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Why Barry Bonds Is A Winner Today

I'm not going to offer an opinion on who "won" the Democratic debate because the question seems pointless to me. (What does it mean to "win" anyway?) But I can pinpoint a winner from today's report on steroids in baseball. It's Barry Bonds.

The report, which culminates a twenty-month-long investigation by former Senator George Mitchell, details just how pervasive steroid use in baseball was starting in late 1980s.  It implicates everybody -- owners, general managers, the players union. "Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades -- commissioners, club officials, the players' association and players -- shares to some extent the responsibility for the steroids era," Mitchell said. "There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on."

The Mitchell report also implicates 70 individual players, including some perennial All-Stars and likely Hall of Famers. Most prominent among them is Roger Clemens, who won the coveted Cy Young Award seven times and is widely considered among the best pitchers of modern times--if not the best of all.

At least, that's how he was perceived. A good chunk of his reputation rests on his performance in later years, when he was in his 40s but throwing like a kid in his late 20s.  How was this possible? Well, now we know. He had some help. Some chemical help.

Clemens will probably make the Hall of Fame anyway, as, I think, he should. (He put up pretty amazing numbers early in his career, too, and it's likely he wasn't using steroids back then.) But the inclusion of Clemens and so many other players is a reminder that the widely reviled Bonds was hardly the only star player using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). If I'm reading the report correctly, it's based heavily on interviews with trainers who worked with just a few teams.  If Mitchell had been able to interview more trainers and officials associated with more teams, it's likely he would have caught many more users.

All of which means Bonds was likely competing with a lot of other players who were using PEDs, just like he was.  That includes pitchers who, presumably, were throwing better than they might have without the drugs. 

This doesn't take the taint away from Bonds' records or help him with his pending indictment (for allegedly lying to a grand jury about setroid use).  But it does put his transgressions into perspective, if only by tainting the entire era of baseball and virtually everybody associated with it.

*As for the Democratic debate, I will say this.  In other debates, I thought Obama looked out of his league, particularly next to the more experienced candidates like Clinton. Not so today. He seemed confident and sharp.

--Jonathan Cohn