‘Say it ain’t so’ seems too nave in Bonds’ case

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 13, 2006

I’d like to say I was surprised by the new revelations about Giants slugger Barry Bonds contained in the book “Game of Shadows.”

Shocked, appalled, flabbergasted … I want badly to bemoan the violation of my innocent belief in the integrity of the American pastime.

But come on, did anything in the recent press reports, or the excerpts printed in Sports Illustrated, really surprise anyone?

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In the south, we all can vividly remember the postseason of 1991, when the Atlanta Braves made their miracle charge to the World Series, after a decade of cellar-dwelling. For some reason, though, I can remember the Divisional Series, against the Pirates of Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and manager Jim Leyland.

Bonds looked like a track star back then, lean, tall, and blazing fast. I can remember him charging into second as Braves outfielders got to the ball and knowing, by the look in his eyes, that he would stretch his stand-up double into a triple.

He was the baseball purists’ dream back then, a lock for 30 homers and 30 steals. Back in those days, 30-30 was a magical stat; it made players a lock for the big contract because it represented the two tools most needed in a hitter. He could steal his way into position and score runs by the boatload, and the next inning crush a hanging curve to drive in Andy Van Slyke.

But then Major League Baseball was put on notice: “Chicks dig the long ball,” as one commercial summed it up.

Being a five-tool guy, scoring runs, getting into scoring position, those long-held traditions of the game wasn’t good enough anymore.

It was all about hitting homers, and not just any old homers. You had to crush the ball the way Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire did in their amazing (now sullied) Summer of 1998.

After that season, it was hard not to see Bonds’ transformation from Bill Bixby into Lou Ferrigno. After all, seeing McGuire get famous with all those home runs made Barry angry. And we all know, you won’t like Barry when he’s angry.

He was already one of the most feared batters in baseball. But once he Hulked out, pitchers stopped throwing to him. It was like they could tell, he just wasn’t playing fair.

How many guys do you know that can add 100 pounds of muscle in a month and a half, while not losing a step from home plate to first?

Only a genetic freak could bulk up the way Bonds did, in the time it took him to do it. And there just aren’t that many genetic freaks out there, we know now.

The cream, the clear, the veterinary drugs and the human growth hormone: that’s the only way to get that big, that fast.

I wasn’t shocked to hear about Ken Caminiti, or Canseco, and – though I’m a Cubs fan and ardently don’t want to believe it – I think Sammy probably had some help hitting 66 in 1998.

When that paperboy approaches his hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, in “Nine Men Out,” there is an earnestness and longing to believe in his “say it ain’t so, Joe.”

But when it comes to Barry Bonds, I don’t think I ever wanted to believe, and the new accusations only confirm the awful truth that I always knew.

– David Goodwin is managing editor of The Times. Reach him at (334) 289-4017 or david.goodwin @demopolistimes.com.