|Home run record may bring Bonds neither respect nor adulation|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 30 June 2007 07:34|
Is Barry Bonds so worthy?
Babe Ruth was a true Home Run King, reaching the feat in a fashion fit for the excesses of the Roaring Twenties - a big-swinging, big-eating, big-drinking lovable slugger who was among the country's first sports heroes.
His mark spanned the decades and different social attitudes until 1974. The man who broke it did so during a new era in baseball, while the issue of race still smoldered after the tumultuous 1960s.
To this day, Hank Aaron is respected more than adored as his reign nears its end. Bonds approaches the Hammer's record of 755 shrouded in controversy.
And there are many who believe Bonds' crown will never shine so brightly.
Bonds is getting little respect or adulation from the public as he nears the mark - and for that he might have himself to blame, despite recent efforts to be more personable.
He has long been known for a prickly, selfish personality and a strained relationship with the media, which has only grown more contentious since allegations of steroid use began overshadowing his long list of accomplishments on the field.
``That's too bad, because Barry is such a great and unique talent. He should be celebrated for that,'' said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the player widely thought to be the next challenger for the home run record.
``His numbers are mind-boggling. If you see some of those numbers he had going back five, six, seven years ago, those numbers are Babe Ruth-like, if not better,'' A-Rod said. ``There's no one comparable in the game.''
But instead of being remembered for the home runs, a record seven MVP awards, 500-plus stolen bases, eight Gold Gloves, more than a dozen All-Star selections and countless other on-field achievements, the words most observers will always associate with Bonds are BALCO and steroids.
Signs in stadiums around the country scream ``CHEATER'' or ``Barroid,'' and some feature nothing more than a simple asterisk - the symbol many believe should sit right next to Bonds' numbers because of the possibility he fueled his pursuit with performance-enhancing drugs. A few fans even dress up as syringes.
For Bonds, this treatment is all pretty tame - and nothing new. Fact is, the only ballpark where he's beloved is his own.
He signed a $15.8 million, one-year contract before spring training to play a 15th season for San Francisco, the club where he's long been comfortable. Bonds grew up in the Bay Area, bouncing around the clubhouse at Candlestick Park while hanging out with his late ballplayer father, Bobby, and godfather, Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
``I was born in this game,'' Bonds said. ``I've seen a lot of things with my father and I've seen a lot. So I was tough-skinned at an early age. That's the only way I can sum it up.''
Like him or not, Bonds' powerful swing, acute hand-eye coordination and ability to block out all of his off-field distractions are what his peers constantly praise.
``No one does it like him,'' Mets manager Willie Randolph said. ``He has the best eyes I've ever seen.''
Never an overly popular player, Bonds' reputation took a major hit in September 2003. That's when federal agents raided a little-known nutritional supplements company called the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, located in suburban Burlingame just south of San Francisco.
The raid and the ensuing investigation that forced Bonds and other players to testify in front of a grand jury turned steroids into the game's No. 1 topic.
Bonds' trainer and longtime friend, Greg Anderson, pleaded guilty to money laundering and steroid distribution and spent three months in prison.
Grand jury testimony given by Bonds and others was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and questions of cheating could no longer be ignored.
Bonds never admitted to knowingly using illegal substances - famously saying he thought his trainer was giving him flaxseed oil and an arthritic balm - but investigators and most of the public failed to believe his story. Authorities suspected those items were actually ``the clear'' and ``the cream,'' two substances connected to BALCO.
Prosecutors are investigating Bonds for perjury in connection to his grand jury testimony, and nearly three-quarters of the people polled earlier this year by ABC News and ESPN said they think Bonds knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs.
Bonds draws a negative reaction nearly every time he plays away from San Francisco's waterfront ballpark. He has even acknowledged death threats, something Aaron also confronted during his chase of the Babe.
``Barry has to deal with a lot. You go on the road, they love to boo the great players,'' first-year Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. ``He's got that remarkable ability to keep his focus on the game and not let any of that distract him. He's there to play baseball. He's not bothered about who's throwing things at him or booing him. He just laughs about it and keeps his focus on the game.''
Bonds' fellow players, for the most part, are more supportive.
Perhaps that's because he has never failed a steroids test since baseball began punishing players for using performance-enhancers. Maybe it's because they know others might have juiced, too.
Some might be waiting for more evidence than what has already come out in books such as ``Game of Shadows'' and other media reports.
``All the other stuff certainly casts a shadow on it, and I guess maybe to a degree I stay neutral just because you don't know what's going to happen,'' said Mets pitcher Tom Glavine, victim of Bonds' 745th home run on May 8.
``I don't know what I would feel or how people would feel if they put themselves in a position where they're rooting for Barry to do it, and it happens, and then they find something out five years from now or 10 years from now that they didn't want to find out,'' he said.
But for now, it's unclear if any new information will surface regarding Bonds before he passes Hammerin' Hank. Even if it doesn't, future evidence could affect whether Bonds gets into the Hall of Fame one day.
And think what a black eye it would be for baseball if Cooperstown is minus both the career home run leader as well as the hit king, Pete Rose - both scorned instead of adored.
But Bonds would still have the home run title he has long coveted - and probably much to the chagrin of commissioner Bud Selig, a close friend of Aaron who hasn't yet said whether he will be in the seats to see Bonds break the mark.
Selig said he was prompted to launch a steroids investigation led by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell in part by the spring 2006 release of ``Game of Shadows,'' by two Chronicle reporters who detailed Bonds' alleged use of steroids, insulin and human growth hormone.
Authors Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada wrote that Bonds started using steroids because he was jealous of the attention paid to Mark McGwire's home run race with Sammy Sosa in 1998. Three years later in 2001, Bonds hit 73 homers to break McGwire's single-season record.
The accusations around Bonds put the Giants in a tough spot this past offseason. After all, he was on the brink of setting the record, plus the All-Star game was coming to San Francisco.
Owner Peter Magowan said the day after the 2006 season ended that if Bonds came back, he would no longer be the centerpiece of the organization. A few months later, the Giants made a $126 million, seven-year commitment to another superstar Barry - Barry Zito. The left-hander received the richest contract ever for a pitcher to cross San Francisco Bay after seven seasons with the Oakland Athletics.
Bonds, who reportedly failed an amphetamines test last season, has always insisted everything he accomplishes is a product of God-given talent and just plain hard work. The only thing missing from his resume is a World Series ring; the Giants fell six outs short to the wild-card Angels in 2002.
Persistence was ingrained in him at a young age. Bonds has always been closer with his mother, Pat. Bobby Bonds - who died in August 2003 at age 57 - was mostly an absentee dad who played 14 years in the big leagues.
It was Bonds' mom who called June 5 and ``screamed'' at him that his play was hurting the team. That was during a stretch in which he had played 51 of the Giants' first 56 games and needed two days off at Arizona to rest shin splints.
Health concerns, accusations and any perceived slights aside, Bonds is still the most feared slugger in the game.
``Records are made to be broken,'' Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. ``I don't deal in hearsay. I look at what a guy does on the field. I don't deal with what people say. What he did in the 2002 World Series, I never saw anyone dominate like he did. He's unbelievable, what he's done. All the reports we're getting is that he's as good today as he was three or four years ago.''
That's because Bonds has finally been healthy again. Fit as ever after a productive winter workout regimen at UCLA, Bonds feels as good as he has since before missing all but 14 games in 2005 following three operations on his troublesome right knee.
He is running well, getting to more balls in left field and often plays in day games following night games - rarely his practice in the recent past.
And No. 25 still causes opposing managers and pitchers to think hard each time he steps in the batter's box, sporting his bulky body armor that makes it easier to crowd the plate. The kayaks are out in force beyond the right-field fence again, hoping for a souvenir splash-hit ball from Bonds into McCovey Cove.
The 42-year-old Bonds - he turns 43 on July 24 - started out the year on such a swift home-run pace it appeared he might pass Aaron sometime in June or at the latest by the All-Star break. But then he slowed down.
Whenever he does it, Ruth's legacy will live on. A hefty man whose game-day diet consisted of hot dogs and beer, Ruth pitched in two World Series and always will be considered by most aficionados as the greatest home run hitter ever.
``In my mind, Babe Ruth is the greatest home-run hitter of all time. Babe Ruth is the greatest baseball player of all time,'' said Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes, who grew up a Giants fan in Northern California.
T - not one of those parks was a hitter friendly park.
``He's done that all the while being one of the most selective and patient hitters in all of baseball. The numbers aren't going to lie. He's going to pass Hank and he is going to go on to hit probably 800-plus home runs.''
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this story.