- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dr. Jekyll has turned into Mr. Hide. Barry Bonds, scarred by the steroid scandal, slowed by knee surgery and sold out by a former sweetheart, has decided we won’t be seeing him for a while, maybe not until next season. A mere 53 homers shy of “breaking” Hank Aaron’s all-time record, Mr. Flaxseed Oil says he’s physically and emotionally spent — the latter condition brought on by, naturally, the nosy media.

Swell, just swell. So now we get to watch “Barry Bonds: Special Victims Unit.”

This, less than a week after Mark McGwire morphed into Marcel Marceau while “testifying” before the House Committee on Government Reform. The public’s fascination with fraudulent biceps isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, though. And while Bonds may have received 120 intentional walks from major league pitchers last season, there will be no free passes, it’s clear, from the criminal justice system. Before his nightmare is over, the IRS — the Randy Johnson of federal agencies — might even get involved. No wonder Barry is looking for a fallout shelter.

His is a classic case … of the Kubler-Ross kind. In her famous studies on terminal illness, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages a dying patient goes through after being informed of his fate — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Bonds, whose reputation has been on life support for some time now, appears to be on Step Four. At first he denied his steroid use, then he grew angry at the constant questioning about it, then he tried to downplay the issue (“What is cheating?”) and now he’s “done,” wrung out in every way. Or as he put it, “You wanted me to jump off a bridge, I finally did.”

So there’s hope for Barry yet. Before it’s all over, he might actually get to the acceptance stage, where he acknowledges the damage he has done not just to his image but to baseball itself. (Barbara Walters, you can be sure, is leaving a light on for him.) Of course, that would require yet another reinventing of himself. We’ve already seen Barry I (the 30 homers-50 steals man) and Barry II (the flaxseed oil-fueled superslugger); this would be Barry III, Barry with a conscience, Barry with a world-view that extends beyond left field.

The question that continues to confound us is: Why wasn’t Barry I enough? You’d need more than Dr. Kubler-Ross to answer that one; you’d need Drs. Freud and Jung, too. Barry I, after all, was a cinch Hall of Famer, a player who, from 1986 through ‘98, hit 411 homers, stole 445 bases and won three MVP awards and eight Gold Gloves.

In the summer of ‘98, though, McGwire and Sammy Sosa held their Home Run Derby and captivated the country. The very next season, Barry II made his first appearance. Despite spending almost two months on the disabled list, Bonds blasted 34 homers in 355 at-bats — a higher dinger rate than ever before. The next year, when he turned 36, he hit a career-high 49 homers, and the year after that he hit 73.

Bonds’ worshippers called him a freak of nature. Skeptics called him a freak of anything but nature. Unfortunately, the bandwagon rolled on. Only now are we finding out the story behind the story.

Baseball is a numbers game, so let me throw some numbers at you, some numbers that will put this flaxseed oil business in perspective. In the first 13 years of his career, Bonds averaged a homer every 16.1 at-bats; in the last six years, in defiance of all biological law, he has averaged a homer every 8.5 at-bats. Had he continued to hit homers at his previous (Barry I) rate, he would have 565 right now, not 703 — and would be closing in on Harmon Killebrew (573) and Frank Robinson (586), not Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

Granted, Bonds might have drawn fewer walks — and gotten more “ups” — if he hadn’t hit so many home runs the past six seasons. So we’ll add, say, 20 homers to his total (and subtract 300-plus bases on balls), which would give him 585. That’s still a looong way from the all-time record.

The guy I feel sorriest for is Fred McGriff. The man has hit 493 home runs — with no suspicious increases over the course of his career — and yet some observers are horrified that he might reach 500 and wind up in Cooperstown. “Crime Dog,” who has never managed more than 37 homers in a season, might have been one of the few honest sluggers of his era — and what does he have to show for it? He’s the one who should be jumping off a bridge, not Barry.

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