Full disclosure: The Indictment of Barry Bonds
By J. Damu
baseball calls itself a game is because it's
too screwed up to be a business.
— Jim Bouton, former
MLB player and author of
The charges of
perjury and obstruction of justice contained in an
indictment filed against baseball great Barry Bonds by
Northern California's federal prosecutor is the latest
chapter in the most racist inspired campaign against an
African American athlete since America tried but failed
to run Muhammad Ali out of the boxing ring more than 40
But it is more than
that, and it is a far more complicated scenario than the
one Ali confronted. In fact, measured against the
history of baseball and the history of those who run
Major League Baseball, the campaign against Bonds and
the fraudulent "independent" investigation of steroid
use launched by the owners appears to be really a
campaign to absolve themselves of their complicity in
the ever growing "drug scandal;" a scandal in which it
is now said more than 150 baseball players are involved.
against Bonds also appears to be part of the MLB efforts
to discredit the power of the baseball players union and
to discourage African Americans from attempting to
become MLB players.
Along with MLB
owners, a key co-conspirator in the campaign against
Bonds and the ballplayers is the U.S. Congress.
commission to investigate the use of performance
enhancing drugs drew fire from the moment MLB
commissioner "Bud" Selig named former Senate majority
leader George Mitchell to be its head.
John Dowd, the
Washington attorney who headed the investigation of Pete
Rose's gambling activities in the late 1980's that
resulted in Rose's lifetime suspension from baseball
said, "Mitchell doesn't have a great track record with
me. It doesn't look like he's independent."
anything but independent of MLB. At the time the
commission was organized Mitchell was a part owner of
the Boston Red Sox and chairman of the Walt Disney Corp.
that owned ESPN, the 24 hours sports cable channel. As
early as 1996 ESPN signed a $440 million contract with
MLB to broadcast major league games.
said, "I believe Mitchell was named to head the
commission in order to cage Congress." In other words
Mitchell's role was to involve Congress in the
investigation, which is ultimately what happened and
what led to the federal investigation of the Balco
enterprise and why Bonds now stands indicted.
Balco was the south
San Francisco firm that manufactured performance
enhancing drugs and sold them to numerous athletes.
In his testimony to
the grand jury Bonds said he never "knowingly" took
performance enhancing drugs.
In an e-mail
exchange, San Francisco Chronicle sports
columnist Ray Ratto said, "This isn't even about
drugs--this is about allegedly lying to a grand jury
after being offered immunity. The feds always play hard
when they think they've been played."
Well yes and no.
Technically the indictment is about alleged lies to the
grand jury, but in everyday life the indictment is about
racism and why some are singled out to pay the price for
everybody and others go unnoticed.
As Dave Stewart,
the former Oakland A's pitcher said, "People keep
talking about how he (Bonds) is not supposed to be
hitting homers and doing phenomenal things because he's
40 plus. Well (7 time Cy Young award winner Roger)
Clemens is 40 plus and nobody even brings his name up.
Is it because one is Black and the other is white?"
Stewart was a
perennial 20 game winner during the height of the
Oakland A's era of dominance and spent his entire
playing career preparing himself to become a general
manager for MLB. When he retired and attempted to get a
front office job he was never offered a position
to anything higher than basically making coffee for the
Toronto Blue Jays administrators. Today he is a sports
It is a
near universally held belief that the modern era of
major league baseball began with Jackie Robinson, the
first African American to be ushered onto the previously
all white playing fields of MLB.
In truth, however,
the modern era of baseball began with Barry Bonds; even
before he could pick up a Louisville Slugger.
First a little
"It's as American
as baseball and apple pie," is an adage most of us have
grown up with, and for good reason. Baseball is
inextricably woven within the fabric of U.S. history.
though many are under the impression Abner Doubleday
invented baseball after watching soldiers play during
the Civil War; in fact a form of baseball was played
during the Revolutionary War, and Alexander Cartwright
laid down the basic rules and dimensions of the game in
In 1875 Chicago
newspapers reported that the same day, June 25, the
Chicago White Sox defeated the Cincinnati Reds 3-2, the
7th Cavalry, under the dubious and inept
leadership of one Lt. Col. George A. Custer, had been
massacred at the Little Big Horn River in the Dakota
So it's obvious
baseball has indeed a long, long history in the U.S. but
a long, long history of racism as well. In fact the
Cincinnati Reds were the first fully professional sports
franchise in the U.S., founded in 1869. But the Reds
didn't hire its first African American manager, Dusty
Baker until October, 2007!
baseball's pre-historic history.
What's relevant to
our discussion is this.
In the Friday, Nov.
16, 2007 edition of the Oakland Tribune that
heralded the indictment of Bonds, sports columnist Monte
Poole quoted MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Nov.15, the very day Bonds' indictment was announced,
Selig, bragging of MLB's $6.75 billion revenue, said to
the Associated Press, "As I told the clubs today, we're
on a high here."
"We started out at
$1.2 billion," he continued, "and I can remember waking
up in '93 and '94 and '95 and thinking, 'How are we ever
going to get to $2 billion?' So here we are at 6
billion, 75 million. and if we just keep doing our work,
stay out of controversies, keep the focus on the field,
we'll get to numbers someday that are stunning. And
these are stunning (numbers)."
What is the real
meaning behind Selig's musings on MLB revenues, why
would he lay awake at night worrying about baseball
revenues and what does all that have to do with Bonds?
In the history of
MLB there have been eight strikes or lockouts; the last
one occurring in 1994 that resulted in the cancellation
of all post season play and the World Series, the first
time that had happened in 90 years.
But the real
tension in MLB occurred in 1968 when baseball owners
were forced to sign a collective bargaining agreement
with the Major League Baseball Players Assn. Since then
that union has become one of the most militant and
powerful unions in the US.
In the mid-1960's
Marvin Miller, a former official with the steelworkers
union, who had been hired by the ballplayers to organize
themselves, made a whistle stop tour of all the major
league franchises to convince the skeptical players to
support the union.
When Miller made
his pitch to the San Francisco Giants, a poignant moment
occurred that provided the owners a grim picture (from
their point of view) of the future.
Just as Miller was
in the middle of his speech, a little kid, still just a
toddler, darted among the players laughing and making a
In recounting this
incident in his book
A Whole Different Ballgame, Miller wrote that he
hesitated for moment then regathered his
thoughts. He pointed to the to the child and said in
effect, that if all the players supported the efforts to
build the union, by the time that little kid is in the
major leagues he could earn as much as several hundred
thousand dollars a year. The players gasped in
The child was the
two year old son of Giants right fielder Bobby Bonds.
His name was Barry.
baseball salary then was just $6,000 per year. Consider
that in the 1870's a skilled baseball player could earn
$4,500. Clearly between 1875 and 1966 the earning power
of baseball players had gone backward.
followed Millers advice and forced the first collective
bargaining agreement on the owners in 1968.
Today, according to
the latest figures available, the minimum wage in MB in
2006 was $380,000 per year while the average salary is
relatively numerous and costly work stoppages in MB
since 1972, the one incident that apparently has caused
permanent damage on the part of the union toward the
owners was the 1985 finding of collusion among the
owners to defraud the players.
Commissioner Fay Vincent, who was forced out of his job
by Selig once said, "The union basically doesn't trust
ownership because collusion was a $280 million theft by
Selig (who then owned the Milwaukee Brewers and (Jerry)
Reinsdorff (owner of the White Sox.) of that money from
the players, I mean they rigged the signing of free
agents. They got caught. They paid $280 million to the
players. And I think that's polluted labor relations in
baseball ever since it happened. I think it is the
reason (union director Donald) Fehr has no trust in
One then can only
imagine the outrage on the part of the players when the
very owner who had stolen $280 million from them was
named by the other owners as Baseball Commissioner: "to
uphold the integrity of the game." Even the fox who'd
been hired to guard the chicken house would have been
embarrassed. But not Bud Selig.
Selig was named
acting Commissioner in 1992 to replace Vincent, whose
ouster Selig had maneuvered.
It was also Selig
of course who engineered the 1994 confrontation with the
players union that cost MLB so much money. So it's no
wonder he lay awake at night during '93, '94 and '95
thinking how the lost revenues could be be re-couped and
how to get the fans back inside the stadiums who were
staying away in droves in their expression of disgust at
the way baseball was being mishandled.
In retrospect it
appears Selig embarked on a multi-front course of
The most obvious
course of action was to find ways to make the game more
exciting. One way to do that was to follow the lead of
the NFL and emphasize offense. The first and easiest
thing to do to create fan excitement was to enable
the hitters to hit more home runs by handicapping the
pitchers. Easy enough. Shrink the strike zone. Done
Another way to
emphasize offense was to build smaller ballparks. A long
term project but just as effective.
All of sudden the
aging multi-purpose stadiums fans and citizens had
shelled out tens of millions of dollars to build were
unsatisfactory. Newer, smaller stadiums that offered
congenial ambience and additional sources of revenue
became all the rage-in order to facilitate more home
runs and more excitement.
In a recent article
defending Bonds, Mike Schmidt, a National League Hall of
Famer, wrote that if Hank Aaron had played in ballparks
as they are configured today, he would have hit 900 home
On the more covert,
darker side of the MLB ledger book mentality, Selig and
the owners enabled the use of performance enhancing
drugs simply by creating the atmosphere where many
ballplayers openly and unselfconsciously had the drugs
mailed to them at the stadiums or allowed the
distributors of the drugs entry into the clubhouses.
After all the
owners are no strangers to the athletes' clubhouse and
locker rooms. When Gene Autry owned the California
Angels he used to go into the clubhouse and pass out
Colt revolvers to the players as if he were the Good
Humor man passing out ice cream bars.
Not one owner
can say they were unaware of what was happening. As long
as no one was looking and the fans were satisfied and
returning to the stadiums, Selig and the owners were
happy as clams.
The final scheme to
invigorate MLB revenues on Selig's part is one that has
had the effect of driving African Americans out of the
major leagues. During Selig's tenure as Commissioner the
trend to import large numbers of minor league players
from the Caribbean and Central and South America into
the US, a trend that has existed for decades, has become
One of the unseen
costs of professional baseball is the cost of developing
major league players, the most highly skilled of all
sports. In a sense MLB has become no better than the
lettuce growers in California who rely on undocumented
immigrants to cross the border to pick the crops. Except
the baseball owners have more power.
The minor leagues
in the US mainly are staffed with hundreds of athletes
who merely exist to help train those few players who
will ultimately be called up to the big leagues.
With the escalating
salaries it finally occurred to the powers of baseball
that given the cost of living in the US compared to the
surrounding regions, for the cost of one American
prospect they can buy 20, from say, the Dominican
Republic. This philosophy has led to the situation where
only baseball players in the US who can afford early
training can compete for major league jobs. Thus many
African Americans are eliminated even before they reach
drawback for MLB was that US immigration law only
allowed each ball club to import a small number of
players each year.Again, Selig, as he has done in his
efforts to persecute Bonds, called on Congress to fix
the problem. For decades major league baseball
clubs imported foreign baseball players as temporary
workers under the H-2B visa program.
On Dec. 22, 2006
President George Bush, a former owner of the Texas
Rangers and apparently in the holiday spirit, gave to
the MLB owners a Christmas gift in the form of the
"Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals,
Entertainers and Teams Through Legal Entry Act." This
act suddenly switched baseball players from the
restrictive H-2B program to the P-1 visa program that
allows teams to import an unlimited number of players
from anywhere in the world.
This new act could
just as easily have been labeled, "The African Americans
Take a Hike Act." In the recently concluded 2007 World
Series not one African American took the field.
The two words that
best describe the indictment of Barry Bonds are Racist
and Hypocritical. All the Bond bashers who use Viagra or
Ciallus sit down and shut up. At this point it is
immaterial (really it's always been immaterial) whether
Bonds did or did not utilize performance enhancing
drugs. Largely, it is only because white America
considers baseball to be such an integral part of its
historical narrative does it rail with such fury against
In the end perhaps
the old adage should be re-written to read, "It's as
American as baseball, apple pie, and public lynchings."
This story first
appeared in the San
Jean Damu is a
former member of the International Brotherhood of
Sleeping Car Porters, taught Black Studies at the
University of New Mexico, has traveled and written
extensively in Cuba and Africa and currently serves as a
member of the Steering Committee of the Black Alliance
for Just Immigration. Email him at
People's History of Sports in the United
250 Years of
Politics, Protest, People, and Play
By Dave Zirin
Zirin (What's My Name, Fool!), writer of
a politically minded online sports
column, examines the intersection of
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struggles of America's oppressed,
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and slaves in the South, and reaching
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Jordan as an apolitical athlete. There
are many worthy and deserving stories of
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quotes from source material. For
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Dave Meggyesy has a short introductory
paragraph by Zirin and then excerpts
Meggyesy's autobiography for the bulk of
the section. This book would have been
more engaging and logically organized as
a reference book with entries on each
athlete or group, rather than a linear
historical narrative of sports.—Amazon
The Greatest, My Own Story
Shrovetide in Old New Orleans (Ishmael
Airing Dirty Laundry (Ishmael Reed)
* * *
* * *
The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball
James A. Riley
(Editor), Monte Irvin (Foreword)
EditorRiley is an
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Negro leagues, having published numerous books on the
Too Dark for the Hall, T.K. Pubs., 1991). His
comprehensive reference book documents the careers of
4000 players on teams of major league caliber between
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Arranged alphabetically, the citations contain a variety
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bibliography detailing books, periodicals, booklets, and
newpaper articles. Public libraries should purchase
where demand warrants.—L.R. Little,
Penticton P.L., British Columbia, Library Journal
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If you like this page consider making a
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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posted 20 November 2007 /
updated 24 February 2008