Chuck Klosterman, whose writing usually entertains me and sometimes enthralls me, weighs in on the Barry Bonds story today over at ESPN.com, in an essay that is also running in ESPN: The Magazine. I'm sure Greil Marcus is next. As absurd as the furor has become, though, there are parts of Klosterman's piece that resonated for me:
Early in "Game of Shadows," authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams try to illustrate what motivated Bonds to inject chemicals into his rump, and they suggest that his actions were driven by jealousy and, to a lesser extent, race. "They're just letting him do it because he's a white boy," Bonds supposedly said of McGwire's steroid-fueled run at the single-season home run mark. This statement makes Bonds seem as paranoid as Richard Nixon. How, one wonders, could unseen puppet masters be pulling the strings behind the home run race? It all seems crazy.
But, then again, nobody ever wrote a takedown book on Mark McGwire. I'm not sure anyone even considered it.
Nixon wasn't always wrong.
Likening Bonds to Nixon may be totally over the top, but it helps to legitimate my recent rant in which I asked why the nation seems more preoccupied with Bonds's deceptions than those of George W. Bush. And I have to agree with Klosterman that it's highly unlikely that McGwire ever would have found a Fainaru-Wada and Williams as his muse, at least without the fuss surrounding Bonds today. More broadly, I think Klosterman worms his way to the real problem that statistically-minded people have with Bonds which is not simply that he appears to have benefited from indulging in artifice, but that he did so when he was already one of the best, if not the best, player in baseball. You can't throw his career out the window very easily, since he did better before his alleged misdeeds than most alleged misdoers did after them. I mean, what was Mark McGwire hitting in 1991?