LETTERS FROM QUEBEC: An Autumn Reading Recommendation
Autumn…when baseball fans prepare for the post-season – and the unexpected delights only baseball can provide. The Division finals are already underway and assuming the universe unfolds as it should, the World Series will begin Wednesday, October 24, in the home park of the National League representative. One of the four NL clubs still in the running is the San Francisco Giants.
Funny isn’t it that even today, when one thinks San Francisco Giants, the name and personality of Barry Bonds always manage to creep into the picture. The premier player of his time (1985-2007) Bonds, in many ways, represents the very best and the very worst of his baseball generation. A seven-time MVP; all-time home-run king (762); single-season home-run leader (73): career leader in walks and intentional walks; and a recipient of a truckload of other awards and honours (excepting the most precious of all – a World Series ring), Bonds also serves as poster boy for the insidious Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) era that swept across all sporting activity in his day. By the end of his career, the lithe, sleek Barry Bonds who once wowed folks inPittsburghhad morphed into a figure not unlike the super-inflatedMichelinMan.
In the next few months Bonds will become eligible for selection to baseball’s Hall of Fame. One can just imagine the hell that will break loose then, as voters and commentators weigh the complex pros and cons of his remarkable career in their struggle to come to the right (for them) decision. Among the factors they will have to consider are, of course, the length of his career and the slow progression of his alleged trek along the PEDs highway. That journey, which began in the early 2000s, has still not ended, even though, after all the charges and all the litigation, in April 2011, he was convicted on an obstruction of justice charge stemming from a grand jury appearance in 2003(!). Bonds was later sentenced in December to 30 days of house arrest, two years of probation and 250 hours of community service. But even with all that, it is still not over. Bonds launched an appeal in the spring of 2012…and so it goes.
And this brings us back to Of Bats and Balls and Bonds, a newly-released and handy guidebook by Ottawa-based writer Bill Conrod designed to help the casual reader sort through the confusion and misdirection that represent the last decade of the Barry Bonds career. I do not hesitate in recommending it to you. [Full disclosure: Bill and I worked together in Quebec’s community college system: we have been friends for close to 50 years.] In Of Bats and Balls and Bonds Conrod provides a much needed review of Bond’s initial stratospheric rise followed by his inglorious descent into the disgrace that now surrounds him, from the days before folks suspected he was relying on PEDs to the spring of 2012 when he was about to launch his obstruction of justice appeal.
Conrod recreates the Bond’s saga chronologically and systematically, drawing mostly on the words of others. Certainly, for those of us aware of the tale’s broad strokes but not the details, his straightforward approach makes it very much easier to maintain perspective.
Conrod’s narrative begins onApril 18, 2001, the day that Bonds tied and then broke Willie Mays’ Giants franchise record for home runs in a single season. That was the day Conrod asked himself, “Who is this guy? What is going to stop him? I think I’ll follow him and see where this goes.”
From then on he began to collect what he describes as a file folder of clippings from various media sources, storing them in a three-ring binder in chronological order. “I sensed there was a story unfolding – a baseball story,” he writes in his introduction. And as Conrod underscores throughout the next 150 or so pages of the book, indeed there was. What keeps his approach still fresh today is that he relies primarily on contemporary reports and eye-witness accounts to tell the story. Sources range from the hard-hitting San Francisco Chronicle to Sports Illustrated to even Conrod’s home-town Ottawa Citizen.
The author’s slow-growing disillusionment that accompanies Bonds’ apparent turn toward PEDs is palpable, judging from the media selections he includes in this book. I well remember a conversation I had with Bill during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, moments after we learned that Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, winner of the Gold Medal in the 100 meter race, had been disqualified because of doping. Conrod was mortified – angry for having been duped; bitter at having been so let down; and disappointed in Johnson for having bought into an artificial dream.
Hence it is no surprise that his shock at discovering Bonds’ apparent plunge into similar murky waters brings pure outrage. “Oh my God!” he writes. “Can this phenomenal player be getting some help from chemistry and not his wonderful genes or the baseball gods?” He cannot comprehend why “other sports didn’t test (for PEDS) when it was quite well known that this shit was around.”
For it was becoming increasingly suspected/known that PEDs were at the root of the tremendous numbers many of baseballs’ stars were putting up at this time. And for loyal fans who still had doubts, even these were pretty well erased with the release of the comprehensive Mitchell Report, (2007) prepared by George J. Mitchell, a former United States Senator from Maine, in which he named names. Conrod provides an illustration of Baseball’s PEDs epidemic by drawing on a listing run in the Ottawa Citizen (February 14, 2009) under the heading “Baseball’s All-Steroid Team.”
Here it is: Catcher, Bobby Estalella; 1B Rafael Palmeiro; 2B Howie Clark; 3B Ken Caminiti; SS Alex Rodriguez; Outfield, Barry Bonds, Matt Lawton, Lenny Dykstra; DH José Canseco; P Roger Clemens; Bullpen John Rocker; Closer Eric Gagné.
And it can be added to even in this present day. Say hello, Manny Ramirez; say good-bye Melky Cabrera.
As mentioned earlier, Conrod follows the Bond story through to April 2012. He concludes his final entry with these words: “I am thinking of ending this chronicle right now…I’m sure this story is not over for him but it is for me. This chronicle is done. Enough already!”
And then he strikes a final chord: “Go Blue Jays!”
For more information about Of Bats and Balls and Bonds or to learn how to obtain a copy, contact Bill Conrod at 34 Herridge St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1S-0G7. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I might mention that Bill chose to publish the book himself. Consequently, as with any self-published work, you will find it is not immune to the occasional glitch or two. This is a phenomenon I well understand, for, as with many of us, I have been down the self-publishing path myself, far too often.