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Padecky: Tainted by steroids, Barry Bonds is fading away

Well, Barry, was it worth it? The juicing. The deception. The selfishness. The avarice. You just had to be at the top of the pyramid, didn’t you? Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa didn’t belong there. You needed to go big, bigger actually, and so what if you had more chemicals inside you than a car’s radiator?

All those curtain calls and standing ovations, don’t they seem to be just faint, phony echoes now? Barely audible as if they could belong to anyone. Tuesday made it so. Tuesday was your last slap-down, the 10th and last time Cooperstown voters told you to stay away and pound sand. Only a vote by a special committee can get you in the hall now.

People will ask you, how does it feel? If you stay in character you’ll shrug and give a half-smile that will be more confusing than revelatory. You never let anyone penetrate and, at 57, you certainly aren’t about to start now.

People also will bring up Bud Selig and, well, Bud Selig will prefer they didn’t. Selig was responsible for letting the steroid era blossom. He turned the other cheek because all those home runs were good for business and therefore good for baseball.

Yet the steroid enabler is in the Hall of Fame and the hypocrisy is thick, isn’t it? Selig, the paragon of complicity, who made his owner-friends richer, never had to wait 10 years for induction. The irony of it: Bonds was one of those who gave baseball a big boost and now he has to pay for it. Selig isn’t.

Tuesday was baseball’s version of the Rorschach ink blot test. Bonds can be whatever you want him to be.

Bonds thrilled the crowd in San Francisco; he annoyed the crowds everywhere else.

Bonds was an egomaniac. All successful athletes need a strong sense of self.

Bonds was a distant loner, isolated from his teammates. How could he not be with all the pressure he was under?

Bonds, his defenders will say, is not that much different from his contemporaries. Bonds was churlish, but so was Steve Carlton. Bonds was not liked by his teammates, but neither was Ty Cobb. Bonds let his ego get the best of him, but so did Reggie Jackson.

Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he was juicing. Yes, he was. Enter former Giants manager Roger Craig.

“A player needs to respect the game,” Craig once said.

Taking steroids does not respect the game.

Here’s another defense of Bonds.

Bonds wasn’t the only one. A lot of players were cheating. Why single Bonds out?

His arms looked like they were filled with helium. His head had the circumference of a Thanksgiving pumpkin. His cheeks puffed out like he was holding his breath.

Bonds hit 762 home runs in his career and 73 in a season. No one has done either.

Bonds found teammates, fans, media, front-office personnel as irritants.

Except for setting his hair on fire, he did everything to attract attention to himself.

Barry Bonds was the best baseball player I ever saw, after Willie Mays. He had the finest collection of speed and power but with a below-average arm. He had the shortest and most compact swing I have ever seen. He had the most acute vision when judging a pitch; rarely did I see him fooled.

Bonds had two seasons back-to-back that were the best in baseball history: In 2001 and 2002 he hit 119 homers, drove in 247 runs, walked 375 times and hit .347.

Yet with all those numbers, Barry Bonds can be reduced to a single-word answer. Say his name. What follows? One word. Steroids. Not home run king. Not seven-time Most Valuable Player. Not all-time leader in walks. Barry Bonds. Steroids.

No one represents the steroid era more obviously than Barry Bonds. It sticks to him like a stink, a skunk stink, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Ask any of baseball’s owners in 2007 what they thought of Bonds. What they said was remarkable.

Bonds had become a free agent. He could sign with anyone. He still was productive. He hit 28 homers that season, drove in 66 runs. Pitchers still feared him; he led the league in walks (132). He led the National League in on-base percentage (.480). He wasn’t injured or hurting in any way.

Not ONE team offered Bonds a contract. Not ONE. The greatest home run hitter the game has ever known couldn’t get a job. The most intimidating batter since Babe Ruth wasn’t even worth a look-see invite at spring training.

No one wanted to deal with the steroid infection that was consuming baseball, conversations that made McGwire and Sosa the end of joy and applause, the beginning of suspicion and doubt. The unique and unmatched trajectory of a home run no longer carried awe and acclaim with it. Instead a jaundiced eye followed its flight, convinced its source wasn’t playing fair.

And that has made all the difference. That’s why nearly 15 years after his last home run, Barry Bonds hasn’t shaken and will never shake the knowledge that he is dirty.

“Steroid users don’t belong,” Joe Morgan said of Hall of Fame inductees. Little Joe took a lot of heat for that. He was direct and punitive and unforgiving.

In Cooperstown, most likely there are crooks, robbers and domestic violators, drug users, alcoholics and scam artists. So we give Bonds a pass because everyone was doing steroids? Do we lower the bar permanently, that there is no act that disqualifies a candidate other than maybe taking someone’s life? Do we want to cheapen Cooperstown that much?

That as long as you have the numbers, it doesn’t matter if you did it with horse urine mixed with Lysol? The “character clause” gets much criticism because it is violated so frequently. Sportsmanship and integrity belong to another time. And we have Bud Selig in the Hall of Fame to prove it.

Baseball doesn’t know everyone who was juiced, but they do know Bonds. And McGwire. And Rafael Palmiero. They see Roger Clemens the same way.

Jim Leyland, once Bonds’ manager in Pittsburgh, said Bonds played better unhappy. That he needed conflict as his energy drink. If he made someone angry? Awesome. If he refused an autograph and got a sneer in return? Terrific. The game was easy for him. He needed external motivation to help him concentrate.

So what does Barry do with the conflict now? He can have all the negative thoughts he wants. He has been rejected. Rebuked. Slapped hard. He’s Barry Bonds. The Steroid Guy. He’ll never need a plaque for people to remember him. He’s as immortal as Babe Ruth. As memorable as Mickey Mantle.

Barry Bonds may be the home record holder, but Henry Aaron is still the benchmark. Barry is just on the bench, watching, wondering.

So, Barry, was it worth it? Did you know it was a gamble or did you have the unfailing belief in yourself, convinced you would rise above it all? Did you ever think you would be found out, that you would be pinned, that jealousy overtook your common sense, that you’d be embarrassed forever by it?

But maybe you aren’t. After all, being unhappy was your teammate. Congratulations. Unhappy is now your roommate.

To comment write to bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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