This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Finally, Major League Baseball is going to bring out the big guns to investigate drug cheating in the sport. MLB will tap former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell who's the perfect man for the job. Mitchell will deftly commandeer investigative and Congressional teams. And, as a director of the Boston Red Sox and a member of baseball's economic panel in the late '90's, Mitchell understands that world as well. It's just such a darn shame this moves comes so late. After last spring's Congressional hearings, surely there must have been someone in baseball's executive halls who could foresee that the Barry Bonds accusations would eventually make for a major league mess.
Bonds wasn't the direct target of those hearings, the ones where we watched once-hero Mark McGwire hang his head in loud silence, the ones where we heard Oscar-deserving Rafael Palmeiro defiantly say he had never, ever, in his life used a steroid. But the Northern California Balco lab investigation was well under way at that time and Bonds' name had been leaked plenty, implicating him as a user of several different performance drugs.
Bonds was injured last season, made very few plate appearances, but, really, most of us fans knew the day would come when he would be back at bat, swinging dangerously close to Babe Ruth's second all-time homerun record. We have believed the Bonds swing is his own but the 50-pound muscle gain since his rookie year was no doubt produced by better chemistry and it would be prudent to crack an investigation open before he climbed to the top of the historic home run mountain.
Now baseball will launch the definitive investigation. But when will we have the definitive results? Mitchell hasn't officially accepted the position yet. Then there will be a process of culling through experts and naming an investigative team. With the tricky science, clandestine Grand Jury statements to be tapped, the goal of investigating the entire sport, not just one athlete, I doubt we'll have any statements from the Mitchell panel before the end of this season. Yet this is Bonds' last season. And when he steps out of the on-deck circle on Opening Day next week, he'll only need seven homers to pass Babe Ruth. At the end of limited work during this Cactus league spring training, babying his still suspect right knee, Bonds hit four homers in only 16 at-bats. A homer every fourth time he's up? Figure it out. We're only going to be a couple of weeks into the season when he surpasses Ruth. Of course, many managers will pitch around him. Just simple baseball strategy. Intentionally walk the best hitter in the game. With the walks, maybe it will take a month to get Ruth's record. Actually, the ideal move would be for all the managers in baseball to mount a first-ever collective protest and walk Bonds the entire year. Wouldn't that be a poignant statement? Let Bonds' own colleagues be the ones to not allow him a swing the whole season. Protect the good, drug-free names of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
I am flat-out flabbergasted to read accusation of racial hatred in this Bonds story this week. Lots of bloggers believe we would never go after a Derek Jeter this way, which is an ironic statement in itself, in that Jeter is half-black. We are a sports nation that adores Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, and Donovan McNabb. As a matter of fact, it is testimony as to what non-racists we have become that we can openly pursue a hard-hitting investigation of an African American superstar.
The real shame here is that Barry Bonds has not needed these cheating drugs. Past the age of 40 with a hobbled body, obviously clean now that he's under a constant microscope, he's hitting the heck out of the ball. It's just as Carl Lewis said of Ben Johnson when he had his 100-meter gold medal taken away at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Lewis said Johnson was born with natural world-class speed and the Winstrol was a mental crutch his body simply didn't need. Winstrol. That was the first steroid Bonds supposedly used, in 1998. And he never did need it.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.