Column: Cheaters, liars and baseball All-Stars
Barry Bonds is getting a second chance, hardly surprising because baseball is a game of second chances.
Seven years after the San Francisco Giants decided his services would no longer be needed, a group of federal judges will reconsider Bonds' conviction for giving evasive testimony to a grand jury investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs. It may not be as good as a ticket to Cooperstown, but a win by Bonds would mean he can live the rest of his days without convicted felon being written in front of his name.
Manny Ramirez is doing even better. He's getting a third chance.
Twice suspended by baseball for violating its PED rules, the 42-year-old has been signed by the Triple-A Iowa Cubs as a part-time player and coach. The plan is for him - please, don't laugh - to serve as a mentor to aspiring Cubbies on how the game should be played in the major leagues.
''Do the right thing, bro. Follow the rules. That's it,'' Ramirez said Monday, somehow keeping a straight face when asked what advice he will give young players.
Nelson Cruz should have followed that advice and stayed out of trouble himself. Like Ramirez, though, he couldn't stay away from the drugs that for a quarter century now have infested the game and made its most revered numbers meaningless.
That cost Cruz the final 50 regular-season games for the Texas Rangers last year, though the Baltimore Orioles didn't seem to mind. They signed Cruz to an $8 million, one-year deal in spring training and he has rewarded their investment by hitting 26 home runs, tied with Jose Abreu of the White Sox for the lead in the American League.
Cruz also is the runaway leader in balloting for designated hitter in the All-Star game with some 3 million votes, even more proof that baseball fans are truly a forgiving lot. Less than a half season after finishing his suspension for juicing, Cruz has been officially rehabilitated and will surely be cheered when he comes to the plate in Minneapolis just like he has been in Baltimore since he was welcomed to the city on opening day.
That fans don't seem to have a problem with a player recently busted for PEDs being held up as a shining example of what a big league slugger should be is hardly new. Giants fans packed AT&T Park game after game when Bonds was chasing home run records, roaring at every swing even when it was painfully obvious the bloated Bonds was doing things normal human beings simply can't do.
For all anyone knows, Cruz could still be using. So could a lot of other players, because even with increased - and more sophisticated - testing in baseball the odds of being caught are still small. And the suspensions in the Biogenesis scandal show that a lot of players are still more than willing to take the chance, mostly because the payoff can be so huge.
Thankfully, we will be spared the sight of Cruz bashing balls out of Target Field in the Home Run Derby. He told the Baltimore Sun recently he wouldn't compete in it because it might hurt his swing, though the guess is someone from baseball whispered into his ear that it wouldn't be a good idea for more obvious reasons.
We can also be thankful Ryan Braun has suddenly lost his home run power and likely won't be an All-Star pick either. The admitted liar and cheat who plays for the Milwaukee Brewers has only five home runs since April 20 yet is still fifth among outfielders in All-Star voting.
More than 2.5 million fans have voted for Braun to be in the All-Star Game, even more than the 1.9 million ballots cast for another cheater, Melky Cabrera of the Blue Jays, who is in fourth place among American League outfielders. They've sent the message that the teams who keep shelling out millions for tainted players already have: As long as you say ''I'm sorry,'' everything is forgiven.
Whether judges in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are as forgiving with Bonds is anyone's guess. They tend to take lying more seriously than baseball fans, especially when the lying is done not to sports writers but a federal grand jury.
But it may be by now fans are simply numb to steroid use, and accept cheating as part of the game. Or it could be that so many fans have quit baseball in disgust that the only ones left are willing to suspend belief for anything.
They're content to keep spending their money on an uneven playing field, as long as it's their player hitting the home runs. They're happy to vote for them for the All-Star game no matter how much they cheat and lie.
And they're a big part of the reason baseball is becoming an increasingly marginalized game.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg