Bonds Chases Record Under Cloud of Suspicion

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San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is approaching Hank Aarons' all-time home run record — and some are shouting foul play. Even though he's tested negative for steroids on a number of occasions, Bonds has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. Commentator Todd Boyd offers his take on the controversy.


Major league baseball is dealing with a storm of criticism about alleged steroid abuse by some players. Also at stake are the achievements of some of the sports biggest stars--most notably, Barry Bonds, the power hitter for the San Francisco Giants.

Commentator Todd Boyd shares his thoughts on the controversy and the game.

Mr. TODD BOYD (commentator and professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema and Television): The game of baseball has long embraced the fictional sense of its legacy and place in American life. The sport remains deeply invested in maintaining a pristine image of its own virtues, regardless of how unrealistic such an image might be.

Baseball finds itself mired in a fight over its legacy, as the controversy around Barry Bonds reaches epic proportions, based on claims in the new book, Game of Shadows. Very soon, Bonds is going to eclipse baseball's ultimate icon, Babe Ruth, and move into second place on the all-time home run list. Bonds will then be within striking distance of Hank Aaron, the man who currently holds the most cherished record in the sport.

The problem is, baseball does not want this to happen. Commissioner Bud Selig has enlisted former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to begin an investigation into steroid use in the game. Barry Bonds is the focus of this most recent probe, in spite of the fact that he's never failed a drug test.

Many people argue that Bonds' accomplishments are tainted by this alleged steroid use. I wonder if these same people have ever considered that, prior to 1947, black players were not allowed to play major league baseball. Consider for a second, the fact that before 1947, Hank Aaron wouldn't have been allowed in the game--but by 1974, he had hit more home runs than anyone who had every played.

During Aaron's pursuit of Ruth's record, he received numerous death threats from people who did not want to see the record broken, nor it's most beloved icon displaced--especially by a black man. I'm not saying that what Bonds is going through now is equal to what Aaron experienced back in the ‘70s, as things have obviously changed a great deal since then. What I am saying, though, is that the problematic racial history of baseball continues to inform any situation involving the game's legacy. If Bonds' records are tainted, what about all those numbers achieved prior to 1947, which would include, by the way, every home run that Babe Ruth ever hit?

Many of baseball's best players of late, have been linked with performance enhancing drugs. And where there's smoke, there's usually fire. What baseball needs to do is stop the hypocrisy and take a close look at its own, steroid induced image of itself, and then proceed accordingly. If not, the game runs the risk of becoming completely irrelevant to contemporary American life. As well as any future consideration of the game's significance to American culture.

CHIDEYA: Todd Boyd, a.k.a., the Notorious Ph.D., is a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema and Television.

(Soundbite of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”)

CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.

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