Talkin' baseball: Barry Bonds and the union

Bondsdurface_mediumThe Major League Baseball Players Union has "expressed concern" over the lack of offers made to Barry Bonds since the all-time home run king became a free agent. You can read all about it -- it's a cute tale.

I know that this is more than meets the eye at first, and that the union is backing a play and doing something they've certainly done before with less fanfare. They're protecting a member of the union.

But does it simply go without saying that maybe nobody went after this guy because he's a jerk?

Let me even elaborate. For years, I liked Barry Bonds. I have a soft spot for the game's hated characters. Take Albert Belle, who I loved because despite his many off-putting qualities. For one thing, he was a great hitter. For another thing, he always played hard.

I find Ty Cobb to be a fascinating historical figure. I find Ted Williams' moodiness tremendously interesting (like Bill James said, it's hard to imagine, but Williams was as hated as Albert Belle or anyone else in his heyday). History remembers the great Yankee Mickey Mantle warmly, but he was an alcoholic. Even Babe Ruth was no saint.

The point is, baseball is littered with great players who were pretty fundamentally easy to dislike on any number of levels. But the one thing that none of those guys have on their mark is being the spearhead figure of inarguably the most image-damaging scandal in the sport's history. Not only is Bonds cantankerous (to put it nicely), but he's a PR disaster. Bonds is at some point going to be face-to-face with some legal issues that are beyond him. The same, at this point, probably goes for Roger Clemens. I don't hear anyone clamoring to get "The Rocket" back in a uniform anywhere now that he's become the focal point of the PED bombshells.

Barry Bonds can still hit. Roger Clemens is still a better pitcher than most of the guys in the league. But they are nightmare representatives of any team and of the sport itself now. Bonds is the home run king, but does he really have that honor the way that Ruth and Aaron did? Will he ever?

If you sign Barry Bonds, you're opening yourself up to backlash from your fanbase, no matter what he does on the field. If you sign Barry Bonds, you're employing a ticking time bomb. You're offering to openly screw with the makeup of a team, adding a massive distraction who has no redeeming quality past the fact that he can still rake.

This is not the case of a disliked player. It's a villain that we're talking about. As great a hitter as he still is, and as much as I think production = wins = good stuff all around, I can't really see a good scenario for any team picking up the aura around Bonds.

That's why there aren't any offers. Is it collusion? Maybe, sort of. I don't think the owners sat down and went, "No one sign this guy." I think it's entirely possible that 30 owners all thought, "I don't want anything to do with him." Bonds, because he's the player that he is, takes heat for hundreds of players that have cheated the system with performance-enhancing drugs. If you don't think that's particularly fair, I agree with you. It's really not. He did nothing more than David Segui or Jason Grimsley did, really. But he's Barry Bonds, and when you're Barry Bonds, the dung hits the ol' fan at a bit higher of a splatter rate.

He's lied, he's cheated, he's whined, he's complained, he's made no friends along the way, and he's embarrassed and tainted the game of baseball like few others ever have or could. And if he never plays again, that's just the way it is.

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