Say It Ain’t So, Barry: As a kid playing baseball on the sandlots of Chicago’s South Side, I wasn’t very good, but I loved it with the purity of a boy who worshipped the Chicago Cubs and everything about baseball. I didn’t care if it was the “National Pastime.” I cherished baseball lore and knew the stories of the early days when Ty Cobb was a terror on the bases and when spitballs were legal.
Those were rough-and-tumble times, including the Black Sox scandal of 1919, but by my day the game was far more genteel, even (gasp!) played by a few College Men. And, thanks to the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson in 1947, black players were finally in the majors. Shamefully, they’d been banned for the first half of the 20th Century. (And also kept out of pro football since the mid-1930s until after World War II. See my book, The Pro Football Hall of Fame.)
My brother Bruce and I and the neighborhood kids would trudge out to a rutted, weed-filled lot and play in the dust with a ball wrapped in dark electrician’s tape. Second base was a hunk of steel about the size of a loaf of bread. It was also the 50-yard line when we played football.
If you slid – or “slud,” as Dizzy Dean would say during his days as an announcer after he hurt his arm-in the wrong way you’d slash your foot. If you stepped on it the wrong way you’d sprain your ankle. The outfield was full of gopher holes just waiting for you to step in one. Out there the weeds were thigh-high.
There were no parents to be seen. No 2000-era moms and pops perched on patio chairs at the sidelines, coolers at their feet, cheering for their offspring. No spending hard-earned money on silly play equipment for their kids. We did it all ourselves. With my Chicago Tribune paper route money, I bought a glove and second-rate cleats so painful to wear my feet were swollen after every game. But I loved it and harbored secret fantasies of playing center field for the Cubs. “Put me in, Coach, I’m Ready to Play!” as the song goes.
I was fast but never saw a curve ball I could even foul off. Now comes Barry Bonds, indicted Thursday by the feds for lying about using steroids. Bonds, according to the indictment, lied about using chemicals when he set that all-time home run record of 73 in 2001.
The feds gave Bonds a chance to come clean and admit using steroids, without any penalty. But no, he refused. Now he faces possible prison time. Today, I’m angry. How could he do this to the game? Sadly, he apparently wasn’t the only one cheating. But he was the superstar, the home run king, arrogant, true, widely despised, but still a hero to kids all over the country.
True, it’s only an indictment, an accusation. There’s an old saying among defense attorneys: Grand juries will indict a ham sandwich. Well-meaning citizens called to serve on a jury get one side of the story from the prosecutor. It’s rare when one will throw the whole thing out of court. And, as everyone agrees after hearing about the Bonds action, perjury is very hard to prove. What do the feds know that we don’t? Still, looking at his record before and after his alleged better living through chemistry, I’m ready to believe Bonds dipped into something more than chewing tobacco.
So what now? For sure, he’ll never play baseball again. Unless, that is, the Lompoc federal prison has a team.