Barry Bonds, Steroids and the Burden of Proof at a Barbecue



In the summer 2007, I was at my parents house for a barbecue. My dad was grilling up salmon and a swordfish, and something you should know about my dad: He cooks a terrific swordfish.

And while he was grilling, we did what we tend to do 365 days a year which is talk about baseball. My dad was, is and always will be a rabid San Francisco Giants fan and he was talking about Barry Bonds and his chase of Hank Aaron’s record.

Now I am no Bonds hater (I’ve defended him on the blog several times) but I made a comment about steroids. I would call his steroid use the elephant in the room, but at that point I think Barry was BIGGER than an elephant.

My dad seemed annoyed by me (I think it was the first time ever that I did something that annoyed him) and he asked “Do you know that he did? Can you prove that he did? Unless you have proof that he did anything, how can you say that he did?”

I reminded my dad that we were not in a court of law.

We were at a barbecue.

The burden of proof at a barbecue is much lower than in a court of law. It SHOULD be greater in a court of law.

The lawyers found that he obstructed justice (not David) but that’s it. It’s hard to prove perjury without a positive test nor a witness. And of course Bonds threw in the phrase “did not knowingly take” into his defense.

Being stupid isn’t illegal. And ironically acting stupid was how Barry showed he was smarter than the other juicers.

How did the prosecutors intend to win this?
By holding up his 1987 Topps card and comparing it to his 2007 Topps card?

A doctor was called to the stands to testify that Bonds’ body had changed. Wow, really? Do you know who else can make that statement? Anyone with eyes who saw Bonds play from 1986 to 2007!

They brought out recordings with a mistress to show he had rage, that must be about the steroids. I’ve never had a mistress but I can imagine even without steroids, they can lead to some tense filled moments.

When word of what was going on in the trial I thought “Man, the government is letting him walk… just like every other pitcher since 2000!”

He will be punished for obstruction of justice but his knowingly taking steroids will not be proven.

Meanwhile I can still say “I think he knowingly did steroids.”

And I can say it about other players too.

I can say “I think Jeff Bagwell used something.” I have no problems saying that and will sleep soundly. The burden of proof for thinking something and speculating is pretty low.

But it isn’t baseless. Bagwell was a skinny player with limited power in the Red Sox farm system. He wasn’t sent off to the Astros in the Larry Andersen trade because Lou Gorman was stupid. He was behind Scott Cooper and Mo Vaughn on the depth chart of Red Sox prospects.

He arrived in Houston, packs on 30 some odd pounds while being buddies with the late Ken Caminiti, who we know did steroids because he said so.

Then he became an elite slugger putting up Hall of Fame worthy numbers only to have his body collapse right around the time testing started.

I can say “I think Luis Gonzalez did something.”

The guy never hit more than 15 home runs before his 30th birthday, then suddenly in his 30s he exploded into an elite slugger, crushing 57 home runs at age 33… all with newly found python like arms.

Can I prove it in a court of law? No. But I can still think it and feel like I am not off base.

We are more alert about the warning signs. We’ve been burned overpraising players and ignoring the clues.

I heard a Bagwell apologist say “He had the best work ethic and he just hit the weight room.” Wasn’t that what we heard about Bonds? Clemens? McGwire? Canseco?

You don’t need to see every piece of evidence to connect the dots.

In 2009, I wrote a bunch of facts about David Ortiz. I just listed them and made no proclamation. But all of the facts when lined up pointed to his using Performance Enhancing Drugs.

A few months later it was announced that he was linked to them.

It wasn’t shocking.

If you left your cheating spouse and then your new love interest comes up with lipstick on their collar and smelling of cheap perfume, it isn’t out of line to say “Hey! I recognize the signs.”

I was at a party in New York during my single days and a friend of mine kept going to the bathroom over and over again. Each time she would come back, she would be jittery and incoherent. I am confident she was doing cocaine. Can I prove it in a court of law? No. But I still think I am right.

Voters for the Hall of Fame can and will use that lower bar for burden of proof as well. If you truly can’t vote for someone whose numbers have been artificially inflated to Hall of Fame levels, then vote the way your instincts tell you.

Or better yet, just ask Canseco who has been right on just about everything on this topic.

Don’t worry about proving something beyond the shadow of a doubt. A voter isn’t in a court of law.

They might as well be at a barbecue with my dad. And if you ARE at the barbecue, have a bite of the sword fish.

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