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Cheaters never win – do they?

Brian Hamilton

At least Barry Bonds showed the common courtesy of not sticking a big ol’ wad of chew in his mouth when he stood up and spit right in the eye of Major League Baseball – and each and every one of its fans – earlier this week.

Still, though, it stung a bit, didn’t it?

Even though Bonds didn’t admit to ever using steroids during Tuesday’s spring training press conference, knowingly or not, he did make his feelings on the subject quite clear. Bonds couldn’t care less about what he has done to the credibility of the game that has given him fame nor what its fans – or members of the media – think about it.

Was it just a week ago that we saw a contrite Jason Giambi essentially call a press conference to confess to nothing, but to beg baseball fans – especially those clad in pin-stripes gear – for their forgiveness? Tuesday’s episode of “Barry being Barry” was an exact 180-degree turn from that somber scene.

But, just to be clear here, they’re both cheaters – and liars.

Throughout the 2004 baseball season, Bonds stuck to his guns when pressed by the sports media on the question of whether he had used steroids. Each time, Bonds waved the writers off, saying that he hadn’t touched the stuff, even as his own personal trainer – Nevada Union High School grad Greg Anderson – was indicted in the BALCO case.

He either was lying then, or did so in December of 2003, when he sat before the grand jury investigating the scandal and admitted that he had used a clear substance and a cream given to him by Anderson. He didn’t know, he said, that either product contained steroids.

But on Tuesday, Bonds didn’t bother to defend himself. Instead, he tried to turn the tables on those asking the questions. You know, shoot the messenger.

“All you guys lied. Should you have an asterisk behind your name?” he said. “All of you lied. All of you have said something wrong. All of you have dirt. All of you. When your closet’s clean, then come clean somebody else’s. But clean yours first, OK?”

The fact that Bonds lied – either way you want to look at it – isn’t so much the problem. We’re used to liars later eating their own words, from Pete Rose to Chris Webber to Bill Clinton.

The fact that Bonds cheated – knowingly or not – is the matter at hand.

But not for Barry.

“I don’t know what cheating is,” he said. “I don’t know if steroids is going to help you in baseball. I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe steroids can help you, eye-hand coordination, technically hit a baseball.”

cheat (chet) n. 1 the act of deceiving or swindling; deception; fraud. 2 a person who defrauds, deceives, or tricks others; swindler – v. 1 to deal with dishonestly for one’s own gain; defraud; swindle 2 to deceive by trickery; fool; mislead …

My 6-year-old daughter didn’t need me to bust out Webster’s when I asked her what it meant to “cheat.” She’s long been taught to play by the rules, whether the name of the game is Candyland or tee-ball.

But it’s not about breaking the rules – even those on banned substances – for Bonds. It’s all about the media conspiring to bring him down, because he’s a black man chasing down MLB’s most coveted record of career home runs.

What, you thought he wouldn’t play that card?

The 40-year-old Bonds ranks third on the all-time home run list with 703 roundtrippers, behind Babe Ruth’s 714 and Hank Aaron’s 755.

“If I was a long way away, this would not be the same, not at all,” Bonds said. “Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest players ever, and Babe Ruth ain’t black, either. I’m black. Blacks, we go through a little more. Unfortunately, I said it. I’m not a racist, though. But I live in the real world.”

The world Hank Aaron faced when he was chasing the Babe, back in 1974, is a much different one that Bonds faces today. That’s not to say racism doesn’t still exist, it just doesn’t apply.

But, make no mistake, there is no room for shades of gray in what is clearly a black and white issue.

Bonds admitted to that grand jury that he used steroids – knowingly or not. He can change the subject as much as he likes, but he cannot change the fact that he cheated.

He claimed Tuesday that the steroid scandal was “old news,” that baseball has already addressed the issue with its new drug testing program.

“Let’s go forward. You cannot rehash the past,” he said. “Y’all stop watching Redd Foxx rerun shows and let’s go ahead and let the program work.”

The problem is Bonds, and any other players who used steroids, have made baseball’s past obsolete. Those statistics that have long allowed fans to compare players from generation to generation have been inflated to point of arcade-like numbers.

We may never know whether Mark McGwire’s 70 home-run season came au natural or not. We may never know if Sammy Sosa was on the juice throughout the”season that saved baseball.”

But we do know that Bonds did, in fact, touch the stuff.

And because of that, the game’s credibility is at stake.

For that reason alone, Rose may never be allowed back into baseball or its Hall of Fame. Why should Bonds?

Instead of sticking an asterisk next to his name in the record books, Major League Baseball would do better to take an eraser to his fraudulent numbers.

If not, we won’t be able to look our kids in the eye and teach them that old adage, the one that essentially serves as the foundation of sports and sportsmanship.

You remember, the one that says “Cheaters never win.”


Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears each Saturday. He may be reached via e-mail at brianh@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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