug users think they were doing? They were trying to fix the result just as sure as those who took money from the wise guys of the day.
Whether Bonds goes to jail for 30 years or works out a deal or even miraculously, given the evidence, walks away without a conviction, it should make no difference to MLB. He should never darken a professional diamond again and there should be no question about how to treat his records. The San Francisco Giants, after all, had to hold their noses in his last season as he achieved his home-run mark. He was booed everywhere he went except at home. Have some courage, MLB. Even the fans have had enough.
As the grandfather of a kid who looks like he may really be something in the great American game one of these days, I think I have a right to demand that. Why should his father or I allow him to be associated with such a tawdry sport, one that encourages the use of harmful drugs and then lies to itself about it? I am extremely proud of the role that a former colleague, Mark Fainaru-Wada, and his partner played in getting at the truth in all this. Not even MLB could ignore their book, “Game of Shadows,” and the work they did for the San Francisco Chronicle.