Boss’s Boycott: The Bonds Vanishes By Dave Zirin

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How many home runs would Barry Bonds hit if there weren’t so much of these?

DZ stops by TSF yet again to drop some real rap on Bonds being grounded

The Commissar Vanishes is a coffee table book for only the dourest of coffee tables. The hard-covered volume is a photographic compilation of the way that Josef Stalin systematically erased his chief political opponents, Leon Trotsky and his followers, from the history of the Russian Revolution.

Page after glossy page plainly displays the desecration of memory at the service of dictatorship. It shows before-and-after photos of people either airbrushed to invisibility or crudely vandalized, their faces blacked out with an ugly scribble.

Meet Barry Bonds, the Leon Trotsky of Major League Baseball. In 2007 Bonds broke the most hallowed record in sports, passing Henry Aaron’s record for home runs. When he wasn’t injured, this maestro of the batter’s box packed San Francisco’s ballpark, despite a team that stank like cottage cheese left on a radiator. At season’s end, the Giants refused to re-sign him, with owner Peter Magowan saying, “We’re going in a new direction; that would not be going in a new direction. The time has come to turn the page.” That is surely his right, but the page hasn’t just been turned, it’s been raggedly erased.

All traces of Bonds, the greatest player in baseball history, have vanished from the Bay. The left-field wall no longer carries an image of Bonds chasing Hank Aaron for the crown. There is no marker of where Bonds hit home run number 756. There is no reminder that Bonds ever even wore a Giants uniform.

But it’s not just Magowan trying to “disappear” Barry Bonds. He has been blackballed in a blatant and illegal act of Major League collusion, a bosses’ boycott. Yes, Bonds’ fielding has become painful to watch in recent years, as the seven time gold glover limped around the outfield on knees grinding together without cartilage. But despite the agony of movement most of us take for granted, Bonds still hit 28 home runs in 340 at bats, led the NL in walks, and had an on base percentage of .480. Since 1950, only Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Norm Cash, and Bonds himself have recorded higher OBP’s. [Cash’s epic season was an anomaly in an otherwise middling career. That a player could have a brilliant year out of nowhere, used to be one of the charms of baseball. Today they would be accused of sprinkling steroids on their corn flakes.]

Maybe Bonds can no longer roam the outfield, but there are at least a dozen AL teams that could use a designated hitter with a .480 OBP, not to mention a player whose every game would sell tickets and every at-bat would provoke baited breaths and empty bathrooms.

In this case of blackballing so obvious it would shame a Dartmouth frat house, one would think the media would be raising hell. But they have largely been yipping collusion lackeys. Bill Simmons, ESPN.com’s Sports Guy, wrote,

“Opening Day came and went without Bonds for the first time in 22 years, and nobody seemed to notice. I didn’t think about him for more than two seconds all spring. Did anyone? Can you remember being a part of a single “I wonder where Bonds is going to end up?” conversation? Did you refresh ESPN.com incessantly in hopes of a Bonds update?…Of course not. No one cared. The best hitter since Ted Williams is gone and forgotten. We wanted him to go away, and he did.”

There is one problem. Bonds doesn’t want to go gently into that good night and is pushing his union to fight back. He has asked the Players Association to file collusion charges on his behalf and the union has served Commissioner Bud Selig with papers. [There is a certain irony here as Bonds was hardly Big Bill Haywood during his career. In 2003, he became the first player in thirty years to not sign the Player’s Association’s group licensing agreement.]

The Player’s Association’s efforts on Bonds behalf have also met with high profile derision. Newsweek’s Mark Starr wrote “The union approaches new heights of absurdity when it bothers to investigate whether collusion has ended the career of baseball’s all-time home run king, Barry Bonds, who can’t attract an offer to play anywhere this 2008 season. What the union sees as possible collusion, once an honored practice among ownership, I see as a rare display of common sense.”

Bonds, according to Starr, is “widely regarded as a cancer in the clubhouse.”

This is moralistic spew. The idea that baseball owners would ruin their own team’s chances because they have collectively agreed to “turn the page” is a violation of Bonds’ rights and the unwritten social contract they have with fans. And when one considers the absence of saints on Major League Baseball teams, even on the God Squad in Colorado, it is all the more drenched in hypocrisy.

Mike Gimbel, who is a former adviser on player trades and acquisitions to the GM’s of the Boston Red Sox and the Montreal Expos, wrote it well.

“Bonds has been accused of not telling the truth to a grand jury investigating BALCO [the Bay Area Lab Company, implicated in steroid distribution]. He does not own BALCO and does not distribute steroids on behalf of BALCO. Why was the grand jury investigating Bonds? Weren’t they supposed to be investigating BALCO? How did that ‘investigation’ of BALCO turn into a witch hunt directed against MLB players?”

Good questions. Bonds deserves far better than to be forced into retirement and have his history coarsely expunged. The overriding ethos of the sports world is that of the meritocracy. If you are good enough, then you get to play. Yet a man who can get on base 48% of the time, has been told to go home and a new generation of fans will never see the Mozart of the batting cage. This is about more than a baseball player. It’s about people in power deciding on utterly unjust grounds, who gets to take the field, who gets to be heard, and even who gets to be remembered. Somewhere, Stalin smiles.


[Dave Zirin is the author of “Welcome to the Terrordome:” (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com. Comment on this article at www.edgeofsports.com]

13 Responses to “Boss’s Boycott: The Bonds Vanishes By Dave Zirin”

  1. DavidMac says:

    THe owners have every right not to hire him if they do not want to and their is nothing ethically or morally wrong about it at all. As far as collusion, why throw that out there if you have done no research to prove it, seems to me that Zirin being lazy and taking the easy way out.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again, Bonds will probably get picked up close to the ASB by a team that feels they need more bats to clinch a title.

  2. sankofa says:

    DavidMac says:

    “THe owners have every right not to hire him if they do not want to and their is nothing ethically or morally wrong about it at all. As far as collusion, why throw that out there if you have done no research to prove it, seems to me that Zirin being lazy and taking the easy way out. I said it before and I’ll say it again, Bonds will probably get picked up close to the ASB by a team that feels they need more bats to clinch a title”

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again you are re-christened COUSIN RUCKUS!! Yeah! The owners have every right not to hire him. But if somebody else other than you actually connects the dots, the stink smells like collusion.

    I don’t even know why I am responding to you, your pale eyes can never see color. Forget it…my bad! ignore the truth! you usually do anyway.

  3. DavidMac says:

    Its easy to cry racism or collusion, its harder to dig down and interview league GMs and to hear their views on why they haven’t picked him up and compare that to how their respective teams would feel. Hell talking to Barry and seeing what teams he sent out feelers to would be helpful as well. I assume none of this was done, so I don’t buy the collusion allegation.

  4. sankofa says:

    DMac

    What we do hear from GMS are the distraction excuse and the locker room cancer concerns. However these excuses are patently false and asks too much for us to believe. As Mizzo, MODI and dwill have said, each club can and does control the media herd if it becomes uncontrolable. The locker room cancer bullshit is also a media creation because that was an original quote from an asshole rival back in his Pittsburgh days. I can remember reading quotes from players around the league how much of an aide Barry was in helping them becoming more effective hitters. Team mateswould usually comment on the media circus around him, but who controls that him or the club?

    This leaves only one real reason for the big collusion. The pending perjury case. The GMS and owners are using the excuse of the perjury case…a case that wont be held until next year, as an excuse to divest themselves from the scapegoat they collectively created because all these owners are big time criminal minded and like all big time criminals they find the most suitable target to point to as the bag man.

    I mean you could be right and somebody will break down and sign him. But his-story is filled with Billionaires willing to lose a few millions to satisfy their egos.

  5. michelle says:

    Mr Zirin,

    As usual a welcome point of view.

  6. CEvidence says:

    I do find this situation to be interesting as well. The ONLY true issue I can see is the perjury case to be a major problem. All the other locker room cancer stuff is a creation of the media, the same way that “character issues” are. Another thing could be his asking price, that can also be a sticking point. But for no team to show any interest in a man who still puts up his numbers. That’s a problem. Yeah the steriod speculation is still there…but ummmm didn’t Ankiel use steriods as well?????

    Barry Bonds can hit the ball, period. And I believe he would be an effective DH for someone like Detroit. Free up Sheffield if his health holds up to play the field as well. But that is just a theory cause I don’t watch much baseball as it is.

    And there has been research into this story as well. ESPN had an article about a week ago in which GMs and current players were spoken too. Some did say the locker room fiasco would be a problem, but others did say that he is still an effective player and would like to have him on the team.

    I question the real reason why he is sitting at home. Its ok though, because baseball is a joke to me anyway….

  7. Hal says:

    I do have to add that the “purging” of Bonds from the Giants’ ballpark is yet another media exaggeration. An SF Chronicle reporter toured the park before the season and didn’t see any of the old Bonds stuff, and concluded that Magowan was trying to pretend Barry’d never been there. ‘Tain’t so. I was there on opening night, and there’s a Bonds 762 plaque in center field, and a home run counter with Bonds, Aaron & Ruth and their numbers. Outside the park all the sidewalk plaques honoring Bonds’s milestones are still there. The big banners are gone, the home run heroes are off the left field fence, but those would be a little awkward, considering that Barry’s gone, and might be playing for someone else this season. I’d expect that once he’s officially retired, there will probably be a statue outside the park, along with Mays and Marichal.

    The Simmons quote is nonsense – I’ve had a bunch of those conversations – had one this morning right before I read this, in fact. How could anyone really not notice that Bonds isn’t playing? I reckon Simmons only talks to the rest of the ESPN crew. It’s ESPN and SI that wanted him gone, not the fans or players.

    I do have the distinct feeling, though, that Barry is Bud Selig’s biggest nightmare. He’d love to have Bonds dragged away in chains so he could stand up and say that all the game’s problems are over (saved by the grand commissioner, of course!). Instead, his appointed villain refuses to shut up and go away, and the house of cards the commish constructed has been crumbling from a bunch of unexpected angles. Just imagine how Selig would feel if Barry not only came back and continued to put up spectacular numbers, but was found innocent of perjury, and let off the hook for PEDs! The only way to avoid that is by making clear that no team should touch him.

    Of course Bud would never do such a thing – he’s just standing there with his hands in his pockets. . . .

  8. HarveyDent says:

    I’ve been beating the collusion drum since the start of spring training but it’s going to be hard to prove because as unintelligent as I think the heads of MLB are not even they are stupid enough to have a paper trail or audio file out there saying they were going to ban Bonds from the sport. What’s going on is more a winking conspiracy without words between teams when it comes to Barry Lamar but the sad thing is that true baseball fans like myself will not get to see how high the homerun mark could get because of this but that’s just American sports nowadays where every athlete has to be paragon of virtue above reproach always.

    Yea, he among thee that is without sin let him cast the first stone…many of Bonds’ accusers are dirtier than they try to make him out to be but that hasn’t stopped them from throwing their rocks which is more the pity.

    Jeers to John Saunders too on the Sports Reporters for clowning BB like he did yesterday concerning this subject.

  9. Temple3 says:

    Hal – there you go again – making sense.

    Thanks.

  10. Temple3 says:

    Harvey:

    Great point about virtue. By the way, when the Bonds indictment came down (the same day that MLB announced it had become a $6B business – up from $1B pre-steroids), I wrote a piece about how the federal government had complicity in this psuedo-scandal precisely because they questioned players about steroid use, but never questioned owners or GMs about their role in hiring, retaining, recruiting (through free agency), OR releasing players known or suspected of using steroids. There are many quotes from GMs like Kevin Kennedy and others outlining what the owners knew and when – yet they avoided questioning even though the question of trafficking (aided and abetted by MLB franchises) was front and center throughout the story. If the feds were unconcerned about trafficking in PED’s, they never should have charged BALCO. Certain franchises facilitated access to PEDs on many levels – that’s the missing link in the indictment of baseball. Bonds’ positioning as arch-villain is par for the course.

  11. rashad says:

    The reality is, Barry brings more media and more negative attention to any team he plays on..for a young team, that can be a distraction. The flip side is that he also puts asses in the seats, and that could only help an owner. Collusion will be so hard to prove though..now if Clemens got signed, then we’d have a case.

  12. DavidMac says:

    rashad, I think you bring up valid points, I will add this though, I do not think a Clemens signing would be a valid sign of collusion.

  13. BeinMiceElf says:

    Barry Bonds… the greatest player in baseball history? That statement alone makes this piece rate a zero on the credibility scale.

    That is an impossible judgment to render about any athlete in any sport. Baseball has had so many great players that to name any one of them as the sport’s greatest is ludicrous. By including a childish statement like that, the author reveals a bias that taints the rest of the piece.

    Bonds, one of the 10 best of all-time? Probably, although top 10 is still a slippery area. But no single player can lay claim to the best-ever title.

    And save the pseudo-indignence that rises from this ham-handed attempt at humor: “… they would be accused of sprinkling steroids on their cornflakes.” The fact is, baseball players did dope, and they doped at insane levels. Since the steroids issue blew up with McGwire’s (rightful) denial of a HOF induction, and the perjury case against Bonds and the congressional hearings, home runs — the signature stat of the Steroid Era — have dropped dramatically. Last season, home runs were off by roughly 500 from the 2006 season, and this season, batters are on a pace to hit 1,000 fewer home runs than last season. That’s a drop of roughly 1,500 total home runs in just two seasons. Either 1) batters suck now; 2) pitchers, across the board in MLB, got awfully good awfully fast; or 3) players got scared straight and stopped juicing. You decide which of those three things is more likely.

    The fact is, as a Yankee fan, I wouldn’t want Bonds anywhere near the Bronx. Any owner who would sign this guy is insane. The longer he sits, the rustier his skills become, and the longer he would need to round his swing into shape…. and let’s all face facts: Human beings over the age of 30 DO NOT NATURALLY IMPROVE AS THEY CONTINUE TO AGE, especially over the age of 40. If Bonds sits out this long, then comes back and hits 20 home runs in 60 games after he’s picked up in August, it would be ludicrous to think he did it without any pharmaceutical enhancements.

    If Michael Jordan walked onto an NBA team in October, then started the season by averaging 25 points a game over the first 30 games, people wouldn’t raise an eyebrow or three over that ‘accomplishment?’ That is essentially what Bonds did AFTER AGE 35. His career is a joke!

    Bonds, Clemens.. these guys OBVIOUSLY cheated. Why is that so hard for people to wrap their brains around?