The next unlikable icon being set up for a fall is Barry Bonds, whose own form of self-creation is incomparably more physical than Stewart’s. He’s been named for receiving illegal steroids and growth hormones from BALCO, a lab implicated in a drug-distribution ring. Although Bonds denies the claims publicly, one wonders if he did the same before the grand jury investigating his personal trainer. If so, he could face the same sort of cover-up charges that brought down Stewart.
While Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield have also been named in the investigation, Bonds is clearly the big enchilada. Not only is he the dominant player of his era — Jim Rome calls him “Barry Bones” because of all the money he makes — but his arrogant, standoffish rudeness makes Donald Trump look as down-home as Oprah. Few in baseball will weep if the feds nail him, not even his teammates who aren’t allowed to enter his private locker-room domain where he angles his big-screen TV so others can’t watch. Although we’re still a few years away from Bonds being enshrined in Cooperstown, his bust is already on display in the Asshole Hall of Fame.
Of course, a dozen years after the death at 43 of Raiders star Lyle Alzado, who insisted that steroids caused his brain cancer, there’s something absurd about society’s guardians suddenly getting hysterical about performance-enhancing drugs. In a clueless Culture War fillip, President Bush weirdly dropped the subject into his State of the Union address (why didn’t he say no to doping when he was running the Texas Rangers?). On ESPN’s The Sports Reporters, yapping Chihuahua Mike Lupica, who loves working himself into a righteous lather, lectured viewers on how steroids are cheating and illegal and deadly. Well, yeah.
Anyone who’s followed sports over the last 20 years couldn’t fail to notice that, even as ordinary Americans’ bodies have grown ever-fatter from Big Gulps and gargantuan orders of fries, athletes have gotten outlandishly muscular. Where Bonds resembled an ordinary well-built outfielder when he played for the Pirates, in his mid-30s his physique exploded — he really has become a Giant. His upper body now recalls Disney’s old animated figure of Casey at the Bat — an inverted pyramid with a head — while his legs are so musclebound they mess up his fielding. Barry now has the thick-thighed, waddling run I associate with Duh Gubna in Eraser.
Until recently, such athletic supersizing seemed a development that — aside from the premature deaths, of course — was good for everyone. Good for players who turned massive bodies into massive paychecks, good for supposed fans who got to see even studlier thoroughbreds on the playing field, good for owners who had a sexier product to market, and good for the overgrown boys in the sports media who need superheroes to worship so they can ride their fame like fleas on a mastiff. Of course, now that people are getting busted, all the jocks, owners, politicians and pundits are discussing the problem oh so seriously. After such sanctimonious guff, it’s a relief to hear Joe McDonnell and Doug Krikorian tell local radio-show listeners they don’t give a damn whether Barry took steroids. At least they aren’t pretending.