Baseball. Steroids. Addiction, and lives destroyed.

I’m a fan of the San Diego Padres, and where the above is concerned I’ve got a few tales to tell, and none of them are pretty. But first, a mea culpa: I’ve never been a Barry Bonds hater, and part of me wishes that the “fans” who’ve been screaming purple murder about the guy since 2002 would just clam up and let the system work. My stand on Bonds has been this: if he’s broken a law, or violated baseball rules, or offends our sense of fair play, then let him take the consequences like a man in the appropriate forum—but, absent any of these things, leave the guy alone and try to enjoy the greatest player of our generation.

Part of me still feels that way. On the other hand, on the heels of the Mitchell Report, I’m wondering if maybe I haven’t seen the forest for the trees. Where steroids were concerned, there were shadows on some other big names were out there (McGwire, Sosa), but by the time their usage became a major story (late 2004) ‘Big Mac’ had been out of the game for three years and Sosa (beaned in the head by Salomon Torres in early 2003) was in severe decline. In contrast, Bonds appeared to improve each year between 2000-2004, winning four consecutive MVP awards. Sure, he hit a record 73 HR in 2001, but it could be argued that Bonds reached his peak as a hitter three years later at the age of 40, hitting .362 with 45 HR and an unprecedented 232 walks.

So, when the odious Jose Canseco finally spun his own misdeeds for cash and further notoriety, it was difficult to put a lot of attention on anyone other than Barry. His historic excellence at his job drew with it a requisite level of scrutiny that was similarly unprecedented, and when McGwire refused to come clean, and Palmeiro was caught red-handed, and Giambi admitted to usage during the BALCO investigation, it was Bonds, BALCO’s most celebrated client, who drew the most attention.

So, with all of that, I was reluctant to join the chorus of those who were for tarring and feathering Barry simply on the basis of a big bat and a big head. Surely, it seemed to me, that whatever Barry had done, the impacts were likely to be minimal. There were all sorts of arguments that fed that: steroids don’t really improve bat speed, there were probably as many pitchers juicing as position players, and at any rate much of the substances employed were not prohibited by baseball at the time. Most glaring was the obvious hatred for Bonds the person. He was despised by many for reasons that had nothing to do with steroids before Canseco’s book forced MLB’s hand, and I still feel that a significant double standard has been applied to Bonds, as far as that goes.

But the Mitchell Report reveals, in great detail, that if anything the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball is worse than any but the most well-connected insiders can imagine. It lays out in stinging detail many unsavory incidents previously not publicized. For example, while with the Indians two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez’s bags were found to contain syringes and anabolic steroids by Canadian border police. More disturbing: Gonzalez was never charged, nor was the matter ever investigated by MLB! Any player in this report who wishes to clear their name can sue MLB if they like, but I suspect we're going to see more apologies like this one from Andy Pettite and more 'explanations' like this one from C.J. Nitkowsi.



It is the measure of the world we live in that my poor wife is always worried that some comment of mine will provoke an unstable student to shoot me, and periodically she tells me to be careful. Shootings on campuses were nearly unheard of forty-odd years ago when the notorious Charles Whitman killed 14 people from the University of Texas bell tower back in 1966. Since that time, there have been a growing number of such cases on high school campuses, with the Columbine shootings having perhaps the most impact in the popular culture. The severity of the problem is greatly exaggerated, however, by what one researcher has termed the Rashomon Effect: high-profile cases have been recounted by so many witnesses in so much detail that it reinforces an impression that such cases are common, or even a growing problem. The evidence suggests otherwise.

Without regard to that, however, much has been made of the fact that some shooters have expressed disbelief in God or hatred of Christians, and the latest such incident (directed at a church) is discussed by conservative Vox Day here, while PZ Mwahaha clearly wants to disassociate himself and his fellow atheists from any culpability, as discussed here.

My view, as one who participates in school lockdown drills and who knows what it's like to be a social misfit, is as follows: yes, the kind of kid who goes ballistic with his classmates or his congregation is likely to express hostility/rejection of religion--but belief systems themselves, even the absence of belief, are not the culprit. The killers in mass shootings are less defined by their beliefs than they are by their targets: they are typically filled with rage over the imagined rejection and humiliation they experienced in their failed attempts to gain acceptance with whatever group, an acceptance to which they felt entitled.

That is why school gun violence is predominantly committed by alienated white males of relatively-high socioeconomic status within their communities, rather than members of minority groups. Don't believe me? Profile the kids who commit these crimes, and you'll see. It's a striking trend, especially when you consider that statistically poor people of color are much more likely to be charged with a firearms-related crime than rich white males---and yet virtually all of the Columbine-type incidents are the latter.

Given these facts, it seems that the role of theism vs. atheism is probably secondary at best. Human beings are social organisms, and traumatic social failure can lead to pathological responses, especially during adolescence. One pathological response is to develop a private belief system defined in terms of one's enemies. This is, of course, toxic belief. Or, in the case of a few (not most) atheists, toxic unbelief. But let's not make the mistake of thinking that latching onto anti-God, anti-church sentiments causes events like Columbine. At worst, all such things do is to provide a secondary justification in the shooter's mind for their rage. Which, ultimately, is really directed at themselves and people like themselves....