With the announcement that Barry Bonds would be part of the Pirates opening day ceremony tomorrow -- presenting the National League MVP award to Andrew McCutchen -- came the expected high dose of abuse being heaped on one of the game’s all-time leading villains.
It's easy to see why Bonds is so quick to be vilified. Not only is it widely believed he used performance enhancing drugs to elevate his already great game to a point where he was matching statistics with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, but he happens to be the quintessential bad guy. Stories of not just what a jerk Bonds was but what a truly meanspirited and nasty person he could be are legion.
You might think, though, that he'd catch a break in Pittsburgh, where he played almost the first seven years of his MLB career. But he does not catch that break. Among other things, Pirates fan cannot forget his throw to home that failed nail Sid Bream in the seventh game of the 1992 NLCS. What they do forget is the Pirates would not have gone to three straight playoffs without the contributions of Bonds, who won the MVP award in two of those years and finished second the third.
The treatment of Bonds stands in vivid contrast to how another Pirate was received.
When Marlon Byrd joined the Pirates in late August of last year, he came as a man convicted of violating MLB’s drug policy. Bonds was never convicted. Yet, the subject of Byrd’s 50-game suspension in 2012 almost never was raised as he helped the Pirates to the postseason.
Here’s something else that is never -- and I mean never -- mentioned in Pittsburgh and it bears mentioning in this discussion because among the presenters at opening day will be Jack Wilson. As a former winner, he will be presenting Silver Slugger awards -- the best hitter at their position -- to McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.
It would figure to puzzle some that Wilson, remembered as a light-hitting shortstop, would have won a Silver Slugger award. But he did with a truly remarkable season in 2004.
How remarkable was that season?
Wilson had 201 hits that year. His previous high was 143. His subsequent high was 151. He hit 12 triples that year, his fourth MLB season, in 693 at bats. In the previous three seasons, he had 1,628 and eight triples.
The 50 home runs Brady Anderson hit for Baltimore in 1996 -- after never hitting more than 21 prior to that season and never more than 24 after it -- are often regarded as near-certain proof that he used performance enhancing drugs to achieve his benchmark year.
What does that kind of thinking say about Wilson’s 2004 season? And that is absolutely not to suggest Wilson’s numbers were not honestly achieved. It is to suggest that the finger of blame should not be quickly or easily pointed.
Here’s hoping Bonds receives polite applause when introduced in Monday’s pre-game ceremony and that the other presenters -- Jim Leyland, Dick Groat and Wilson -- are far more favorably recognized.