Finally, a new book on Major League Baseball that might be worth picking up:
Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams (Gotham Books, 2006)
Not only because it helps to deflate the superstar slugger annointed by Baseball to surpass Babe Ruth and, ultimately, Hank Aaron as the all-time home run king some time in the next year or two. But also because it samples one chapter in the complete auto-delegitimation of Baseball over the course of the past (let us say, and to pick a number that's easy to remember) 15 seasons. And for this, no price is too steep.
Of course, the why-part of the current focus on one individual superstar slugger is a sideshow. (Really. This "jealousy" over Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa bit is too trivial to even bother with.) Far more important, and far less a diversion, is the why-part of this modern American spectacle. Along with the how-part of Major League Baseball.
Today's San Francisco Chronicle reproduced the following chart (March 8), which, in The Chronicle's words, shows that after he began using "performance-enhancement" drugs prior to the 1999 season, the frequency with which Barry Bonds hit a home run "nearly doubled" from the frequency with which he hit home runs during the first 13 seasons of his career:
According to the book “Game of Shadows,” Barry Bonds began using steroids after the 1998 season. A statistical analysis in the book shows that over the first 13 years of his career — that is, before steroids — Bonds averaged a home run every 16.2 at-bats. From 1999 through 2004 — after steroids — the frequency with which Bonds struck homers nearly doubled, to one every 8.5 at-bats.
Seasons before steroids
Seasons after steroids
(Source: From “Game of Shadows” by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. ©2006 by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.) [The San Francisco Chronicle]
Now. I can't tell you how many other "juiced" sluggers an honest accounting would include on the same list. But any suggestion that the players themselves, the coaches and trainers, the ownership regimes, Baseball's national executives, and, last but not least, sportswriters, didn't know about all of this, and in great detail, surely would have to count as the biggest of the Big Lies.
One last comment, before I let you go. Last October, one of the better flim-flam men working the "leftist" con in the United States today, a fellow named Dave Zirin, wrote a commentary about the "anti-Bonds furries" allegedly setting out to tear the "intergalactic talent" to pieces, and even compared Bonds' critics to David Duke—everybody hates Barry Bonds, you see, and his critics are all a bunch of anti-black racists. ("Barry Bonds laughs last: When sportswriters come on like David Duke," Dave Zirin, CounterPunch, October 5, 2005.—It would be an interesting little research project to check how many other "leftist" venues picked up this masterpiece by Zirin. True to form, ZNet promoted this garbage.)
Question: Is Barry Bonds's performance-enhanced—and, to date, Major League Baseball protected and promoted—pursuit of the all-time home run title a symptom of the degradation of sports or the front-guard of the reisistance to their degradation?
You know. I can still remember when there really were leftist critiques of the American Sportsworld. We find examples of them every time a little child instinctively plays. The gulf between the infinitely many human moments such as these, and what happens to this child by the time he or she is incorporated into the American Sportsworld, is truly existential—the death of what is genuinely human enabling the birth into this other realm.
Barry Bonds as an emancipatory force? And the writers who would treat Barry Bonds as such heralds of the Left?
Hah. It is only in the shattering of illusions such as these that an emancipatory project lies.
"The Truth about Barry Bonds and Steroids," Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, Sports Illustrated, March 13, 2006
"Book puts heat back on Bonds," Guy Curtright, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 8, 2006
"Book has inside dope of Bonds' drug saga," Chris De Luca, Chicago Sun-Times, March 8, 2006
"Much as it tries, MLB can't escape from ugly past," Chris De Luca, Chicago Sun-Times, March 8, 2006
"Baker denies he knew about it," Mike Kiley, Chicago Sun-Times, March 8, 2006
"Steroids by the book," Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2006
"Bonds' damage to baseball complete," Rick Morrissey, Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2006
"A New Bonds Steroid Charge," David Wharton and Tim Brown, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2006
"Shadow Will Cover More Than Barry," Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times, March 8, 2006
"Jealousy Led Bonds to Steroids, Authors Say," Jack Curry and Murray Chass, New York Times, March 8, 2006
"Crowding Baseball's World Stage, A Story of the Game's Dark Side," George Vecsey, New York Times, March 8, 2006 [$$$$$]
"Why Barry Bonds Used Steroids: Excerpt from Chronicle reporters' upcoming book says slugger was jealous of Mark McGwire," Ron Kroichick, San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 2006
"Resolution? Not with our Barry; It'll be business as usual, for all the usual suspects," Ray Ratto, San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 2006
"It's baseball almost as usual when the news hits Arizona," John Shea, San Francisco Chronicle, March 8, 2006
"Unmasked," Brian Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 8, 2006
"Juiced: Why did he do it? Book tells what Bonds used, when he used it," Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 8, 2006
"Book puts the heat on Bonds," Alan Ryan, Toronto Star, March 8, 2006
"Book: Bonds' use began in late '98," Bob Nightengale, USA Today, March 8, 2006
"Next time Bonds leaves park, he should stay out," Jon Saraceno, USA Today, March 8, 2006
Postscript (March 11): Still remember finding a used copy of Paul Hoch's Rip-Off the Big Game (Doubleday, 1972). Some time around 1985 or 1986. Or thereabouts.
Therein, Hoch purported to provide a Marxist—indeed, if memory serves, an historical materialist—reading of the American Sportsworld.
And I can remember Hoch taking the knife to the old Major League Baseball club owner Bill Veeck.
For in his book The Hustler's Handbook (Putnam, 1965), Veeck had detailed how he used to milk the accountant's notion of depreciation to hide what a ballplayer's talents and on-the-field performance really contributed to a club's bottomline.
Those were the days. 1972. Just coming out of the Sixties. Not quite yet into the psycho- socio- economic- and moral-rollback from which we've all suffered these past 30 years.
When criticism of sports and of the American Sportsworld really was, well, criticism. However inchoate.
Progressive and/or leftist thought was still possible. (Even for sports!) Nor taken up with placing patches over holes that leak a lot of hot air. And that a lot of people would be better off watching deflate. And be done with them. Once and for all.
(For something quite a bit different, see "Burying Barry: Bonds and The Chain of Command," Dave Zirin. All pretty sad.)