It’s time to stop throwing stones and play baseball

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 13, 2006

With baseball season just a few weeks away, the media focus is not on the coming season but instead on what a famed major league batting sensation did a long time ago.

Somebody once remarked that we Americans build our monuments to our heroes out of stone so we’ll have something to throw at them when they prove to have feet of clay. The case of Barry Bonds proves the truth of that adage.

In a new book, “Game of Shadows,” it is alleged that Bonds was using huge quantities of steroids from 1998 to 2002. Yet he has never failed a drug test. And as USA Today commented, “Just like everyone else, Bonds should have to flunk a test in order to draw a suspension.”

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Forget about the fact that long before he ever used a single strength-enhancing drug he was a stand-out star on the baseball diamond. Wrote Boston Herald baseball columnist Tony Massarotti: “Barry Bonds was a Hall of Famer long before the steroids and he is still a Hall of Famer now.”

In my book, that’s what counts. Barry Bonds is a baseball player. If he’s not a really nice guy, that’s another story. What matters in baseball is the ability to play the game well. And you can say what you want about Bonds as long as you keep in mind that some of the greatest players in the game were a pretty bad lot off the field.

As Massarotti put it: “Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic. Ty Cobb was a scoundrel. Even the lovable [late] Kirby Puckett has had allegations against him of spousal and domestic abuse, and rest assured that the list of tainted superstars goes on and on.

“Bonds was and is a baseball player, like Mantle and Cobb and Puckett and McGwire. None of them were really anything more.”

In 1999, before any alleged steroid use began Bonds had already hit more than 400 home runs and stolen 400 bases. Massarotti notes that he had also won three Most Valuable Player awards.

That’s what counts in the game. This whole steroid use business has been grossly overplayed and is a distraction from the purpose of the game, which as far as the team owners are concerned is to attract large numbers of fans to pay the bills and the monstrous salaries the baseball heroes pull down. Fans demand home run heroes and lots of home runs. Historically, the owners have managed to overlook such trifles as steroid use or the less-than-sterling characters of some of the baseball giants.

Last February I wrote that after the ruinous players’ strike a few years ago, the team owners needed to get people back to the ballpark. What they did to make the game more exciting was build stadiums that had shorter outfields, they juiced up the ball by winding it much, much tighter; and they went to harder maple bats – all because they wanted to have more home runs and wanted to have records broken.

Thus all the players did was take baseball’s lead. They reasoned that if baseball could juice up the ball, why shouldn’t they juice up themselves – make themselves stronger, bigger and better – to allow themselves to get those home runs that baseball wanted them to hit. And to create excitement, baseball wanted to stir up increased public interest by staging competition over which home run records would be broken by which players.

Baseball has known about the use of steroids by their players for a long time but they chose to turn a blind eye to it – they needed those home run heroes to keep the fans juiced up. With the home runs and the records being broken, the fans were coming back to the ballpark and that was the game baseball needed to win.

And all those sportswriters who are now running around wringing their hands and taking pot shots at Barry Bonds either knew about the players’ use of steroids or just weren’t paying attention. Now with this new book they are shocked, shocked to discover that Barry Bonds was shooting up a few years ago.

C’mon, it’s time to stop throwing stones and throw baseballs instead. Let’s Play Ball!

-Mike Reagan, the eldest son of the late President Ronald Reagan, is heard on more than 200 talk radio stations nationally as part of the Radio America Network.