The media’s been keeping it pretty low key, so I wouldn’t blame people for not knowing about this. But apparently, Barry Bonds is enduring some heavy scrutiny at the moment. Two books specifically about his steroid usage are flying off the shelves (I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop up in the next Harry Potter novel as a syringe wielding villain). His new ESPN reality show is being slammed as a transparent (and ineffective) attempt to put a pretty face on a mug that would cause Dr. 90210 to throw up his hands. The Feds are deciding whether or not to charge him with perjury (which raises the philosophical conundrum: Can a guy who’s been lying so long he no longer distinguishes fact from fiction truly be guilty of falsehood under oath?). And just to put a cherry on top, dude can’t even bat his body weight anymore. All in all, 2006 probably won’t go down as Barry’s favorite year.
Unfortunately, 2006 hasn’t been too kind to baseball itself, either. This whole mess is yet the umpteenth reminder of how the "steroid era" will forever taint the sport’s history. Some may protest that baseball’s investigation into itself is too Barry-centric, especially since some of the retired usual suspects (Big Mac, Raffy, Sosa) could go the entire the probe without getting a phone call. In reality, though, it doesn’t matter if baseball centered its work around Bonds, either Giambi, Canseco or one of the no-names who got nabbed during 2005’s testing. Whatever years the experts have designated under suspicion are permanently destroyed. There’s nothing that can be done about it, whether Barry slides, spends a year in a minimum security prison (Now there’s your reality show) or simply spends the rest of his life as the player (and ex-player) you live to hate. As Neil Young put it, "I’ve seen the needle and the damage done." And unlike that classic tune off Harvest, there’s nothing hauntingly beautiful about it.
I actually find the whole "to asterisk or not to asterisk the records" debate kind of funny, because it’s a moot point. The eventual decision won’t even matter, because the asterisk has already been added with permanent marker. Done deal. Forget about it. What do the powers that be think will happen if they decide against some little star or disclaimer at the end of Bonds-73? Or McGwire-583? People will just shrug their shoulders and ignore the Kilimanjaro-high pile of evidence that guys were juicing simply because baseball can’t decide the "fair" way to handle it? I’ve got news for the league. It’s been handled. The decision is out of your hands. The records only mean as much as people respect them and whatever’s been produced by this particular era will forever be viewed with skepticism. Any Big Mac plaque in Cooperstown might as well come with an asterisk branded on it, because every visitor’s eyes will burn one into the metal, anyway. The counterpoint crowd will claim that you can’t add the asterisk because you don’t know exactly how many HR’s by Raffy were tainted. Or if they came off pitchers shooting just as much juice. Or even acknowledge that Bonds was injecting himself like a supporting actor from Trainspotting, but since those drugs won’t make him hit a curveball, what difference does it make? Those people all think they’re arguing against the asterisk. But in reality, they’re pro-asterisk, even if they don’t know it. They may be against a literal "mark" of sorts, but that’s only due to a lack of indisputable proof, not because they think the achievements are pure. Either way, they’re convinced of the cheating and view the records as tarnished. They see an asterisk there, even if they vote against it. In order to truly be anti-asterisk, you gotta think that this whole "steroid" thing is a media invention, an attempt by politicians to get their faces in front of a camera, or some kind of Truman Show farce that ********* the world. Is there anyone who’ll present such theories with a straight face? Nobody I’ve ever met.
The league would be better off closing the debate and focusing on designing the coolest asterisk possible. Perhaps something space age. Or maybe that faux graffiti style that the kids seem to dig. Maybe even Old English script. Whatever. Do something to make it palatable, because the longer they put it off, the more a cloud of shame looms. By condemning and labeling it, the discussion slowly gets killed. Out of sight, out of mind. That might just be the only way to salvage things. We Americans do have a short attention span, after all.
Except, of course, when it comes to baseball.
But it’s still worth a try.