What would Babe Ruth think of the Barry Bonds steroid saga and resulting perjury indictment?
"My initial reaction is one of sympathy," Ruth's grandson, Tom Stevens, told me Sunday from his home in Las Vegas. His mother, Julia Ruth-Stevens, was Babe Ruth's daughter.
"When the [George] Mitchell report comes out…I'm only guessing, but I think you're going to find that steroid use in MLB is much more extensive than any of us thought. If that's the case, it doesn't vindicate Barry by any means, but it does sort of mitigate what he’s done.
From a competitive standpoint, when everybody is using something, if you want to stay up there and be competitive…it does level the playing field.”
As Bonds pursued Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755, Ruth's mark of 714 before Aaron supplanted him was back in the news as well.
"Last year was highlighting Babe's career," Stevens said. "It was as much about Babe as it was about Barry. It was kind of bringing him back into the public eye. In order to perpetuate anyone's legacy, the up-and-coming generation has to be introduced to him. What better way to showcase the Babe?"
Stevens believes baseball's desire to win back fans after the 1994 players' strike led to it turning a blind eye toward steroid users.
"Fans were staying away from the park, and there are some people who still haven't gone back," Stevens said. "Mark McGwire initially brought some excitement back when he hit 70 home runs [in 1998]. And I don't think anyone wanted to discourage that or get in the way of it.”
Stevens believes pitchers have not been scrutinized as closely as Bonds.
"My feeling about Barry is one of sympathy because he seems to be the lightning rod," Stevens said. "He is certainly the most prominent of the ballplayers currently accused. It's more common to hear about the hitters, but Roger Clemens' name comes up quite a lot.”
McGwire has pretty much gone into hiding since refusing to answer questions about his steroid use during congressional hearings in 2005.
"He was taking the high road, I think, but he pretty much implicated himself," Stevens said. "He had the opportunity to fix himself. It was an opportunity he didn't take.”
“McGwire was all about power ugly head,” Stevens points out. “Barry Bonds was on a Hall of Fame track long before steroids ever raised their Bonds had multiple Gold Gloves and he was speedy -- he had all the tools. Home runs aside, he was doing very well without steroids. When the time comes for him to be considered for Cooperstown, that will all have to be considered.”
As a Hall of Fame voter, I'll be questioning the legitimacy of Bonds' home run records. Should an asterisk be placed next to his name in the record books? Should his records be expunged?
“I don't know if I would go so far as to say expunged," Stevens said. "He has only been indicted. We don't know about his guilt. I guess at this stage we know he was exposed to steroids.”
"The thing that remains to be seen is whether he did so knowingly. That relates to perjury. It also raises the question: How naive could the guy be? I would think that with the entire era, any record that was set -- not just Bonds, but anyone who was implicated with steroids -- would have to have an asterisk.
"How are we supposed to look at this era of baseball? These last 10 years or so, the records that are being established...in so many ways it's a different game than it was in Babe's day."
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