We are living 1998 all over again, only this time even worse.
Now, though, many are willing to overlook the fraud they know is being committed by Barry Bonds. Fans in San Diego booed Bonds in each plate appearance of that series — until, that is, he hit the home run that tied Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 on Saturday night.
Many fans stood and cheered then, just as they did in the summer of 1998.
That summer, everyone was blissfully ignorant. They didn’t know that McGwire and Sosa, unlike the man whose record they were trying to break, used performance-enhancing substances banned by baseball.
This time, the fans were not blissfully ignorant, just simply fatigued, helpless and confused.
Fatigued by the entire steroids debate, which unfortunately still is in the early stages. Every year a McGwire or Bonds or other suspected abuser comes up on the Hall of Fame ballot, the debate will renew — perhaps for another 20 years.
Helpless because they know what they are watching — and some of what they watched over the past 20 years or so — is a deception.
Confused about who and what to believe when the media they rely on to make sense of the steroid controversy gets it wrong, even now.
They hear commentators and read writers who claim there is no proof Bonds took steroids, yet Bonds himself testified before a federal grand jury that he took “the cream” and “the clear” supplied by BALCO Labs. Bonds, of course, said he didn’t know they were steroids, that he believed they were the supplement flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm.
BALCO boss Victor Conte went to jail for selling the cream and the clear, so I think we can say with certainty they were illegal performance-enhancing substances.
And repeated in newspapers and on the airwaves, over and over, is the argument that there were no rules against steroid use in baseball until 2003. How, it is said, can Bonds be penalized if he wasn’t breaking any rules?
This lie has been spoken and written so much it is now gospel.
But steroid use was banned in baseball in 1991 when commissioner Fay Vincent issued the following memorandum to all clubs after Congress increased the penalties for steroid possession: “The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited. … This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs … including steroids.”
So whatever embrace of Bonds and the record exists — at least outside of San Francisco, where fans refuse to entertain the notion they invested so much money and emotion in a cheat — is a reluctant embrace.