Returns of Barry Bonds, Ryan Braun prove MLB can forgive on PEDs

Friday March 14th, 2014

Ryan Braun returns to baseball after a 65-game suspension for the Biogenesis scandal in 2013.
Morry Gash/AP

Ah, the sights and sounds of spring! Out in Scottsdale, Ariz. (average highs these days: 82 degrees), Barry Bonds is in Giants camp, his head magnificently shiny, his smile improbably wide. He's a rookie again, working with the team as a "roving instructor" for seven days, and hoping to stick.

Slugger Ryan Braun is back with the Brewers, re-defining himself (as an "artist," he says) and steeling himself for the onslaught of spectator jeering that has already begun, even under the calm, clear skies of Arizona. Fans aren't warm to him right now, in part because he just served a 65-game suspension for being mixed up with that "rejuvenation clinic" down in Florida, and also because he lied about it, and also because a couple of years ago, after he tested positive for PEDs, he blamed and defamed a poor, perplexed urine collector who has a tough enough job as it is. Still, not everyone's down on Braun—he just got a brand new endorsement deal from a cleat company, whose executives know that if Braun can just get back to hitting .320 and driving in 110 runs (and if he can be nicer to urine collectors), there's a fair chance he will be beloved and revered once again.

Like cacti, these post-enhancement guys are everywhere. 43-year-old Jason Giambi is back for another season with the Indians, set to be a bat off the bench and a "mentor" to younger, less wearied teammates. Everyone really likes Giambi, on account of the way, nine years ago now, he came clean about not being clean, lost weight, faced the music (chin and otherwise) and, with his steroid use out in the open, got back into the box.

Mark McGwire is around again, too, another guy who (after considerable prodding) in 2010 admitted to, and "truly apologize[d]" for, using steroids. Now, after three years with the Cardinals, he is in his second season as the batting coach for the Dodgers, a team that goes through hitting coaches like Homer Simpson goes through cases of Duff.

Yes, springtime. And amid the many joys and the eternal hopes—the Indians are 11-2! The Mariners are 12-4! Matt Long is batting .536!—baseball is well-seeded with reminders of the performance enhancing drugs that still touch this era. The Game is finding places for PED users, as well it should and must. They've paid heavy prices, they deserve the right to work, and the specter that someone like Bonds, whose mission is to impart his knowledge of the game, might also offer a young player advice on, say, a good "nutritionist" does not seem particularly troubling to anyone.

Baseball has big arms. Baseball forgives.

A separate but related wonder is how all of this might impact Hall of Fame voting. Will Bonds' return as a coach soften and swing some of the 65.3 percent of voters who left him off their ballots this year? If Braun goes back to raking the way he can rake, and keeps at it for enough years, will he get into the Hall? Or will he be shut out for his apparent ingestions and indiscretions?

Bonds made news recently when he said of himself that he belongs in the Hall of Fame "without a doubt." He also made a less celebrated but intelligent and respectful observation when he was asked whether he thought people should in fact vote for him. "You are adults," he said of baseball writers who make the choice.

Well said, Barry. And this brings me (naturally, I suppose, for I have been thinking about him a lot lately) to Pete Rose. Rose is also out and about this spring (in Las Vegas, that is), and he is fixing to be at Opening Day in Cincinnati. Back in 1991, two years after Rose had accepted a ban from the game because of his baseball betting, the Hall board decided that the writers who vote were actually not adult enough to make their own decision on Rose's Cooperstown worthiness. So it abruptly resolved to forbid Rose from appearing on the ballot. There has never been another player shut out like that. Maybe the writers would have voted him in. Maybe they would not have. Reasonable adults, after all, have reasonable opinions on all sides of the Rose dilemma. But the board had a fear that the voters might make a decision that it did not like.

Yes, fans, it is springtime, and what we have learned this year is that Barry Bonds appears to hold baseball writers in higher esteem than the Hall of Fame does. It's true: In the spring, anything seems possible.

Kostya Kennedy's new book, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, is available here.

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