Someone's gotta be the scapegoat

Updated: April 5, 2004, 3:57 PM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Barry Bonds is in Houston this week, searching for three things:

Barry Bonds
Barry Bonds is perturbed about what's going on behind his back off the field, his lawyer says.
  • His godfather's home run mark.

  • The admiration that comes from overtaking his godfather's home run mark.

  • And some peace and quiet.

    Well, you know what they say about baseball. One hit in every three at-bats makes you a champion.

    They only say it about baseball, though. In the rest of life, and especially with this particularly hellish triangle, going 1-for-3 is no way to go through life.

    Over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle learned and reported that urine samples given last season by seven major leaguers, including Bonds, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, still exist, and that the BALCO grand jury was seeking to obtain the samples with an eye toward possible perjury indictments if the samples contained the designer steroid THG.

    Now if that last paragraph doesn't move you the same way the first national anthem of the new season does, then you have no soul.

    The Chronicle story spurred Bonds' lawyer, Michael Rains, to tell The New York Times that Bonds was being singled out by the government, and that a U.S. attorney named Kevin Ryan and an IRS agent named Jeff Novitzky might have had personal agendas in seeing to Bonds' downfall.

    Which spurred Bud Selig to turn up on George Stephanopoulos' show on Sunday to explain Major League Baseball's latest attempt to seize the high moral ground they so willingly forfeited in a series of collective bargaining negotiations in which drug issues were removed from the table in record time.

    In other words, the issue is now in full whirling 360 mode, and the weapon of choice for all involved is blame delegation.

    It's the players' fault. No, it's the union's fault. No, it's the commissioner's fault. No, it's the feds' fault. No, it's George Bush's fault. No, it's the media's fault.

    And if you like baseball, it's your fault, too. I don't know, some sort of weird co-dependency thing. They covered it in the meetings.

    But let's be honest here. Whatever the BALCO case was when it started, it's something else entirely now, and like most things the federal government takes a personal interest in, it looks like it's getting too big to contain.

    And more to the point, it looks like we're about to have us one joyless summer.

    Baseball is a long pull, even in the best of years, and one of the things that helps break the monotony for some is the game's omnipresent math fixation. Some of the most compelling math this year centers around Bonds -- 660, then 714. Maybe 200 walks. Certainly, 40 birthdays.

    But the news that drug tests do not have a toss-by date, and that players can now forget all those promises of confidentiality when they are handed a cup from someone in rubber gloves standing outside the john, means there will be a climate and a culture of suspicion and even paranoia around the game's participants.

    In fact, the only real dialogue allowed on the subject comes from former players, most recently Cecil Fielder, who have declared the modern power numbers invalid on their statistical face based largely by virtue that those numbers hadn't been achieved before.

    But hey, everyone with a quarter gets to play the juke box. The more troublesome issue remains the drug tests with the eternal shelf life, and how they can be used not just in the BALCO case to ferret out possible perjurers, but how they might be used again and again and again at the whim of the government, or management, or anyone else with an axe to grind and a skull to grind it on.

    To a lesser extent, this also impacts how we choose to note Bonds' second and third home runs of the season, because to enjoy it too much is considered to be in denial, and to dismiss it is to miss the point. You're wrong either way, and that's hardly the way to spend an afternoon at the old ballyard.

    So for Barry Bonds, there may be home runs, but there will be no peace or quiet. All the powers that be in this pigpile of a story have received their cards, and in the parlance of Texas hold-em, they're all just waiting for the flop.

    Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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