Give Barry Bonds a break already!
Bill Plaschke, a sports writer for the LA Times, wrote a malicious and ignorant article today that the Times wrongly placed on the front page of its sports section. The article is worth a read, however, because it is emblematic of a type of arrogant beat sports writer who hates any ball player, especially a successful one, who doesn't kiss his ring.
Here is my letter to the Times in response (I add links here, though, and correct two typos!):
"I know Bill Plaschke hates Barry Bonds, as do most of his fellow self-indulgent sports writer friends. But Barry Bonds, even as it looks like he took steroids, did not use any substance Major League Baseball had banned. I write, however, because Plashcke has been smoking some serious weed if he thinks Babe Ruth was as clean as Bonds is supposedly dirty. Plaschke obviously knows very little about Babe Ruth other than some movie he may have seen as a child. First off, Ruth was a notorious drinker and party hound, had suffered from gonerrhea due to his sexual escapades, and definitely treated baseball as a business. Ruth sat out games, skipped team buses or trains when it suited him, threw tantrums with owners if he didn't get his way, and was very pushy in terms of his salary. Ruth's longtime Yankee teammate, Lou Gehrig, had very little respect for Ruth as a man. Yes, Ruth was easy with money for people, but Bonds is no slouch, either. Maybe if Plaschke started with Bonds' official website, he'd have some idea of the impressive philanthropic work Bonds has authorized and paid for over the years. Plaschke even takes the cheap shot at Bonds for not signing autographs--as if Babe Ruth would have been very different in today's world of card scalpers and dealers.
Plaschke says Ruth changed the game in a good way, but Bonds changed the game in a bad one. But Plaschke is only half right. Barry Bonds did not change the game in a bad way--because Bonds was not the only guy pumping up. Want to blame someone? Try blaming Bud Selig and the other owners, who turned their eyes away from steroid use among players in order to get people back to games after the disastrous 1994 strike.
And let's not forget one thing: Barry Bonds, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, before pumping up, was one of the top two or three star players of his era. Was he ever part of a team that won a World Series? No. But neither did Ernie Banks or Harmon Killebrew win a World Series in their day. So lay off Bonds already. I know he doesn't like talking with you, Plaschke. But, after reading your column, I don't blame Bonds a bit."
(End of letter)
I must add this: I'm not saying Barry Bonds is an angel or that I support what he did. What Bonds did was wrong because, first and foremost, he was hurting himself with steroid use. Worse, he knew it was wrong because, per the sports stories swirling around, he didn't bother using the steroids until after McGuire and Sosa became home run heroes in 1998--and it looks like they were on the stuff, too. But Bonds has always struck me as a guy who was more loved than hated by his fellow players and teammates, which is where we should start before judging him the way Bill Plaschke did.
As for Babe Ruth, anyone interested in the life of the Babe should start with Robert Creamer's seminal bio of Ruth, "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life" (1974/reissue, 1992, Simon & Schuster). I will say, though, that the Wikipedia entry on Ruth was damned good. As for this new book on Ruth, I am concerned it might be hagiographic. However, it still sounds quite good and probably worth the read.
ADDENDUM: Plaschke rips Bonds for blowing a play that supposedly cost his team a chance to go into the World Series--not like Ruth, he says, who was on a great team--with other players, Plaschke!--that won 7 World Series. But here is Wikipedia (scroll down to "Return to the Top") as to why Ruth was not on a team that won 8 World Series:
"With Bob Meusel at bat, and Lou Gehrig in the on-deck circle, Ruth pulled the most notable on-the-field gaffe of his career. He inexplicably took off trying to steal second base, and was easily thrown out by catcher Bob O'Farrell, ending the game and giving the Cardinals the World Series (over the Yankees)." (Parenthesis added)
Plaschke says Bonds calls many people "Bleeps" (Plaschke was being cute here). Maybe Bonds just calls sportswriters like Plaschke "bleeps", which is, in my view, quite appropriate under the circumstances. The point here is not to attack Babe Ruth, but simply to put the truth about Ruth's life into perspective when comparing it to Barry Bonds.