Tag Archives: Barry Bonds

Looking Back at Some Historic Long Balls Tainted by the Lens of Revisionism and Hindsight

The other day I watched the 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer on ESPN. The film chronicles the 1998 battle between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs as they battled to break the Major League Baseball (MLB) single season home run record set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

I always enjoy the 30 for 30 series, and this entry was no exception. As I watched the documentary, I was taken back to the excitement of the battle between McGwire and Sosa during the summer of 1998. I was also reminded of the minor role I played three years later when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record of 70 home runs that McGwire set in 1998.

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park). Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.
Photo R. Anderson

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park) when the Houston Astros hosted the San Francisco Giants.

The game had originally been scheduled for September, but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70. Bonds hit the record tying homer in the ninth inning off of Houston Astros rookie left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez.

The home run came after Bonds was walked eight times, and hit by a pitch once in 14 prior plate appearances in the series against the Astros. After Bonds was intentionally walked, the over 40,000 fans in attendance booed Astros manager Larry Dierker. It is not every day that the home team manager is booed for walking an opponent.

Perhaps not wanting to be booed again, Dierker allowed Rodriquez to pitch to Bonds the next time he came to the plate. When the ball left Bonds’ bat, the stands erupted in cheers as that record tying homer sailed over the wall. Of course, it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response, but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds made two curtain calls following the home run, and the world of baseball was truly united on that one evening a little under a month since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the nation to its core.

The same thing happened when Sosa and McGwire were battling for the record in 1998. Fans of baseball put aside their team partisanship and rooted for Sosa and McGwire as individuals for the greater good of the game. This fact is even more amazing when one considers how bitter the fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals can be to each other.

It would be nearly 10 years to the day before I saw the Giants play the Astros again after my first trip to the Ballpark. The return game occurred three years after Barry Bonds last played, and lacked the record setting buzz, and the crowds of my first trip to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Fast forward to that 2001 October night in Houston, and fans were once again cheering for a player from a hated rival.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it were it not for Dierker deciding to give Bonds an intentional walk in a game that the Astros had very little chance of winning.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition. Instead, by walking Bonds, Dierker was manipulating records by not allowing the at bat to proceed organically without the interference of a manager refusing to let his pitcher throw to the batter.

At the end of the 2001 season, Larry Dierker was no longer managing the Astros after another early playoff exit. I have often wondered whether his actions of committing a sin against the baseball records played a part in the decision of the team to go in a different direction.

If memory serves, at the time, Dierker called it shameful that the Astros fans had dared to cheer for Bonds the way they did. I guess he just did not understand the gravity of the moment. Or, perhaps he did, and wasn’t swayed by it.

As an aside, it should be noted that Rodriquez, the other key Astros player that night, had only appeared in two games prior to giving up the home run, and he never pitched in an MLB game again after Bonds tied the record against him.

Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. In the years since 1998 and 2001, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have each, to varying degrees, had their career accomplishments overshadowed by whispers of how much of a role performance enhancing drugs (PED) played in their record setting achievements.

Each of the three men are currently on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, along with many other players from that era who have been tied to suspicion of PED use.

As I have noted many times before, players tied to the PED era should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I am in the minority opinion in that issue, but I have not wavered in my resolve. The Baseball writers who elect the members of the Hall of Fame have a duty to enshrine the best players from an era. Unfortunately, some writers feel that they can act as the morality police and ban players in order to make a political statement.

This approach can ring shallow since it is entirely possible that players already in the Hall did far worse things on and off of the field than the players being punished for PED use. That is not to say that I condone PED use. I do not. Players from that era should be enshrined with an asterisk by their numbers stating that it was during the era of PED. That way, fans can decide for themselves how much that impacted a player’s ability on the field.

Time will tell whether the tide turns to allow players from the steroid era of baseball to be enshrined in Cooperstown, or if they will fall victim to voters who feel that the inclusion of tainted players would hurt more than a steroid injection in the butt.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally, I would much rather see a player in the Hall, who may or may not have used PEDs, than a player who was tipped off on every pitch by a tell-tale trash can. Talk about a performance enhancer.

In addition to breaking the single season home run record with 72, Bonds also broke the career home run record with 756. Both records have detractors who question their validity. However, both records will stand until another player breaks them.

While I did not get to see history made, getting to see history tied while visiting only my second Major League Ballpark at the time was a pretty cool way to spend an October night.

With the hindsight of the nearly 20 years since that October 2001 night, I have often wondered whether the experience is tainted at all by the accusations against Bond that followed. Given the chance to be there again for that night, I would do it all over again and would probably have cheered even louder.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Once Again Barry Bonds And Roger Clemens are on the Outside Looking in

The other day it was announced that four players had been selected as Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2015 inductees.

Three of the inducted players were making their first ballot appearance while the fourth was elected on his third year on the ballot after missing induction by two votes last year.

While the four elected players represented the largest induction since 1955, once again players who were deemed tainted by the steroid era in baseball were left on the outside looking in.

In fact several of the roughly 500 men and women who comprise the voting members of the BWAA have gone so far as to say that they will not vote for any players who spent their careers in the steroid era regardless of whether or not they ever failed a drug test.

In taking this stance, the anti any whispers of steroid use voters cite the character clause in the Hall of Fame selection process as their reasoning for boycotting players from the so-called steroid era of baseball.

And speaking of the character clause that seems to be so en vogue with certain voters, are we to believe that every member of the Hall of Fame was an Eagle Scout and a scholar off of the field?

There can be character clause cases made against a number of the titans of the game who currently reside in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

Two players currently caught in the crossfire of the character clause point of view are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

I grew up watching both players and aside from a collection of baseball cards with their likeness on them, I was also fortunate to see both players in action at Minute Maid Park.

Barry Bonds, shown in plastic figurine form, was once again passed over for the Hall of Fame along with several other players who were believed to have used banned substances. Although known of the players were shown to be dirty some voting members of the BWAA refuse to vote for anyone who played during the so called steroid era regardless of what was or was not proven against them. Photo R. Anderson
Barry Bonds, shown in plastic figurine form, was once again passed over for the Hall of Fame along with several other players who were believed to have used banned substances. Although known of the players were shown to be dirty some voting members of the BWAA refuse to vote for anyone who played during the so called steroid era regardless of what was or was not proven against them.
Photo R. Anderson

While neither Bonds nor Clemens would be the type of athlete I would want to emulate off of the field based on the amazing egos both men seem to possess, by all accounts those very same egos drove them throughout their careers and should have made them locks for first ballot induction to the Hall of Fame.

Both men had lengthy careers and put up the type of numbers that made a statistician blush and opposing players and fans curse.

Unfortunately late in their careers both Bonds and Clemens were caught up in the net of suspicion regarding performance enhancing drugs and were brought in front of a congressional subcommittee to face charges that they lied about their use of PEDs.

Despite both men being acquitted of the charges against them, and with Hall of Fame caliber numbers, they still are not in the Hall of Fame despite calls from more than 75 percent of fans to let them in.

This year only a third of the guardians of the gate with their golden ticket votes determined that Bonds and Clemens are Hall of Fame worthy.

With only a few more years left on the ballot it is entirely possible that two of the best players of their era will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And therein in lies the rub and the disconnect related to Hall of Fame voting.

The Hall of Fame is decided by around 500 people who have been BWAA members for at least 10 years.

There is no requirement that they ever played the game but merely that they have covered the game as members of the media who have paid their club dues for 10 years.

Another wrinkle in the BWAA rules is that only 10 people can be included on any given ballot despite there being more than 10 eligible players each year.

I am not suggesting that the Hall of Fame turn into a sort of American Idol situation where fans can call in their votes for their favorite players.

But, I am also not sure that allowing 500 members of the media, who have different philosophies on what constitutes a tainted player, should be the only people guarding the gates of Cooperstown and determining who is in and who is out.

In all likelihood I will never be a member of the BWAA nor will I ever cast a Hall of Fame ballot.

But if I were able to ever cast a ballot I would be sure to do my homework on the players and consider their numbers as a whole and not in a vacuum. I would also not use my vote as some sort of political platform.

If steroids were as widespread as Jose Canseco and others would have us believe, than the playing field was level in a certain way in that the numbers put up by players during that era were against other “enhanced” players so they should not be banned from the Hall of Fame, especially if no proof exisits that they ever took banned substances. Photo R. Anderson
If steroids were as widespread as Jose Canseco and others would have us believe, than the playing field was level in a certain way in that the numbers put up by players during that era were against other “enhanced” players so they should not be banned from the Hall of Fame, especially if no proof exists that they ever took banned substances.
Photo R. Anderson

For example if steroids were as widespread as Jose Canseco and others would have us believe, than the playing field was level in a certain way in that the numbers put up by players during that era were against other “enhanced” players.

And by all means with players such as Bonds, Clemens and others who never failed a drug test for any substance banned by Major League Baseball, one cannot ban them from the Hall of Fame because they might have been dirty.

I might have run a red light today, or I might not have.

Should I get randomly pulled over by a police officer and given a ticket just because at some point when no one was looking I may have run a red light? Of course not.

That would be overstepping the authority of the police and go against the letter of the law that one is innocent until proven guilty.

So players need to be judged on their on-field performance and if their numbers support admission they need to be admitted.

Yes, there was a time when the game of baseball was riddled with steroids but it was not the only time in the history of the game where players sought to get an edge.

Are we supposed to go through all the way back to Babe Ruth and others to determine if their numbers were enhanced through supplements? No we are not.

I am glad that drug testing is part of the sport and I do hope that the use of steroids can be contained. However, players always have and always will look for an off the field edge to help their on the field performance.

The practice of using some vague interpretation of the character clause as a way to deny admission to players who have been found guilty of no crime but only appear guilty by association needs to be stopped.

Unless a player drops their pants at home plate and injects steroids into their buttocks in front of 35,000 witnesses, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and give those players with a Hall of Fame career their proper enshrinement in bronze if they have never failed a drug test.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about baseball has me craving a hot dog.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

 

Whose Hall is it Anyway?

The other day it was announced that three players had been selected as 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees and one other player missed induction by the narrowest of margins.

The inducted players are Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.

And if the trio felt like partying like it is 1999 one could not really blame them since it was the first time since 1999 that three players appearing on their first ballot were voted in for induction by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA).

Long time Atlanta Braves teammates Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine were named to the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class along with Frank Thomas. Photo R. Anderson
Long time Atlanta Braves teammates Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine were named to the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class along with Frank Thomas.
Photo R. Anderson

Maddox received 97.2% of the votes, followed by Glavine with 91.9% and Thomas with 83.7%.

Craig Biggio, who spent his entire two decade career with the Houston Astros, fell just short of the 75% threshold required for induction. Biggio, in his second year of eligibility, garnered 74.8% of the votes to fall two votes shy of Cooperstown.

And while Biggio fell painfully close to admission and will likely get elected next year, others were not so lucky.

Once again players who were deemed tainted by the steroid era in baseball were left on the outside looking in.

In fact several of the roughly 500 men and women who comprise the voting members of the BWAA have gone so far as to say that they will not vote for any players who spent their careers in the steroid era regardless of whether or not they ever failed a drug test.

By all accounts through their careers Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were locks for first ballot induction to the Hall of Fame.

Both men had lengthy careers and put up the type of numbers that made a statistician blush and opposing players and fans curse.

Unfortunately late in their careers both Bonds and Clemens were caught up in the net of suspicion regarding performance enhancing drugs and were brought in front of a congressional subcommittee to face charges that they lied about their use of PEDs.

Despite both men being acquitted and with Hall of Fame caliber numbers they still are not in the Hall of Fame despite calls from more than 75 percent of fans to let them in.

Barry Bonds, shown in plastic figurine form, was once again passed over for the Hall of Fame along with several other platers were were believed to have used banned substances. Although known of the players were shown to be dirty some voting memebers of the BWAA refuse to vote for anyone who played during the so called steroid era regardless of what was or was not proven against them. Photo R. Anderson
Barry Bonds, shown in plastic figurine form, was once again passed over for the Hall of Fame along with several other players were were believed to have used banned substances. Although known of the players were shown to be dirty some voting members of the BWAA refuse to vote for anyone who played during the so called steroid era regardless of what was or was not proven against them.
Photo R. Anderson

And therein in lies the rub and the disconnect related to Hall of Fame voting.

The Hall of Fame is decided by around 500 people who have been BWAA members for at least 10 years.

There is no requirement that they ever played the game but merely that they have covered the game as members of the media who have paid their club dues for 10 years.

Another wrinkle in the BWAA rules is that only 10 people can be included on any given ballot despite there being more than 10 eligible players each year.

At least one BWAA writer determined that the process of leaving the public out of the process was flawed so he crowd sourced his vote to a website that conducted a poll to determine who should be included on the ballot.

As can be expected the BWAA did not take too kindly to the news that one of its votes had been given to someone who had not paid the 10-years of membership fees.

Once the member revealed himself the BWAA acted swiftly and banned this particular member from ever casting a Hall of Fame vote again and also suspended him for a year. One can only hope that he was refunded his membership dues as well for the year that he will not be allowed to be a member.

This crowd sourcing of a Hall of Fame vote garnered reaction on both sides with some people agreeing with the BWAA postion that it was cheapening the Hall of Fame to let not tenured people decide who was worthy while others have felt that it was about time for a fresh look at what constitutes a hall of famer.

I have mentioned before how I do not like the ballot stuffing that occurs during the All-Star voting which allows a single fan to submit as many ballots as they can get their hands on so I am not necessarily thinking that a fan internet vote for the Hall of Fame can be a good thing.

I am also not suggesting that the Hall of Fame turn into a sort of American Idol situation where fans can call in their votes for their favorite players.

But, I am also not sure that allowing 500 members of the media who have different philosophies on what constitutes a tainted player should be the only people guarding the gate and determining who is in and who is out.

In all likelihood I will never be a member of the BWAA with enough tenure to ever cast a Hall of Fame ballot.

But if I were able to ever cast a ballot I would be sure to do my homework on the players and consider their numbers as a whole and not in a vacuum. I would also not use my vote as some sort of political platform.

For example if steroids were as widespread as Jose Canseco and others would have us believe than the playing field was level in a certain way in that the numbers put up by players during that era were against other “enhanced” players so they should count.

And by all means with players such as Bonds, Clemens and others who never failed a drug test one cannot ban them from the Hall of Fame because they might have been dirty.

I might have run a red light today on my way to work today, or I might not have. Should I get randomly pulled over by a police officer and given a ticket just because at some point when no one was looking I may have run a red light? Of course not.

That would be overstepping the authority of the police and in many cases it is why cities with red light cameras are removing them.

So players need to be judged on their on-field performance and if their numbers support admission they need to be admitted.

Yes, there was a time when the game of baseball was riddled with steroids but it was not the only time in the history of the game where players sought to get an edge.

Are we supposed to go through all the way back to Babe Ruth and others to determine if their numbers were enhanced through supplements? No we are not.

I am glad that drug testing is part of the sport and I do hope that the use of steroids can be contained. However, players always have and always will look for an off the field edge to help their on the field performance.

And unless a player drops their pants at home plate and injects steroids in front of 35,000 witnesses we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and give those players with a Hall of Fame career their proper enshrinement in bronze if they have never failed a drug test.

So the BWAA member who gave away his vote to the people certainly exposed a flawed system but it is certainly not a system that can be easily fixed. Until it is there will be deserving players who are only able to get into the Hall of Fame with a paid admission.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about baseball has me craving a hot dog.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

One Down, Two to Go

With a Labor Day matinee day game today between the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins I inched one team closer to seeing all 30 Major League Baseball teams at Minute Maid Park.

I had seen the Twins in Florida many times for Spring Training but until today I had never had the chance to see them play a regular season game.

Later in the month I will see games against the Angels and the Yankees to complete the 30 teams in a single Ballpark quest.

Of course a larger goal of mine is seeing all 30 teams in their home Ballparks but having them all come to me is certainly a good first step.

The journey to see all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park started modestly enough with a 2001 game against the San Francisco Giants on October 4, 2001. It was also the only game at the Ballpark while it was called Enron Field.

With the Minnesota Twins officially crossed off of the list only the Los Angels Angels of Anneheim and the New York Yankees stand between me and my goal of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson
With the Minnesota Twins officially crossed off of the list only the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees stand between me and my goal of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

But, for any purists out there who say that it shouldn’t count for seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park rest assured I have seen the Giants play during the Minute Maid era.

The game had originally been scheduled for September but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

For those who may have forgotten October 4, 2001 was the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.

The stands erupted in cheers when that record setting homer sailed over the wall. Of course it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it aside from the fact that the Astros manager decided to give Bonds an intentional walk later in the game ending any chance that home run number 71 would occur on Houston soil.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition and was manipulating records.

Of course, after having 12 or so years to reflect it occurs to me that not wanting to have the tainted home run occur on his watch was a wise move on the manager’s part.

Perhaps that Astros manager saw through the hype before the rest of us and realized that Bonds was likely using some pharmaceutical enhancements to crush those long balls.

Every journey starts with a single step, or in some cases a single ticket. On October 4, 2001 I saw my first game at Minute Maid Park which was known as Enron Field at the time. By the end of this season I will have seen all 30 Major League teams at least once at the Ballpark. Photo R. Anderson
Every journey starts with a single step, or in some cases a single ticket. On October 4, 2001 I saw my first game at Minute Maid Park which was known as Enron Field at the time. By the end of this season I will have seen all 30 Major League teams at least once at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Since that night Bonds went on to be disgraced with many fans wanting an asterisk by his record to reflect that it was not earned cleanly and should not be the official record.

The record will stand until another player, perhaps Baltimore’s Chris Davis, breaks it the clean way without any attachment to performance enhancing drugs.

While not every game at Minute Maid Park was as exciting has my first there have certainly been other memories made by the various teams that have come through the visitor’s clubhouse. And of course from time to time the home team has made a few memorable plays.

Although lately it seems that many of the plays made by the Astros are memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I am sure there will come a day when the Astros once again fill the Ballpark with fans wanting to see great things from the home team. Many fans are boycotting the move to the American League and the change in ownership.

While the new ownership has certainly made its fair share of blunders, and moving the team from the National League to the American League was highly unpopular among many in the Astros fan base, ironically it was the unpopular relocation of the Astros to the American League that helped speed up my quest to see all 30 teams. Without the Astros moving to the American League West I would not have been able to cross off Seattle and Oakland earlier in the season.

While all of the teams would eventually have rolled through town under the old Interleague schedule infusing some new teams into the mix was certainly a welcome rest from multiple games against National League Central opponents each year.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron's career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.  Photo R. Anderson
Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

I grew up on American League baseball with the Orioles and Rays and had not seen a National League game in person until the first one at Minute Maid Park. While I have now seen more National League games than American League games in my life I have to admit I still prefer the American League style with the designated hitter.

I know there are baseball purists who are cringing right now and crumpling up their felt pennants but I really would whether see 9 people that can potentially hit than 8 and a guaranteed strike out or sacrifice bunt from the pitcher.

I still think the Astros make a better National League team than an American League team but one does have to play with the cards they are dealt as opposed to always shouting at the dealer to reshuffle the deck until a hand that suits them is dealt.

So, like it or not the Astros are an American League squad. Granted, they are not a very successful one but they are one nonetheless. And with the constant presence of Interleague play now the lines between National and American League rules and playing styles will continue to get blurred until all of the teams are basically the same.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to get some tickets to see the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or Burbank or whatever L.A. suburb they are including in their name these days. It sure was easier when they were just the California Angels but I guess too many people were getting lost on the Pacific Coast Highway trying to find them somewhere between San Diego and Sacramento so some better geographic indicators were needed.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson