Barry Bonds will make a dramatic return to 24 Willie Mays Plaza when the Giants add him to their Wall of Fame on June 8. Thousands of excited fans will see the peerless slugger for the first time since he left the game ten years ago. I have a request for them: don’t cheer a cheater.
That probably won’t happen, and I understand why. As a player, Bonds’ achievements soared like his majestic home runs so often did: seven MVP awards, seven playoff appearances, eight Gold Gloves, 14 All Star games and the all time major league walks record, for starters. He combined speed and power like no one else, with 514 stolen bases and 762 home runs, another all time record.
Bonds propelled the Giants during his 15 years in orange and black, pushing them to 103 wins in 1993, four playoff appearances and the 2002 World Series. His play elevated the entire team and the fans’ support of it, enabling the franchise to finally escape Candlestick Park after four frigid decades and build its own outstanding ballpark.
I enjoyed watching him as much as anybody. One memory that stands out is the left fielder’s performance in the final days of the 2001 season. After the 9/11 attacks killed thousands and traumatized the country, Bonds completed his relentless pursuit of the single season home run record, smashing 73 long balls and providing the nation a much-needed diversion from the specter of terrorism and impending war.
How disappointing to later learn that he did so fraudulently.
News of Bonds’ years-long use of steroids reached the general public in 2005 news reports and the 2006 book “Game of Shadows” by Mark Fainuru-Wada and Lance Williams. The book revealed how the Bay Area Lab Co-operative supplied Bonds and other elite athletes with illegal and undetectable performance enhancing drugs. Bonds had denied knowingly using steroids when testifying before a federal grand jury in 2003. The reporters’ work destroyed the credibility of Bonds’ denials, as did his 2011 trial.
A jury convicted Bonds of obstruction of justice and 11 of 12 jurors thought he committed perjury as well when he denied knowingly using illegal drugs. Although an appeals court later overturned his felony conviction, there’s no disputing the proof presented in his trial that he actually used steroids starting in 1998.
Baseball had no shortage of drug users in the Steroids Era from the late 1980s through 2003, so many will reasonably say that Bonds deserves no more blame than his bulked-up peers. I would agree with that. But let’s also observe that players including Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti eventually came clean and admitted their drug use. Others connected to steroids like Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Mark McGwire apologized.
For what he and his BALCO drugs did to hurt baseball, tarnish its record book and cheat honest players, Bonds has never offered any public contrition or honesty. A little of either would go a long way. Instead, his response to media questions about his use of drugs has been to accuse writers of lying and racism.
Bonds was himself long before the current era of “alternative facts,” and seems unlikely to ever change. He may still get his number retired, a statue built in his honor and induction into Cooperstown.
But the public doesn’t have take part in his post-truth makeover. Bonds, baseball and reality are better served if you don’t. That’s why this lifelong Giants fan asks those attending the June 8 game to skip the Wall of Fame ceremony, and if you walk past it on your way into the ballpark, don’t cheer a cheater.