It’s time well wasted.
One of the hot topics so far in 2004 is Barry Bonds and the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Other than physical appearance, what really raises the red flag on Bonds is this:
What Bonds is doing is unprecedented. Yes, a lot of players have had terrific years late in their careers. However Bonds was well on his way to becoming an inner-circle HOFer. At the end of 1999 he was a member of the 400/400 club; won three MVPs (and was a top 5 finisher four other times); was an eight time all-star and Gold Glover and was .288/.409/.559 lifetime. Now he’s entering what is normally the decline phase of his career and he’s been .334/.513/.780 with 213 HR (from 2000-2003). To put that in a bit of context: Babe Ruth’s four best years (1921-24) he was 26-29 years old (Barry’s four best years came at ages 35-38) and the Bambino was .369/.504/.761 with 181 HR. Ruth enjoyed the following advantages: the best non-white players were excluded, the advent the relief ace was decades away, and he hit in park tailored for swing.
I’d love it if Bonds was doing it minus TGH/HGH/steroids but I can’t imagine an inner-circle HOFer suddenly outdoing the Babe in his prime (i) in a more difficult hitting environment (ii) in what is a typical player’s decline phase. To hit .288 in your career (which includes a normal player’s prime years) and suddenly start hitting at a .334 pace in your mid-to-late 30’s; to have your OBP go from .409 in your career (which includes a normal player’s prime years) and suddenly start posting an OBP of .513 in your mid-to-late 30’s; to slug .559 in your career (which includes a normal player’s prime years) and suddenly start slugging at a .780 clip in your mid-to-late 30’s is so staggering that I cannot explain it within normal athletic parameters (it'd be like Gretzky scoring 500 goals from ages 35-38). Barry Bonds, before he was 35, had an OPS of .968 and improved it by going 1.293 since (about a 25% improvement) Babe
Ruth, before he was 35, had an OPS of 1.183; to improve that 25% during his 35-38 years he would’ve had to post an aggregate OPS of 1.479--a level he never attained in a single season (yet alone over four). The highest single season OPS is 1.3807 (Barry Bonds in 2002)....almost 100 points lower than what the Babe would've had to do to match Bonds.
Was it Carl Sagan who said "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"? Well, for Bonds to accomplish what he's done since 2000 sans performance-enhancing substances is what I'd call an 'extraordinary claim.'
So, do I believe Bonds is guilty or innocent?
Personally I think Bonds uses, but if I were to cast a vote in a jury I’d vote “not guilty” for several reasons:
- While the circumstantial and anecdotal evidence as to Bonds usage is strong, it’s still just circumstantial and anecdotal evidence.
- Bonds isn’t the only player to excel from ages 35-38. Ted Williams was .359/.505/.668 over that part of his career. The training and nutrition available today far outstrips what was available almost 50 years ago.
- With proper weight training, diet, and legal supplements, it is possible to bulk up with lean muscle mass almost at any age. A couple of years back I saw a body builder from Barbados that won a competition at age 66. He was competing with much younger men. From all accounts he was clean.
So while I find the mounting evidence against Bonds--all the more since his trainer from BALCO (Gary Anderson) was indicted for trafficking in anabolic steroids--to be damning, I think there’s still a reasonable doubt that he’s clean. “Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” is a wise stance in my opinion. That’s why, while I do personally feel Bonds is guilty, I’ll go on record as saying “not guilty.”