I come neither to praise Barry Bonds nor to bury him, but to instead offer something that Bonds and legions of baseball fans deserve – an attempt to defend the beleaguered Giants slugger after his recent indictment on counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. Of course, by now, you’ve heard the news of Mr. Bonds’ federal indictment, and you’ve probably watched the parade of talking heads on ESPN and other sports networks practically falling over each other in the contest to show the most contempt for Major League Baseball’s home run king.

For a variety of reasons – but mostly due to Bonds’ incredibly surly personality – any story about his involvement with illegal steroids seems to cling to the tried-and-true template of deriding him in flowery, orotund and vacuous tones that chide the superstar for not respecting the “sanctity” of the game of baseball. The attacks are all too easy and confuse the real issues at stake in the whole saga. For all the blame dumped on Bonds for breaking federal law by using anabolic steroids, including human growth hormone, the would-be defenders of the game at the four-letter network have spent precious little time investigating the sundry developments that have allowed Barry Lamar Bonds to hold the most renowned record in American sports.

I don’t want to excuse Bonds’ noncompliance with federal law, but the vicious attacks on Bonds himself make two crucial mistakes in that they don’t give Bonds the credit he deserves and that they ignore the disastrous decisions of the guardians of the game that have basically turned baseball into a glorified home run derby.

The first mistake is particularly heinous because while some commentators are willing to blame Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for condoning a rampant steroid culture, almost no national sportswriters (Dave Zirin of The Nation may be the only one) have given Bonds credit for his achievement.

One particular incident from the 2001 All-Star Game particularly stands out because it illustrates an uncanny hitter’s intuition. Sitting in the National League dugout at Safeco Field in Seattle, surrounded by the world’s top baseball players, Bonds stunned his teammates by correctly predicting each pitch – fastball, curveball, change-up – as it left the pitcher’s hand. I hate to repeat the defense commonly given by steroid users, but no amount of human growth hormone could possibly give Bonds the immense advantage of knowing each pitch as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. To say that Bonds’ record home run total is nothing more than the product of chemicals would be to give Bonds far too little credit. Remember, even in his Pittsburgh years, when his body didn’t yet show the telltale bloating of steroid usage, Bonds was a prodigious hitter who had won three MVP awards in 1990, 1992 and 1993.

In addition to giving far too little credit to an immensely talented player, the cookie-cutter attacks on Bonds’ steroid use give steroids themselves far too much credit. The common refrain that, say, Hank Aaron could have easily hit 800 home runs had he had the benefit of steroids demonstrates a misunderstanding of exactly how steroids work. Steroids do not, as is commonly assumed, create muscle mass; they instead give the user increased stamina for workouts.

What may seem like a fine distinction is, in fact, incredibly important when you remember that the practice of weightlifting is a recent phenomenon in baseball. Indeed, former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, who was still playing baseball when Bonds broke into the big leagues, used to boast that he never touched a single weight in his 15-year career. So while Bonds seems to certainly have used steroids, that decision would have been meaningless in a previous era, when weightlifting was frowned upon.

Similarly, the obsession with steroids ignores two developments that have cheapened the home run: the shrinking strike zone and the smaller stadium. Of these, the former has drawn the criticism of none other than Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, who named it the single most important factor in skyrocketing home run totals. By drastically reducing the size of the strike zone, baseball officials have given sluggers like Bonds free license to target a smaller area for home run swings.

Similarly, the newest generation of baseball stadiums, such as Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Ballpark and San Francisco’s AT&T Park, has given Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, Bonds and a host of other superstars the inestimable advantage of pathetically short fences.

The newest controversy surrounding Barry Bonds has renewed the crusade against the slugger. Yet in the sea of accusations that Bonds has single-handedly stripped baseball of its “sanctity,” we’ve lost sight of the big picture. Yes, Barry Bonds flouted the law of the land – though not, it’s worth noting, the law of baseball – by using steroids, a fact established in the 10-page indictment. Yet to use this fact to try to dismantle Bonds’ considerable achievements would be idiotic. Bonds may be an unsavory character, but he and his fellow steroid users are not the sole cause of the devalued home run. Though it’s certainly erroneous to excuse Bonds’ many flaws, it’s equally wrong to ignore both his considerable talent and the circumstances over which he had no control.

Brendan Roach is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at roachthehoya.com. THE LOSING STREAK appears every other Tuesday in HOYA SPORTS.

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