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Inflation ruins everything.

Despite our desire to celebrate even the most trivial achievements, and a 24-hour electronic news apparatus with an omnivorous appetite, Barry Bonds' 715th home run was greeted with something very close to embarrassed silence. There seemed to be a universal, if tacit, understanding that Bonds' achievement in eclipsing Babe Ruth's iconic total of 714 homers was counterfeit, more a product of cunning pharmacology than talent and discipline.

Bonds, as portrayed in the book Game of Shadows by Mark Fairnaru-Wada and Lance Williams, is a small-souled man of great athletic gifts. Already Cooperstown-bound in 1998 with three Most Valuable Player awards to his credit, Bonds succumbed to pathological jealousy as the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa monopolized the attention of the fans and media. Shortly before McGwire broke Roger Marls' single-season record of 61 home runs, it was learned that he had been taking the steroid precursor androstenedione.

At the time, Bonds was 33 and facing his mortality in career terms. Although he had "never used anything more performance enhancing than a protein shake from the health food store," write Fainaru-Wada and Williams, Bonds made a calculated decision to become a "juicer." With the help of steroids obtained through an outfit called the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), Bonds underwent a startling metamorphosis.

Pre-BALCO, Bonds had the sinewy, long-limbed build of a marathon runner. Like his late father Bobby, and his godfather, the immortal Willie Mays, Bonds was a multifaceted player combining power and speed. His post-BALCO physique testified of his monomaniacal focus on hitting home runs. When he arrived for Spring Training in 1999, his once-sleek body had been retrofitted with at least 25 pounds of hormone-fed muscle.

"Of the five best offensive seasons in Bonds's career, four came after he was thirty-five years old," note Fairnaru-Wada and Williams. This in itself is not remarkable, since of Henry Aaron's 755 career home runs, roughly one-third came after he had reached that age, which is near-geriatric in baseball terms. Bonds' late-career improvement, however, was unprecedented. Prior to 2001, when he hit 73 home runs, Bonds had never hit more than 49 in a season. Additionally, he was 38 years old in 2002 when he won his first batting title, hitting .370.

This anomalous output prompted a cynical but insightful comment from Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. "Henry Aaron never hit 50 home runs in a season, so you're going to tell me that [Bonds] is a greater hitter than Henry Aaron?" mused Jackson. "There is no way you can outperform Aaron and Ruth and Mays at that level."

Clearly, concluded Jackson, "somebody is guilty of taking steroids." Which is to say that Bonds' career stats were debased by his inflated physique.

To get some sense of where Bonds stands when his stats are adjusted for physique inflation, consider the following. In 1927, Babe Ruth's 60 home runs accounted for 14 percent of the American League's total that year. To duplicate that single-season feat, Bonds would have to hit about 340 home runs--or a little less than five times the number of those in his record-setting year.

"Bonds's relentless home run march suggested that the game being played on the modern diamond wasn't baseball at all," comment Fairnaru-Wada and Williams, "at least the way it had long been known."

Even after Ruth's prowess with the bat (he had come into the Majors as a very talented southpaw pitcher) revolutionized the game, introducing the "live ball" era, home runs were exciting because of their relative scarcity. This was essentially the case until after 1994, The Year Without a World Series, when greed nearly destroyed baseball's fan base. Reliance on the long ball proved to be a good marketing strategy, and so Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig didn't probe too deeply when Andro-fueled slugger Mark McGwire became the center of the sporting world in 1998. Selig later slapped a gag order on the baseball world about Bonds' steroid use.

It can thus be said that baseball found its economic salvation in statistical inflation. This sort of thing came naturally to Selig, who, as Reason magazine's Matt Welch points out, "spent his term helping owners soak taxpayers for more than $5 billion in baseball welfare" through stadium subsidies.

Babe Ruth's Major League career began in 1914, just months after the Federal Reserve Act and the Income Tax were imposed on our once-free nation. In due course the gang responsible for those abominations inflicted the IRS on us as well.

Thus there is something at once oddly appropriate, and utterly terrifying, in the fact that Bonds' reliance on BALCO's steroids was exposed by Jeff Novitzky, described by Welch as "an ex-jock IRS agent who didn't appreciate Bonds's famously surly attitude."

While Bonds is a jerk of world-historic proportions, it's difficult to root against him when his chief tormentor is an IRS agent. If there is a useful moral to be extracted from this whole sordid mess, it would be this: inflation ruins everything.
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Title Annotation:Barry Bonds' achievements
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 26, 2006
Words:829
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