June 19, 2006


As Barry Bonds, so Mr. Horowitz: Tales of instrument tinkering tainted the pianist's legend. Sound familiar, sports fans? (Richard S. Ginell, June 18, 2006, LA Times)

You don't have to be a sports nut to be aware of the brouhaha surrounding Barry Bonds, who's inched past Babe Ruth's lifetime total of 714 home runs and is gunning for Henry Aaron's 755. Bonds' pursuit of baseball's most famous home run records — allegedly fueled by various performance-enhancing substances and further soured by his almost gleeful contempt for a press corps that gives him so much attention — is fodder for network news shows and talking heads alike.

And now, you're going to read about him in the arts section of your newspaper.

No, Bonds is not about to make his debut as the Fourth Tenor or a composer, thank goodness. It's just that a music critic who also happens to be a baseball fan was thinking about Bonds one lazy afternoon as he watched the surly slugger on the tube being granted yet another intentional walk. He wondered why a gifted athlete — one of the best of his time, one who was headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame anyway for his rare combination of speed and power — would want to jeopardize his health and his reputation by taking steroids. Why grab an extra artificial edge when he already had a natural edge over just about everyone else in the game?

Then, it occurred to me that there was something weirdly familiar about Bonds' situation. With a mighty leap of subjects and conventional logic, I made the connection: Vladimir Horowitz's piano!

Stay with me on this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2006 8:28 AM

At the research lab where I work, we were discussing steroids at lunch. Everyone agreed that it was crazy to ruin your health that way. Then someone asked, "If there was an injection that would take 20 years off your life, but make you as smart as Einstein, would you take it?"

It got real quiet.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at June 19, 2006 8:35 AM

There are famous opinion studies of Olympic track and field athletes who routinely said they'd trade years for performance.

Posted by: oj at June 19, 2006 8:39 AM

So it's Vlad the Injector, eh?

Actually, the equivalent would be more like corking a bat....

Come to think of it, the whole article is quite batty.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 19, 2006 8:50 AM

PK - There was an informal poll done by a doctor at the Australian Olympics (whenever that was). As I recall, he found that half of the athletes would take a drug that would take five years off their lives -- if it would make them champions.

And, although the poll was informal, I think the basic point is right. Men (and a few women) still become boxers, where the danger has been known for decades.

Posted by: Jim Miller at June 19, 2006 8:54 AM


I'll gladly answer that. Given what I have learned about certain temperments associated with the "best and brightest" (i.e. Lack of patience; Unwillingness to associate with the rabble), I'd be proud to refuse such a drug.

And I'd have no problems saying so in the crowd you mentioned.

Posted by: Brad S at June 19, 2006 10:12 AM

For that matter, if I was in the infantry, hauling 80 pounds of gear around Ramadi while lunatics shoot at me, some of that Human Growth Hormone would start to sound like a positive health benefit.

Posted by: Mike Earl at June 19, 2006 10:19 AM

Brad S: But the question is, if there was a drug that would make you much better at what you value, would you take it? Anyone will reject what they don't value.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at June 19, 2006 9:28 PM