Bonds should have strength to handle steroid controversy


February 29, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

Barry Bonds is one angry hombre. He arrived at spring training to find there are people - even fellow players - who believe that he might have achieved his Michelin Man physique with something other than whey protein shakes and an intense workout regimen.

Never mind that his personal trainer was indicted recently for distributing steroids to high-profile athletes.

Never mind that he has bulked up so radically over the past 10 years that he came under suspicion of steroid use long before his name appeared on the witness list in the BALCO grand jury investigation.

Never mind that his 73-homer performance in 2001 was so many standard deviations beyond his average annual home run total that it all but defied statistical probability.

So far, Bonds has reacted like the cheating husband who gets caught red-handed by his wife and acts hurt that she was checking up on him. Who are you going to believe, he seems to be saying, me or your eyes? He might be innocent until proven guilty, but the BALCO scandal has exposed him to enough legitimate suspicion that he may never escape the taint of the steroid controversy.

Bonds became righteously indignant when Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Turk Wendell implied recently that there already is enough circumstantial evidence to conclude that the San Francisco Giants slugger might be, well, the product of rogue science.

"If you've got something to say, say it to my face," Bonds shot back. "Don't talk to the media and be a little [expletive]. If you've got something to say, you come to my face and say it, and then we'll handle it amongst ourselves, but don't talk through the media. I'm tired of guys chirping through the media."

That's not the right answer, not if you're trying to convince the world that all those 500-foot home runs that seemed to be shot out of a cannon didn't actually come out of a syringe.

Bonds may turn out to be a classic victim of guilt by association, but he has to recognize that this is one time his defiant, don't-give-a-darn-what-anybody-thinks attitude isn't going to help protect his legacy. He needs to acknowledge that the questions swirling around him are legitimate - given the seemingly incriminating circumstances - and do whatever he can to distance himself from the scandal.

Shrinking Giambi

New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi also testified in the BALCO hearings and has been one of the players who has been the subject of steroid whispers for the past few years, so it wasn't hard to draw the obvious conclusion when he arrived in camp this spring much slimmer than he was last season.

Giambi flatly denied that he has ever used steroids and attributed the noticeable weight loss to an offseason diet that eliminated unhealthy foods and reduced body fat.

That explanation met with some predictable skepticism, but Giambi had good reason to spend the winter shaving off excess upper-body weight. He was hobbled by knee soreness throughout last season, a situation that might be alleviated by a lighter frame.

Forgetting Bartman

Chicago Cubs outfielder Moises Alou just wants to forget about the foul ball that helped keep his team out of the World Series, but it popped right back up as soon as he reported to training camp.

"I went home in the offseason, and every day I heard about that," Alou said. "I don't even want to talk about it."

The city of Chicago certainly hasn't forgotten. The ball that was accidentally deflected by Cubs fan Steve Bartman in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series was ceremoniously blown up outside Harry Caray's restaurant on Thursday. That's the last anyone will ever see of it, but Alou knows it is not the last he's going to hear about it.

"I know I'm going to hear about it for a long time, even after I retire, because I know how great a sports town Chicago is and how mad people were with the way we lost," Alou said. "But I said right after the game that's not the reason we lost. They shouldn't be blaming that guy. It's over, and it's a new year. I don't care about the ball."

Tigers no longer in tank

The Orioles aren't the only team in the American League with a lot of new faces and a lot of room to improve. The Detroit Tigers, coming off a 43-119 season in 2003, actually are sounding upbeat after adding All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez, second baseman Fernando Vina, shortstop Carlos Guillen, outfielder Rondell White and pitcher Jason Johnson.

"We now have genuine, authentic, actual ballplayers," Dmitri Young said, "not no fake imitation B-rated [stuff]. It's nice to see familiar faces wearing the same uniform as you. I had to look at the back of a lot of uniforms last year just to say hello. What we did stunk, no way around it. We stunk."

In a sense, the Tigers are in an enviable situation. They could win 65 games, and it would be more than a 50 percent improvement over last year.

Thin skin

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